I can't say how Pip Greenwood, a Russell McVeagh partner, feels about coverage of the firm's ongoing sex scandal, but I guess she's well aware of how wheeling out a female lawyer or spokesperson in tricky situations is now a predictable tactic.

A female lawyer defending a rapist or wife killer, for example, is supposed to suggest to jurors that he has his good side. The same tactic of putting women out front is used by Donald Trump, said to be devastated by the resignation of his communications person, the glamorous Hope Hicks with improbable American hair.

Read more: Rosemary McLeod: Glamour holds something back
Rosemary McLeod: Similarities between Melania Trump and the gannet that died on Mana Island
Rosemary McLeod: Nassar scandal shows what happens when people fail to listen

The less glamorous Sarah Huckabee Sanders still fronts the press for him, a tougher character than her baffled male predecessor, and more focused than her boss. And Dana Loesch is now the acceptable female face of America's unacceptable National Rifle Association, tough as a gun barrel.


Greenwood got landed with fronting for the firm on the reprehensible male behaviour we've heard so much about. She spoke well on TV news as the storm broke, but where was the board's chairman, David Hoare, or its (male) chief executive, who in my opinion should have front-footed the response? It was one thing for Greenwood, a woman, to validate charges made by female law interns and say the firm was remiss in their dealings with them, but the gutsy condemnation and resolve to do better should have come from the top.

Since the story first broke, a "spokeswoman" has made subsequent statements. Why she has to be anonymous suggests she doesn't want to be tainted by association with the grubby behaviour of the male lawyers who were implicated.

So why couldn't a man speak? The optics aren't good. The males at the firm seem to be hiding behind women's skirts, possibly indulging in the slithery ethics of Harvey Weinstein's lawyer, quoted at the weekend as saying the Hollywood casting couch is as old as time, and the women accusing his client of rape - and more - chose whether or not to engage sexually with the stubbled and corpulent mogul.

I wish him luck with that line of blarney.

I see a link with Weinstein's lawyer's reasoning when Auckland law lecturer Khylee Quince tells us that some years ago she made an approach to the firm to protest about sleazy behaviour reported by female students, only to be told what appears to me to have amounted to an assertion that the students involved were adults, and it was none of her business.

This sort of thing happens, the logic goes, so just put up with it.

More than bottom pinching or lewd comments was involved here, remember. A student allegedly told Quince that after excessive drinking on their premises, Russell McVeagh staff had sex with students on the boardroom table, watched by other students.

Yet another similarity: this looks like the middle-class version of the culture of gang sex performed by gang men on women seeking acceptance and the equivalent of a patch. Women are put through such trials in either case to prove they're tough enough to make it in a man's world.


The power lies with the men who traditionally make up the majority of partners in a law firm, let's say, or with male gang members.

The nature of consent is not cut and dried, whatever a lawyer may blithely suggest. Where one person has leverage over the other, consent is irrevocably tainted. Where one person is young and drunk to the point of self-humiliation, any man who capitalises on that is in my opinion not much better than the awful Colin Mitchell, revealed last week to be a rapist from way back. He, too, liked them drunk, and no doubt justified his crimes to himself on the grounds that the women were stupid to get that drunk in the first place.

Russell McVeagh's response to Quince's resurfacing claim appears to me to have been essentially that it happened 10 years ago, as if to suggest that writes it off.

Unfortunately, I believe this hints at possible ongoing tolerance of the unacceptable. Such bumbling with public perception has led to serious consequences for the firm.

The country's law schools will no longer allow it to recruit graduates on their premises. To give the firm its due, it is setting up a full and hopefully independent investigation into the claims made against it, and how it dealt with them.

Incidentally, Russell McVeagh has had less reported successes. It won the Pan-Asia Gender Diversity Award last year for its approach to diversity in the workplace and was also 2017 Asia-Pacific International Financial Law Review Law Firm of the Year.

The mention of diversity had me checking out its list of partners. There are 36 of them, of whom just 10 are women, two appearing to be of Asian descent.

Muted applause is indicated, along with questions about law firms with worse male/female ratios, and their own male wild cards. They must dread where the axe will fall next.