Top law firm Russell McVeagh has hired three new female partners following a damning sexual harassment inquiry which found it had struggled to promote and retain women lawyers.

The firm announced today that it was hiring four new partners, three of them women, and was waiting on Law Society sign-off to hire a fifth partner.

Russell McVeagh chairman Malcolm Crotty said the new partners - Liz Blythe, Anna Crosbie, Emmeline Rushbrook and Nathaniel Walker - were appointed for their exceptional relationship and management skills.

"Our new partners are highly regarded for their integrity and people-centred leadership styles," he said.


The new recruits follow an inquiry into the firm's "work hard, play hard" culture by Dame Margaret Bazley.

The review, released in July, was prompted by allegations that five summer clerks were sexually harassed over the summer of 2015/16. A partner at the firm resigned as a result of the inquiry.

Before the latest hirings, nearly 30 per cent of partners at the firm were women - just below the industry average in New Zealand.

Bazley's report said Russell McVeagh had made progress with gender equality. In a recent board election, the majority of board members elected were women.

But she said many talented women still left the company rather than progress to partnership.

"It ... claims to be a meritocracy, where people progress into senior roles on merit.

"I find a disconnect between these claims. Given the exceptional calibre of women lawyers at the firm, promotion on merit should see significantly more women in senior roles than is currently the case."

Bazley said more work was needed to address sexism and unconscious bias at the firm.

"I consider any form of discrimination against women to be a serious issue because it inhibits the change that is needed to achieve the complete elimination of sexual harassment and sexual assault," she said.

A research paper in 2016 found that new woman lawyers felt it was more difficult for women than men to progress in law firms. Just under 70 per cent of those surveyed felt that their gender had a bearing on their prospects in the profession.

The legal profession also struggles to retain women lawyers, who were 3 to 4 per cent more likely to quit their jobs than men. They are also more likely than men to get admitted but then quit the industry before they take up a job.