A partner at national law firm Russell McVeagh has resigned after the firm’s board concluded the partner’s conduct didn’t meet expectations – despite an independent investigation exonerating the partner.
The partner resigned after an external investigation into concerns the partner had breached firm policies.
The investigator found that the partner’s conduct did not breach any of the firm’s policies, Russell McVeagh said in a statement.
“The board, however, formed a view that the partner had not conducted themselves in line with its expectations of a Russell McVeagh partner and the partner decided to resign.”
Russell McVeagh would not confirm the timing or circumstances of the alleged conduct, or whether it informed the Law Society.
“We have complied with all Law Society obligations. Due to our privacy obligations we are unable to comment further on this matter.”
The firm had and would continue to provide support to those involved, the spokesperson said.
The former partner issued the following statement to the Herald:
“The comprehensive independent investigation found I did not breach any policies, or standards of behaviour prescribed in the Russell McVeagh Code of Conduct – which includes a requirement to treat people appropriately and with respect.
“I was exonerated but felt disheartened and disillusioned that the board formed a view at odds with the findings of their own independent process.”
A Law Society spokesperson said it was not able to confirm or deny whether a complaint was made or that Russell McVeagh informed the Law Society of the investigation.
“[The] Law Society is not legally able to comment under the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act on any individual matters relating to our regulated services.”
New reporting requirements came into force on July 1, 2021, requiring lawyers and firms to notify the Law Society at the earliest opportunity if they had reasonable grounds to suspect misconduct had occurred.
The rules were not retrospective, the spokesperson said.
Aotearoa Legal Workers’ Union co-president Indiana Shewan said the union had not received any complaints relating to the alleged conduct but that it spoke to wider issues around transparency.
“The profession tends to be quite insular and secretive – whether that’s because lawyers are generally risk averse or because of fear as it’s such a small industry, I don’t know.
“We know that it’s through secrecy where abuses happen, and it’s hard to approach and support people when you don’t know what’s going on,” she said.
Shewan said given Russell McVeagh’s recent history, it owes it to current and former staff to be more transparent.
“If we look at what happened in 2015, it commissioned the Bazley report and set the terms of reference. It also had complete discretion to implement any recommendations.
“The firm hasn’t been transparent in reporting progress. We as the union can’t comment on any progress because we genuinely don’t know.
“You need independent monitoring, but even so, you have to question whether anything can be truly independent in such a small industry.”
Despite the union’s best attempts to engage with Russell McVeagh since its inception in 2019 it was not currently in discussions with the firm, she claimed.
The news follows a New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal hearing in May, which found James Gardner-Hopkins guilty of all charges relating to six separate incidents of inappropriate sexual conduct at two Christmas functions in 2015.
A decision is scheduled for September 29 and 30 at the Auckland District Court.
A further Russell McVeagh partner resigned in 2018 after an independent investigation into complaints about inappropriate comments made while drunk.
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