A lawyer who left the legal sector after suffering years of sexual innuendos and inappropriate behaviour from male colleagues described the environment as being "like a frat house.''

Former litigation lawyer, Olivia Wensley, said recent reports surrounding law firm Russell McVeagh - in which allegations were made that male employees had engaged in sexual acts with female intern students - had inspired her to speak up.

The 32-year-old, who now works at legal tech start-up Automio, penned her thoughts and experiences in a raw piece via her LinkedIn account.

In it, she reveals how surprised she was that everyone else was so shocked at the allegations - given it was very much "the norm'' within the industry.


"Everyone in our profession knows it. There is nothing new or shocking about this kind of experience - this is simply par for the course in many (most) law firms,'' she wrote.

"Young women think it is normal to put up with such rubbish behaviour and that getting through it is earning your stripes.''

Wensley, who studied at Canterbury and Waikato universities before being admitted to the Bar about 10 years ago, said she had worked in many law firms around the country as well as those in Australia and Singapore.

She acknowledged that although there were many good people within the sector, she was among those to witness and experience crude and seedy behaviour from others within the industry - in law firms here and overseas.

In one incident she wrote about, a partner in a firm told a male colleague: "I've just hired a nice little piece of ass for you.''

The worst incident was when she was approached by a senior colleague who sat next to her at a Christmas function and promptly put his hand on her thigh.

"He whispered something I can't even say out loud without my throat seizing up.

"He told me about a sexual fetish act he wanted to do to me, which involved him and my secretary."

Olivia Wensley, ex-lawyer, has opened up about her experiences as a young lawyer. Photo / Supplied
Olivia Wensley, ex-lawyer, has opened up about her experiences as a young lawyer. Photo / Supplied

Earlier today, the Auckland University of Technology confirmed it had cancelled a planned presentation from Russell McVeagh to its law students next week.

AUT's dean of law, Professor Charles Rickett, said the reason was because of ongoing investigations into improper conduct by employees of the firm and concerns in relation to the working environment and culture there.

He said the school wanted to help students meet a diverse range of potential legal employers - but ones it was confident would provide a supportive working environment.

Speaking to the Herald, Wensley said she knew about several young women who had given up a career in law after encountering inappropriate behaviour in the workplace and that, as a young woman in a law firm, it was very much an exception not to encounter it at some point.

Many a time she was asked about her sex life, boyfriends and listened to rude banter about women in general.

"At one firm I worked at, they ranked all the women by attractiveness and they'd refer to them by numbers. So they'd say: 'Oh, number 3'.''

"It was like a frat house."

When she spoke up - even to female colleagues in senior roles - people were quick to play down an incident or defend the behaviour.

"They'd say: 'Oh, he's just joking. He doesn't really meant that. At least he thinks you're pretty - he's just trying to give you a compliment.''

Wensley gave a number of recommendations to help stop this kind of behaviour - and particularly about making sure such behaviour was brought to light.

Among the recommendations was a call for the creation of an independent committee to formally investigate this issue and ways to fix it, an anonymous tip-off service and the compulsory notification of any settlement where sexual allegations have been made.

"It's big firms, small firms," she said.

"Probably 95 per cent of lawyers are great. But then there are some really awful people who get these power kicks out of saying these things."