The CEO of Australia’s largest law firm has left a week after telling staff she felt “triggered” by the company’s decision to take on Attorney-General Christian Porter as a client.
In an email sent to staff at 10:00pm yesterday MinterEllison chairman David O’Brien said it was “mutually agreed” Annette Kimmitt would leave the firm immediately.
Ms Kimmitt was appointed CEO in July 2018 and was halfway through a five-year contract.
“We have thanked Annette for her years of service and dedication and wished her well for the future,” Mr O’Brien wrote.
Her sudden departure follows the leaking of an email Ms Kimmitt sent to all staff last week expressing disappointment that the company had accepted Mr Porter as a client.
The email was sent just hours after Mr Porter held a media conference to strenuously deny raping a 16-year-old girl when he was a student in 1988.
“The nature of the matter is clearly causing hurt to some of you and it has certainly triggered hurt for me,” Ms Kimmitt wrote.
It was revealed on social media that senior partner and defamation expert Peter Bartlett was acting for Mr Porter.
“I know that for many it may be a tough day and I want to apologise for the pain you may be experiencing,” Ms Kimmitt wrote to staff.
She also suggested that MinterEllison’s involvement in the matter had not gone through the firm’s “due consultation or approval process”.
“Had it done, so we would have considered the matter through the lens of our Purpose and our Values,” she wrote.
A female lawyer at the firm, who did not want to be named, told the ABC that the reaction to Ms Kimmitt’s departure was divided.
She said some staff members felt that her comments in the email were inappropriate and that she had “overstepped the mark” by publicly criticising a senior partner.
But she said there was disquiet, particularly among younger staff, about the firm being connected to Mr Porter.
“Internally, it is a live issue. Junior lawyers are upset about the firm acting for Christian Porter. That’s what Annette was responding to,” she said.
She said Ms Kimmitt’s departure had left many younger staff feeling “shattered” and in some quarters, there was a perception that the CEO was “unfairly pushed”.
She said said there was concern among female lawyers at the firm about what this episode meant for the role of senior women.
Jacqueline Burn, a marketing and communications consultant who has worked with law firms for the past 20 years, said she hoped “people wouldn’t see this as a gender issue”.
“This was an example of an error of judgment or a sequence of errors of judgment.”
She said it was naive to think the email would not be leaked outside the firm.
“She didn’t need to air the firm’s dirty laundry. She has implied there is a failure of governance. That was not necessary at all,” Ms Burn said.
“Her role was to support and illuminate the decisions and remind people that everyone is entitled to legal representation.”
The Law Society of NSW declined to comment on the matter.
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