NZ Law Society President’s #Metoo Moment

NZ Law Society President's #Metoo Moment 1Law Society president Kathryn Beck was herself the victim of serious sexual harassment as a young lawyer, she has said.

The revelation comes in the latest LawTalk when the magazine interviewed Ms Beck and former president Chris Moore on matters pertinent to the release next month of the Law Society’s Gender Equality Charter, designed to counter the lack of progress by women in the profession and to deal with issues like unconscious bias.

The growing sex harassment issue for the law profession in New Zealand has hardly been quelled by the Law Society’s latest move to appoint its working group to examine how best to deal with the issue.

But the almost institutionalized issue of disparity between genders in the profession, now that over half the lawyers are women, the Law Society’s latest profession ‘snapshot’ showing more women than men with a growth in women lawyers ranging from 4.6 per cent in 1977 to 50.01 per cent in 2018, has simply created an issue that demands the shift in power to reflect the shift in numbers.

Law Society magazine LawTalk has attempted to warm up the legal market with a look at two recent Society leaders, current president Kathryn Beck and former president Chris Moore, to see what their experiences were in gender terms.

Kathryn Beck notes in her early career she was asked by senior male lawyers whether she intended having children (she has two). She notes that she and a female colleague were asked “inappropriate questions and making inappropriate comments. Unfortunately, it was the type of old fashioned behaviour that was not uncommon at that time and which was often brushed off as ‘that’s just so and so’.”

What followed, she said, was a “sexually explicit suggestion” following the somewhat traditional, law firm Friday night drinks.

“I quite aggressively refused him. None of the other partners said did anything yet at least some of them must have heard what was said.

“He – the partner – was oddly polite, for example, still adddressing me as “Miss Beck,” even when he was being grossly disrrepectful. He seemed to hav emore respect for me when I stuck up for myself than if I hadn’t . . he was drunk and he was a bully.”

Coping with Family

Kathryn Beck notes that she didn’t have her first child until she was 37, “which meant that I had achieved a lot in my career before having a fmily. I was a law firm partner at 28. I had just left that firm to set up a boutique firm with Penny Swarbrick, so the timing was a bit Jacinda-ish. DOing it that way meant that my career was pretty well established. I only took 11 weeks off work and remained available during some of this period.”

She used a nanny to bring her daughter to work, often feeding her during court adjournments.

So where would she work today?

“If I was a young talented graduate with a choice, I’d go somewhere that presents as a current, modern, fresh thinking and diverse workplace because that is what the next generation of lawyers want.

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