The stories of sexual abuse and harassment at a top Wellington law firm didn't come as a huge surprise to me.

Not just because abusers are being outed in almost every sector of society, in every profession and occupation, thanks to the #MeToo movement.

The victims of the powerful, victims who have remained silent for years for fear of what speaking out would do to their careers and indeed to their psyches, have now found security in numbers and are screaming their fury loud and strong.

When even some Oxfam charity workers have been found to be withholding aid in countries like Chad and Haiti in return for sex, the threshold for surprise is high.


I should know by now that people who appear to be doing God's work quite often use it as a cover for their own sadistic power trip.

I was raised a Catholic and went to school in Hamilton during the time that Father Mark Mannix Brown was ruining the lives of young Catholic men. So yes, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that some people who hold themselves up to be bastions of goodness and integrity turn out to be filthy to the core. Yet I was.

However, I certainly wasn't surprised when I heard the news that some senior lawyers have been harassing young female interns. Because that particular gobsmack had taken place more than 20 years ago.

That was the time that I was maitre d' at a popular Wellington restaurant called Paradiso. It was the early 90s and Courtenay Place was just taking off. Paradiso was the place to be.

Everyone used to turn up there — the Fay Richwhite execs selling off New Zealand; the politicians who were letting them do so; Russell Coutts and the victorious Team New Zealand; Crowded House; Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh; Imran Khan; if they came to Wellington, they generally came to Paradiso.

So it was only natural that the blue ribbon law firms brought their top prospects to Paradiso as part of their campaign to woo the best young talent to their particular firm.

As I recall, about three or four of the law firms did it, and at certain times of year, we'd be asked to reserve Table 8, the best table, the one in the window, for around 12 people and the bill would be paid by the law firm.

The young people would duly arrive and, like over-excited puppies, they would jostle and shove for position.


The most expensive champagnes were ordered, cigars came out after dinner. They were young, brilliant and, in the case of some of the young women, exceptionally beautiful.

I remember one night, having signed off for the evening, saying to the flash lawyer from the flash law firm who sat at the bar waiting to wave the credit card at the end of the evening that I found it hard to believe that the young women were not only drop dead gorgeous but A+ law students as well.

The lawyer knocked back his single malt and smiled at me. "Oh, they're not," he said.

"They're B-pluses, A minuses. Bright enough though," he said, looking over his shoulder at the young women in their off-the-shoulder black dresses, appraisingly.

"But I thought your top kids had to be the cream of the cream — in the top 2 per cent, representative sportspeople, that sort of thing," I said.

"Well, it's like this," said the senior lawyer. "When these kids sign on, they work impossible hours. The only people they will get to meet, the only people they'll socialise with, are their workmates. So based on the personality tests they take, we hire young women who are bright, capable, but who will make better wives than lawyers.

"It keeps everyone happy and it doesn't unsettle the firm. Nothing worse than a bright young man going off the rails because he's met someone inappropriate."

Now this was more than 20 years ago and the conversation is not verbatim.

I don't remember which big-name firm the lawyer came from and I didn't have a tape recorder.

It was the 90s and everybody was big-noting.

He might have been doing the same. Or it might have been a joke. But he didn't appear to be boasting — what would he have been boasting about? — and he wasn't laughing.

To him, it was a completely rational hiring strategy.

I was stunned and I've told a number of people over the years about that conversation.

I've even asked a few senior lawyers in Auckland whether it could have been true. They hadn't heard of such a practice.

But I know what I saw — on more than one occasion — and I know what I heard. So yeah. When I hear that senior members of a prestigious law firm are hassling young women, I'm not surprised.

• Kerre McIvor is on NewstalkZB today, 9am-noon.