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Helen Elizabeth Twentyman, 1967 - 2016

By James Greenland

Passionately pro bono to the end, before succumbing to her battle with cancer Auckland lawyer Helen Twentyman requested that, in lieu of flowers to mark her passing, people make a donation to domestic abuse charity Shine. 

Mrs Twentyman LLM died on 17 February 2016. She is survived by her husband John and two children Andrew and Danielle.

photo of Helen Twentyman 
Helen Twentyman. 

In her own words, Mrs Twentyman had "a real passion for the community".

Joining the Grey Lynn Neighbourhood Law Office (GLNLO) – the country's first community law centre – in 1995 as staff solicitor, she continued to work tirelessly for the people of Auckland – notably putting in long hours – for nearly 15 years.

"I can see how valuable it is when people who can't afford a lawyer get good legal advice when they are in trouble. Even when I was at law school, it was to help people," she said in a 2011 interview with the New Zealand Law Society.

She was appointed Head Solicitor at the community law centre in 2003.

Writing for LawTalk in 2012, Mrs Twentyman described the usually heavy caseload (up to 80 files at once) at GLNLO as "challenging", with a client base that was "disadvantaged and impoverished". But "it is this client base that has enriched and enlightened many of the staff who have worked at the GLNLO", she wrote.

"It is why many good people have worked there and fought so hard for the right for people to have access to justice, good sound legal representation in the courts, [and to ensure] that the lawyers who represent clients are independent." 

During her time in the role the GLNLO "progressed extremely well", she recalled, with significant funding increases, and a doubling of the number of people accessing the office's services.

Jennifer Toma, Office Manager and Senior Legal Secretary at the Auckland Community Law Centre, knew and worked with Mrs Twentyman for many years. 

In a letter she penned to the Twentyman family, on behalf of her colleagues she says:

"Helen was a great woman, the type of person you don't come across often in your lifetime.

"She was kind hearted, compassionate and determined, showing so much passion in everything she loved."

That meant she was "very, very passionate about community law". 

"Helen was a very big believer in giving back to the community, so naturally had a strong voice for Community Law. Her passion shone through in the sacrifice she would make by giving precious time away from her family to GLNLO through countless late nights, early mornings and weekends to help drive GLNLO towards its goals."

Her family's sacrifices and support were expressly noted in Mrs Twentyman's LawTalk article.

"Helen never ended at advising, assisting or representing clients," Miss Toma says.

"She cared enough to ensure domestic violence victims were safe and would organise with Women's Refuge to have her clients placed. Sometimes our clients just needed an ear, and Helen was very patient with these clients. Client's that staff would find annoying, she would sit and listen to – sometimes they just need someone to vent to.

"Helen had that personality where yes she was busy, but never too busy to help, even if it was just to listen."

"Helen was one of the most humble and passionate people we knew.

"She fought hard and long for what was right, and this fight continues on in what is now the Auckland Community Law Centre today.

"She carried the mana and roots of GLNLO from beginning to end and gained great respect from Auckland communities. 

"She will be missed."

The domestic abuse charity Shine's donation page is here.

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Last updated on the 25th February 2016