Forget the Weasel Words: What Are Big NZ Law Firms REALLY Doing To Change Their ‘Culture’?

Forget the Weasel Words: What Are Big NZ Law Firms REALLY Doing To Change Their 'Culture'? 2
Forget the Weasel Words: What Are Big NZ Law Firms REALLY Doing To Change Their 'Culture'? 3

John Bowie

The Law Society’s efforts to ensure workplace culture improves for lawyers has seen 15 of New Zealand’s largest law firms post their updates to the LawTalk  showing how hard they have been working.

Despite a 400 word limit, the firms took the opportunity to explain exactly why they were ‘making a difference’ – our words, not theirs.

Time will tell, but we know that the firms have been burning the midnight oil forsaking the billable hour in favour of the livable hour for their employees and presenting the best face they can in terms of having a safe and inclusive culture, to quote most.

The key here is to avoid the weasel words that so predominate in this climate – the endless talk of ‘inclusiveness’, ‘robustness’, ‘zero tolerance’, ‘frameworks’, ‘ transparency’ and the like.  Most importantly, what are they doing that is actually new?

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Most are quick to point out how ‘robust’ their existing policies and procedures are, as well as pointing out the positives about their culture. Meredith Connell, providing the briefest and unsigned brief, pats itself on the back for its existing arrangements, noting rather cutely that “culture eats policy for breakfast”. (We must remember that one).

Forget the Weasel Words: What Are Big NZ Law Firms REALLY Doing To Change Their 'Culture'? 4
Dame Margaret Bazley

Russell McVeagh, the source and ‘target’ for many so far as the whole harassment row has been focused, have also had the toughest job for all the obvious reasons.  Smartly, they have also adopted and are implementing all of Dame Margaret Bazley’s recommendations.

Most of the large firms have signed up to the Law Society Gender Equality Charter, for instance.  But we looked for real world, tangible, ‘here today’ moves that they have made.

So here’s a quick once over on what we think are the key points from the Big 15.

Bell Gully – 

>> Revived the peer support network, with partners and others trained by outside consultants

>> Anonymous feedback from employees on work issues

>> Partnership leadership programme run by external experts including ‘360 degree’ feedback from the firm

>>Produced a gap analysis based on the Bazley Report to create future action plans

Anderson Lloyd – 

>> Introduced new questions in engagement survey to permit anonymous feedback on bullying, harassment and other issues

>> Extended independent support services for staff to raise issues with outside staff

>> Provided the opportunity to obtain further training on harassment, unconscious bias and other issues.

Tompkins Wake – 

>> Signed a five year commitment to Rainbow Tick

>> Reviewed firm policies to ensure compliance and support where necessary.

Anthony Harper – 

>> Access to a confidential hotline to counter stress, work related and other issues

Chapman Tripp –

>> Added initiatives to the firm’s ‘wellbeing strategy’

>> Drafted a relationships at work policy and new alcohol and whistleblower polices and also a Code of Conduct

>> Trained 21 support people across all roles and levels as points of contact to talk about concerning behaviour

>> Running workplace psychological health training for leaders since March so as to better identify psychological wellbeing

Simpson Grierson – 

>> Reviewed and updated the anti-bullying and harassment policy in the firm following firm-wide consultation

>> Organised formal training as a refreshed for the ‘harassment support team’ and with all partners involved

>> Strengthened the whistleblower service by providing third party option out of confidentiality concerns

Duncan Cotterill – 

>> Changed and upgraded safety and wellness policies, including widening channels for reporting of bullying and harassment

>> Provided an employee representative committee

>> Increased partner-level awareness of harassment.

Lane Neave – 

>> Developed a ‘process diagram’ for handling complaints, including accessing help if required

>> Reviewed all key people policies

Kensington Swan – 

>> Reviewing staff policies and practices with assistance from the Sexual Abuse Prevention Network, including developing ‘response training’ for staff and partners

>> Added to anti-harassment contacts in the offices with additional training

Buddle Findlay – 

>> Conducted external review of the firm ‘culture’ which showed a ‘sharing’ etc culture and workplace

>> Implemented external help lines for staff concerned about behaviour

>> Conducted national meetings on safety and wellbeing and how it can be enhanced.

DLA Piper – 

>> Conducted compulsory training on unconscioius bias issues

>> Compulsory induction training on bullying, harassment and other issues

>> Independent audit by DLA Piper Asia Pacific risk team on existing policy adequacy of standards and systems

>> Annual compulsory ethics training for all staff.

MinterEllisonRuddWatts – 

>> Reconfirmed existing policies on wellness, anti-harassment etc including anonymous staff engagement surveys and compulsory training on anti-harassment and anti-bullying

>> Reviewed and refreshed programmes on staff wellness, wellbeing, diversity, effective management.

Wynn Williams – 

>> Adopted 12 point ‘Wynn Williams Way charter including focus on diversity and respect and reviewed all policies.

Russell McVeagh – 

>> Commenced intensive and independently run coaching and leadership programme for partners

>> Established a People and Transformation Committee

>> Agreed to implement all of the recommendations in the Bazley Report

Introduced outside expertise including HR support and cultural transformation support to assist in implementing the firm’s culture change

>> Agreed to independent review of progress regarding culture change and to ensure an entirely safe work environment.

Meredith Connell – 

>> Rely upon existing policies and procedures which are ‘appropriately’ in place.

Forget the Weasel Words: What Are Big NZ Law Firms REALLY Doing To Change Their 'Culture'? 5

Bringing cultural change, inclusiveness, gender and ethnic diversity and all those other ‘things’ that make up a firm’s ‘culture’ is something that can create a degree of suspicion.  ‘Culture’ after all, is an oft-misused or misunderstood word. 

As law firm observer and consultant Jordan Furlong noted, “Law firm “culture” isn’t that hard to define. Culture is what people at the law firm actually do every day — or, less sunnily, what people get away with doing.”

Forget the Weasel Words: What Are Big NZ Law Firms REALLY Doing To Change Their 'Culture'? 6

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