Law Society forms sexual harassment working group

The organisation has detailed nine initiatives in its action plan

Law Society forms sexual harassment working group

The New Zealand Law Society will be forming a working group that focuses on sexual harassment in the legal profession.

The peak lawyer body has also outlined nine initiatives in its action plan to tackle the issue, which has racked the industry in recent weeks. Law Society President Kathryn Beck said that the working group’s members, terms of reference, and timeframe will be announced soon.

“This is one of a number of actions the Law Society is taking to address a matter which impacts on all lawyers and their clients. The public discussion has been sobering, but it has also highlighted matters that we need to resolve so we can be more proactive without re-victimising victims,” Beck said.

“Alongside our processes, we have looked at the practical actions which are needed to openly and fully address the issue of sexual harassment in the legal profession. This includes providing support for people who are affected by it,” she said.

The Law Society’s action plan includes the development of an online portal and dedicated helpline to air workplace harassment concerns. The Law Society said that this will make it easier for people to “raise and discuss sensitive matters arising in their workplace.”

The organisation is also launching a free webinar on harassment, which is similar to the Law Society’s unconscious bias webinar last year.

A review of the Law Society’s “National Friends Panel” will also be conducted to identify and recruit members who are well-placed to provide support and advice on sensitive matters.

The Law Society will also organise and facilitate meetings of key interest groups, such as women lawyers and young lawyers, to look at issues, solutions, and resource allocation.

It will also conduct a national survey of lawyers to look at the current workplace environment for legal practices and seek information on harassment, stress, and wellbeing.

The Law Society also commits to the development of more local branch and national events that will tackle dealing with difficult people, bullying, and harassment. It will also provide more information and practical guidance through its publications, as well as include information addressing harassment and bullying in Law Society publications for young lawyers.

The organisation will also draw from its “Practicing Well” initiative to develop and maintain a centralised system for information resources and support available from organisations both within and outside the legal profession.

Beck said that last year, the Law Society’s Women’s Advisory Panel looked at harassment as well as other matters blocking the advancement of women in the profession.

“It decided that the issue of harassment required its own project and focus, to be further progressed after launch of the Gender Equality Charter in April. This work has been brought forward. Clearly action is needed now,” she said.

The Law Society must focus on the culture and underlying assumptions that exist in some law firms and legal workplaces, she said, adding that the change has to come from inside legal organisations and be driven and assisted from the outside.

“There is no place for a culture of sexual harassment in our profession. It must stop. The Law Society is determined to do all it can to tackle a complex issue in an innovative and practical manner,” Beck said. “As regulator of the practice of law, the Law Society fully appreciates that it must always assess whether the regulatory framework in place is flexible enough to meet current needs. It is essential that all lawyers are able to practise in a workplace environment in which they are free from any harassment. The working group will look at whether the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 and its associated rules and regulations allow us to take effective action.”


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