Sasha Borissenko: The new Parliament – lawyers, lawyers, lawyers

To quote the hilarious Twitter aficionado, Strictly Obiter: “fantastic diversity in parliament this term – you’ve got corporate lawyers, litigation lawyers, criminal lawyers, employment lawyers, in-house lawyers”.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, if my calculations are correct (note my preference for the arts over numbers) more than 20 per cent of parliament is made up of the legally inclined. Let’s kick this (what will have to be a series) off by focussing on who’s representing the legal industry in the Labour party.

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While comrade Andrew Little might not be Justice Minister anymore, he had a career working as a lawyer for the Engineering, Printing & Manufacturing Union in the 1990s. He was offered roles with the “big firms” but turned them down as “I did not think I would be motivated in the way I was totally motivated to work for working people”.

Newbie Arena Williams is not only Labour’s youngest new MP. The former Auckland University Students’ Association president worked in-house with Ngā Maunga Whakahii o Kaipara Development Trust following a stint working for Chapman Tripp and, with husband Max Hardy (a crown prosecutor at Meredith Connell), helped keep Kāinga Ora on its toes in Hobsonville Point.

Fellow newbie Barbara Edmonds worked as a lawyer with the Department of Internal Affairs. The mother of eight said her legal training held her in good stead, particularly following the Christchurch terror attacks. In her role as ministerial advisor, she helped to usher in the firearms law. “I believe my legal career has helped me effect positive change, making our communities a safer place.”

A lowlight throughout this process was realising Sir Thomas Thorp’s review of firearms control in 1997, which recommended banning semi-automatic and MSSR weapons, hadn’t come to fruition.

Another newbie – so many newbies – includes fellow comrade Camilla Belich, who was a senior associate at Bartlett Law before lawyering at the Public Service Association and NZ Council of Trade Unions. Belich kicked off her career working for Oakley Moran, then moved to London where she worked for trade union, Unison.

Dunedinite David Parker was a former managing and litigation partner with Anderson Lloyd. More notably, more than a year and 70-odd columns later, I still can’t get past his media advisors to secure further information. What that says about the column’s status – I do not know.

Legal superstar Duncan Webb has a doctorate in law, a bachelor of arts in philosophy, and most recently a postgrad diploma in policy and government. Webb studied law because “sociology didn’t seem to have a great career path to a seventeen year old at the time”.

One of his career highlights includes being the main author of the Law Society’s Rules of Conduct and Client Care Rules. I should mention here that said rules are under review, but I respect Webb too much to burst said bubble.

Emily Henderson consulted – focussing on the Family Court – with Henderson Reeves in Whangārei, a practice her father founded.

Helen White, as previously highlighted, was a barrister sole specialising in employment law.

She chose employment law because it seemed to her that earning a decent living wage and secure employment was really important to people having the power over their own lives.

While she says most career highlights would bore the socks off the NZHerald’s readers, “I have also had a role as a left wing lawyer explaining my point of view to my colleagues…[I] have seen many terrible tragedies under the current [legal framework] – contractors have been exploited and I have relentlessly tried to make this apparent”.

Kiri Allan was a commercial lawyer and business consultant with Kahui Legal before entering parliament.

Marja Lubeck worked as president of the Flight Attendant and Related Services Association and later E tū Director of Organising (Aviation).

Meka Whaitiri ditched the law after two years at Victoria University of Wellington in favour of greener education pastures.

Like Arena Williams, Naisi Chen is also one of the youngest new MPs. Chen is a choral conductor, chartered member of the Institute of Directors, former President of the NZ Chinese Students’ Association, and an alumna of the Office of Ethnic Communities Young Leaders Program. On top of these accolades Chen found time to complete a law degree, and before entering parliament she was a director of a business consultancy firm specialising in employment and HR.

Barrister Rachel Brooking was also mad about students, having served as president of the Otago University Students’ Association in the good ol’ days when education and rent was cheap as chips. The environmental lawyer chaired the Otago/Southland branch of the Resource Management Law Association and contributed to Justice Tony Randerson’s review of the Resource Management Act.

Rino Tiraketene was formerly a commercial lawyer with Simpson Grierson. Prior to entering Parliament, Rino had over fourteen years’ experience working in Māori economic development roles.

Steph Lewis was an in-house lawyer at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner before jumping ship to become a policy advisor. According to the Labour website, she pursued law after her folks purchased land intending to build a house, but had to spend their savings on lawyers’ fees.

Last but not least, Vanushi Walters was a Director of Auckland medico-legal and employment specialists Cogent Law. The superstar also has a Masters of Studies in International Human Rights Law from the University of Oxford.

“I held and still do hold a strong sense of outrage at sometimes grave violations of human rights that happen around the world,” she said.

Walters entered politics after feeling frustrated at the state of community law centres during the National-led governments. The former YouthLaw and Community Law veteran said the funding freeze “had a real impact on [her] ability to provide services to those who needed it most”. Will this lead to a revitilisation of community law services across Aotearoa?

Watch this space.

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