The Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal has made three findings of professional misconduct in relation to a New Zealand lawyer.

The lawyer acted inappropriately with junior female colleagues on three separate occasions. The instances can each broadly be covered by sexual harassment.

In the first instance, the lawyer took two female law clerks out to lunch where they shared two bottles of wine. The lawyer then took the clerks to a bar and supplied more alcohol before taking them into a sex store. The lawyer then took the clerks to another bar before returning to the office at 5pm.

The clerks noted that they were worried the incident would mean that they would not get a graduate role with the firm.

In the next instance, the lawyer hosted a client lunch with a female junior solicitor. During the lunch, the lawyer patted the solicitor’s knee multiple times. The lawyer also rubbed the solicitor’s shoulders and touched her hair. The solicitor said she felt particularly uncomfortable, noting that the lawyer was slurring his words during the lunch.

In the final instance, the lawyer sent multiple emails to a first-year solicitor. The lawyer made inappropriate comments to the solicitor and repeatedly asked her to go out for coffee with him. On one evening the lawyer asked the solicitor out to dinner, which occurred soon after the second incident and a meeting about his behaviour with senior partners in the firm.

The Tribunal found that each of these instances amounted to misconduct. Misconduct is defined under the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act as when a person’s conduct would reasonably be considered “disgraceful and dishonourable” by lawyers of good standing.

In terms of the first instance, the Tribunal noted the particular power imbalance between senior and junior lawyers, and that the lawyer had taken advantage of his position in the firm. Given the power imbalance, the amount of alcohol consumed and the adult sex store, the Tribunal decided the lawyer’s behaviour clearly reached the standard of dishonourable and disgraceful.

The Tribunal also decided that touching a junior lawyer on the knee, shoulders and hair is dishonourable and disgraceful behaviour.

In relation to the final incident, the Tribunal decided that the chain of persistent emails showed a lack of concern for the clear power imbalance between the lawyer and his junior colleagues.

The emails continued despite a meeting with senior partners regarding his inappropriate behaviour and alcohol consumption on previous occasions. The Tribunal decided this behaviour crossed the boundary of “unacceptable” into dishonourable and disgraceful.

The Tribunal has not yet decided the lawyer’s penalty for his misconduct in the workplace.

It is important to know your professional obligations as a lawyer. If you are confused about these obligations, it pays to seek advice from a professional with experience in the area.

 

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Alan Knowsley and Hunter Flanagan-Connors