One of New Zealand's highest-profile jurists says she got her very first job as a law clerk because she had the best legs.

Former Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright, the first woman appointed to the full High Court bench, chairs the New Zealand Law Society's regulatory working group looking at the processes for reporting and taking action on harassment and inappropriate behaviour in legal workplaces.

Cartwright, alongside Chief Justice Sian Elias, former attorney-general and parliamentary Speaker Margaret Wilson and Solicitor-General Una Jagose attended the launch today of the Law Society's gender equality charter.

Women's Minister Julie Anne Genter and Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias chat at the launch of the Law Society's gender equality charter. Photo / Lucy Bennett
Women's Minister Julie Anne Genter and Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias chat at the launch of the Law Society's gender equality charter. Photo / Lucy Bennett

The legal profession is in the spotlight following a raft of accusations of sexual harassment and bullying and allegations and incidents involving prominent law firms.

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Cartwright, who graduated with a law degree in 1967, said she believed all women, not just those in her industry, would have experienced oppression or discrimination.

"Although, when I was a younger lawyer the discrimination was not sexually overt to the same extent that it seems to be today."

Asked to recall any specific incidents, she said there were many.

"Getting my first, very underpaid, job as a law clerk because I had the best legs but that was just silly. They thought it was funny. I actually thought it was quite funny too because if that's what it took to get a job I was all for it."

Cartwright was happy about the gender equality charter but said she had a sense of deja vu. For many years people in the profession had been talking about the rising tide of women entering the profession and the way the tide went out after a few years.

"I am wondering if this latest awareness of the specific oppression that the younger women - and no doubt other ones as well - are experiencing, may be one of the barriers we hadn't actually thought of."

Women's Minister Julie Anne Genter officially launched the Law Society gender equality charter, which aims to improve the culture of the legal profession to attract and retain women in the industry.

"I know that there are significant ongoing issues to address," she told those gathered at Parliament's Grand Hall.

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Russell McVeagh and Chapman Tripp are among law firms that have been hit by allegations against some staff of inappropriate behaviour.

The Law Society is surveying more than 13,250 lawyers to gather information on workplace environments in the legal profession.