New Zealand Law Society - Afghan biscuit baker changes pace from life with crime

Afghan biscuit baker changes pace from life with crime

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Sarah-Louise Tapsell
Sarah-Louise Tapsell

After eight years as a Crown prosecutor, and before she had her third baby, Sarah-Louise Tapsell decided to resign, look for a different direction, then took up a new lawyering job across the corridor.

“I was approached to join Lava Law and have been here since July. It’s a huge change in the areas of law I am used to at Rotorua Crown solicitor’s office Gordon & Pilditch and I’m not sure why I did it, but it adds a few challenges to my life,” Sarah-Louise says.

Where once serious crime was routine, her three-day working week now revolves around property, estates and employment law.

Sarah-Louise Anne (Sarah-Louise) Tapsell
Palmerston North
Entry to law
Graduated BCom from Auckland University in 2005 and LLB from Waikato University in 2007. Admitted in 2007.
Lava Law, Rotorua.
Speciality area
Property, estates and employment law.

“Working for the Crown is an absolute privilege and an incredible job. I value my time there because it shaped me as a person.

“I went in pretty green. I had to have special drugs training because I did not know how people used them or how they were made. Specialists and drug experts brought me up to speed – if you’ll pardon the pun.

“But it wasn’t something I could see myself continuing doing and I could not see me running a murder trial by myself. Court work is also difficult to manage with children.”

On the family front Sarah-Louise and her detective husband Joshua, with the help of a child minder, manage to juggle their family – Rory (6), Arabella (4 and a half) and Reuben (18 months) - around their jobs.

Every year they go to the Ngongotaha hatchery on police family days. “It’s the best way to fish with kids because they are guaranteed a catch, and it’s done within 15 minutes. It’s a parenting dream - guaranteed enjoyment.”

“Joshua is quite a hunter but time is hard to find. He is from a big family; they are a strong family.”

The couple met 11 years ago before they “got into crime” - when Joshua was a bar manager and Sarah-Louise was a civil litigator fresh from Auckland. “We later merged into this crime team.”

“Work and family is definitely challenging and finely balanced. Joshua is extremely supportive and the police are very family focused. He has a lot of leave so he can take time off.”

Mud monsters

Sarah-Louise says working three days a week is also a challenge “but there are ways you can make it work”.

“People say you want to have it all, you want a career and the job and the family. But it’s a bit old fashioned to say that now because the dynamic of the world is you do need one and a half incomes. You do it to do the best you can for your family.

“It is much easier to do this in a smaller centre. I do not know how I could do what I do in Auckland. If I have to run and pick up a child I am five minutes away. I grew up in Auckland and love it, but there is a price to pay there.

“Our life revolves around the kids. We are doing up our backyard and I’m enjoying being in the garden which really surprised me. We ripped out a whole lot of plants and are laying more grass. The kids love being covered in mud – they are mud monsters.

“I have no time for sports but love yoga and try to do it on YouTube when the kids are in bed and don’t leave the house for it. Some things have to get pushed down the priority list.

“There’s always a lot of community things going on in Rotorua, such as bike festivals, and it is cool to be part of them. I was on board for Arabella’s pre-school, but that was hard to keep up while fitting into a new job.”

With no other lawyers in the family and the youngest of four sisters, Sarah-Louise’s parents live in Auckland where her Mum is a teacher and her Dad an accountant. Her eldest sister is a teacher and a now full-time mum, her second sister is a doctor and third sister is an engineer and now also a full-time mum.

“Mum and Dad are huge believers in travel and their gift to us was travel. When we were younger we did big trips to the United States and Europe. Two of my sisters lived in England for a long time and I was able to go for university holidays.”

Her parents-in-law live in Manapouri, on the shores of Lake Manapouri, near Te Anau, where her father-in-law works on a Landcorp farm and her mother-in-law Jenny is a kindergarten teacher and recently ordained Anglican priest.

“It’s an absolutely stunning place but we don’t get to go as often as we would like. Rotorua and Queenstown being such tourist destinations it’s not a cheap flight. It’s more expensive to fly to Queenstown than Sydney.

“But we definitely plan to do the big road trip when the kids are older.

“I love listening to music, especially American country group the Zac Brown Band, and some New Zealand bands. I love musicals - any musicals – and have been listening to Hamilton, a sung and rapped-through musical about the life of American founding father Alexander Hamilton.

“If I started reading a book I would fall asleep. Joshua reads a lot and we take the kids to the library every week. I bought a book a couple of months ago and haven’t finished it.

“What we watch on television is determined by the children. I’m up to date with Paw Patrol and can tell you all the characters’ names.

“Joshua and I like good old BBC crime programmes and have just finished drama series Bodyguard on Netflix. I like George Gently, Luther and Vikings.

“When I was at the Crown I wondered ‘why am I watching this stuff’??? Now I have had the break I am back into enjoying crime. It’s good stuff.”

Helping victims

“I feel lucky with the upbringing I have had. I’ve got skills and I wanted to use those to help people. I always wanted to do law and starting with commerce was a bit more of a way in. I was learning how to study.

“When I left school I did not know how to knuckle down. I enjoyed the social side of university and when I was ready to knuckle down it was time to do law.

“I like it when things turn out for the right reason and there’s a bit of justice in it. People who have needed help have been helped. I find that satisfying.

“From the Crown’s point of view working alongside victims, going through trials, leading them through a horrendous time in their life and having them come out being thankful - no matter what the outcome was - and that they felt they had been heard, understood and respected. They were the notable moments.

“Standing beside a victim as they read out a victim impact report in court in tears but still having the courage to do it - being part of that moment is special.

“We have a 3-litre V6 Toyota Highlander, because we have to fit in three car seats, and it’s easy for parts and servicing.

“We have a chocolate Labrador called Noah, who is nearly 11 years old.

“Family would be my dinner guests. My great grandmother on my Mum’s side was quite a woman. She trekked through the Kokoda Trail in New Guinea when her mother was sick and they were air lifted off during the war.

“On Dad’s side my great grandmother left England on her own and got on a boat to New Zealand, probably in the 1920s. They were two strong women.

“And from my husband’s background, Hans Tapsell, one of the first Tapsells to settle in New Zealand in 1828. He would have some interesting yarns.

“My kids would get so much out of meeting their great great grandparents and hearing their stories of how life was. I don’t think I could miss an opportunity to have dinner with them.

“And for all the rellies it would have to be venison with a plum sauce. Rory makes a really good pavlova for dessert. And good old Edmonds recipe afghans are my speciality.

“I like the law. I had my chance to leave it when I left the Crown, and try something new. Doing it three days a week now I don’t have a desire to leave or have another job to go to.

“The law has so many great things to offer. I like baking so maybe I would be a baker. No, I wouldn’t.

“My focus is a bit more holistic. It’s not so much to be a partner in five years’ time, for me it is to have a job that provides an income for my family while also providing a service to the community.

“And while I’m doing that I’m able to raise three children, so that’s more a goal for me. It’s not just a legal goal; my goal is my family.”

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