New Zealand Law Society

Navigation menu

Inspired by the appeal of all-Māori women law firm

28 November 2019 - By Jock Anderson

When a life-changing opportunity opened the door to a legal career Ruakaka teenager Alisha Castle grabbed it with both hands.

“Law was not something that was on my radar but I was presented with a phenomenal opportunity when my now current boss Kelly Dixon, a former head girl at Bream Bay College, approached the school to give a couple of students the opportunity to work at the law firm she worked at in Auckland, Tamatekapua Law.

“My friend and I put our hands straight up. I was in the seventh form and had not put my finger on what I wanted to do. I knew I had to go to university, my Mum said that was what I needed to do.

NameAlisha Suzanne (Alisha) Castle (Ngati Paoa, Ngapuhi)
BornAuckland, grew up in Ruakaka, near Waipu.
Age28
Entry to lawGraduated LLB from Auckland University in 2013. Admitted in 2014.
WorkplaceAssociate at Dixon & Co, Ellerslie, Auckland.
Speciality areaFamily law and Māori legal issues.

“Spending a week in the firm it became apparent it wasn’t what I understood it to be, and not what it appeared from television. What was appealing for me was that it was a small firm run by Prue Kapua - now the Māori Women’s Welfare League president - and it was all Māori women.

Alisha Castle

“That was an entirely novel concept for me: that these Māori women were running a law firm in the middle of Auckland and undertaking exciting work.

“I applied for law school and just as I was prepared to move to Auckland and start my first year, Kelly called me and asked if I would like some administration work. I jumped at the chance.”

Alisha worked for Prue and Kelly for five years while she studied – she was an executive member of Te Rakau Ture (MāoriLaw Students’ Association) for three years. After graduating she began work with them as a junior solicitor.

After about three years, Kelly started her own firm – Dixon & Co – in 2017 and Alisha went with her. “It is absolute chance that this happened.”

“I am really lucky. It was a situation where an opportunity presented itself and I am grateful I grabbed it with both hands. It was life-changing, because I don’t know what career path I would have gone down otherwise.”

Alisha has worked extensively in litigation appearing before the Waitangi Tribunal, MāoriLand Court, the High Court and the Family Court.

Humble beginnings

The first lawyer in her family, her legal interests lie particularly with family law and Māorilegal issues. She is a member of Te Hunga Roia Māori o Aotearoa - the MāoriLaw Society and the Family Law Section of the New Zealand Law Society.

“I was raised by my mother, Rachel. Myself and two younger sisters, Heleena and Pania, at Ruakaka, a very small town, with humble beginnings. Mum and Malcolm, my Dad, separated when I was five.

“Heleena is a mum to a nine-month-old baby, and Pania is an early childhood teacher, and has a two-month-old baby. The whole family remains in Ruakaka. I only found myself in Auckland by virtue of the fact there is no law school in Ruakaka.

“Mum was a farmer and a hard worker. There was a strong focus on working hard if you wanted to succeed in life and she instilled a strong work ethic in us.

Alisha Castle

“I was passionate about debating at high school and I’m told that was an extension of my liking to argue.”

Married to partner Gareth, who she has been with for seven years, the couple bought a home in Ellerslie last year, not far from Alisha’s work. “Gareth has been through my study phase and my working phase, all the ups and downs.”

She says spending time with her new niece and nephew. “Any opportunity I can I head home to Ruakaka and spend time with them.”

“I am also doing a te reo Māori and Tikanga course at the moment, which I love and am passionate about.

“Leaving my work environment and moving into that environment is important for my overall wellbeing. It balances me a lot. Being active is the same thing.

“I like getting out for a walk, out with friends and working out at the gym. Our work team work out together. Keeping your mind balance is important in a profession like ours.”

A netball player at school Alisha does not play sport now, focusing on her work and wider family.

“I don’t have much of a travel bug. I’ve been to Australia, Rarotonga four times, Fiji, Vanuatu and Noumea, and around New Zealand.

“I can’t sing, but at high school I undertook every extra-curricular activity going.”

Bagpipes

She played bass guitar in a school band, tenor saxophone and the bagpipes – a nod to Ruakaka being close to Waipu, which has a strong Scottish heritage and well-known for its annual New Year Highland Games.

“Ileft all that behind in my final year at high school. I love all types of music, particularly New Zealand reggae and R & B. I like Six60. I listen to music all day at work, it stimulates my brain, but I keep my office door closed or I would drive everyone else mad.

“I find working in silence difficult. We have a guitar in our boardroom, and we often practice songs for events.”

When it comes to reading Alisha describes herself as “such a geek”.

“I still like to read things that are relevant to my work. I love to read texts on Māori legal issues and Law Journal articles. All work-related.

“I am so passionate about the issues I don’t need to draw a line between what I do outside work and what I want to do at work. It helps me in practice and I enjoy reading and learning about it.

“I don’t watch anything on television related to legal practice, such as Suits. I don’t find that something to engage in when I’m not working.

“I like watching something that’s quite mindless and an easy watch that requires no analysis - terrible reality TV, anything that requires zero analysis, I can happily watch that.

“I don’t support it, it serves its purpose for me in that it is entertaining. It’s someone else in a terrible position.

“Apart from Ruakaka my favourite spot is the Hokianga, which is where my marae is and the people I descend from. It’s one of the most beautiful places in this country, and is the birthplace. Because it is off the beaten track it is almost like a little untouched paradise with an atmosphere of history.

“We don’t have any pets but we have our family dog in Ruakaka which I consider to be my dog. It’s an SPCA rescue dog called Puppy which I don’t think we have ever been able to identify by breed.

“My Mum wanted to rescue a dog and have a small dog for the house. It grew to be a small horse but thinks it’s a human.

“I drive a wee orange 1.5 litre Suzuki Swift, which is perfect for Auckland.

“Michelle Obama, Dr Ranginui Walker, and Dame Sian Elias are my first choice of dinner guests. Dame Sian is such a ground-breaking champion for Māori legal rights. I love a good Vietnamese dish, so that’s the first thing that comes to mind. And you can’t go past a good Central Otago pinot noir.

Dancing

“A memorable moment for me so far in my career was the first time the Waitangi Tribunal sat as a joint panel, in July 2019. They were hearing economic issues that related to remedies proceedings. We appeared for one of the parties and I felt privileged to appear before a joint panel of two female judges.

“It was a standout moment for me because both of the presiding officers were women – Judge Carrie Wainwright and Judge Stephanie Milroy.

“When I was younger I had every intention to be a successful choreographer. That was another extra-curricular area but I don’t dance now. Contemporary dance and hip hop were my favourites.

“I don’t have personal aspirations. I don’t aspire to the Bench. I don’t aspire to establish my own firm, or make partner.

“My key ambition is to know that on every file I work on I did my best to achieve good outcomes for our clients, especially in the space we work in.

“It’s important because those issues go beyond our clients a lot of the time. I feel a great sense of responsibility.

“Anything that inches Māori toward a better legal position, then I am happy. If I could look back on my career and see I have done that in some way shape or form, I think I would be reasonably content.”

Last updated on the 28th November 2019