16 October 2018

Top Sino-Australian law firm investigated over working conditions

King & Wood Mallesons faces allegations of work overload and 'grueling conditions' where lawyers slept in the office to meet deadlines.

Sino-Australian firm King & Wood Mallesons is under investigation by authorities for allegedly overworking lawyers and staff in its Melbourne office. The allegations have arisen from a public inquiry into financial sector misconduct.

Regulatory notice

The firm has confirmed receiving a notice for improvement from WorkSafe Victoria, the state occupational health and safety regulator. The notices highlights employee conditions creating work overload and difficult working conditions. It claims junior lawyers at King & Wood Mallesons’ Melbourne office have been subject to unacceptable work conditions, including employees sleeping in the office to meet tight deadlines and handle high work volumes. King & Wood Mallesons Australia chief executive partner Berkeley Cox said the firm is ‘undertaking a comprehensive review of what else we can do to better identify and prevent high-pressure situations for our people.’ He said employee will supported and given ‘regular and proper opportunities to rest and recover.’

Investigation

It is the first time a law firm in Australia is being investigated for overworking lawyers. The investigation resulted from a recent public inquiry into misconduct by a number of financial services providers in Australia. A Royal Commission, led by former high court justice Kenneth Hayne QC, was set up in December 2017 to probe unethical practices, including the selling of highly risky financial products to vulnerable populations, such as the disabled. The investigation involved some of King & Wood Mallesons’ clients, including wealth managers AMP Ltd and IOOF Holdings Ltd and insurance firms Suncorp Group Ltd and Youi Pty Ltd, according to the Australian Financial Review. Clayton Utz, Gilbert + Tobin, Herbert Smith Freehills and Ashurst are also advising on the investigation.