New in the Law
Born in Samoa, Lagi Tuimavave is the oldest of five children and spent her formative high school years growing up in Wellington, attending Wellington Girls’ College.
Bilingual in English and Samoan, Ms Tuimavave says that while she was an English studies buff, her favourite subject was legal studies, as the subject supported the needs of students who spoke English as their second language. She is a solicitor with Wellington Family Law.
When did you realise that you wanted to be a lawyer?
“My father helped me to decide and I eventually learnt the value of having a law degree.
“Since college, I realised that I had no other options but to become a lawyer, hence my perseverance with English.
“Once at law school I knew I had made the right decision, despite the many challenges I had to endure. I feel so honoured to have a practising certificate because I feel a deep sense of responsibility for the elderly, young people, Pacific islanders and any vulnerable member or members of our community.”
You have a BA majoring in Samoan studies and cultural anthropology. Do these help you in your day-to-day work as a lawyer?
“I’m lucky I got to major in these papers.
“Cultural anthropology gave me perspective about different cultures and their rituals and the varied ways people live and organise themselves. I love that we are all so different and that we can all learn a thing or two from each other.
“As a lawyer, understanding differences is crucial. I can never assume I know someone’s culture simply from listening to their stories. Being a lawyer comes with a great deal of trust but also the need to respect my clients’ vulnerabilities in a system that should only be turned on as an absolute last resort.”
What do you enjoy most about being a lawyer?
“I enjoy working in a firm with very experienced partners who have been so hands-on with my development. I think it is so important for new lawyers to be surrounded by willing and experienced teachers. This is an experience I can never take for granted.
“I am so reluctant to say that I enjoy being a lawyer for the mere fact that I get to file evidence for my clients, attend court and bill them. No, for me, joy in being a lawyer comes from the mere fact that a client thanks me for helping them alleviate stress and pain. It’s in the way I give them legal advice and practical advice. It’s about being upfront and not sugar coating the legal system. I guess you can say that I enjoy being a lawyer because I care about people.”
What made you lean toward specialising in family law?
“Family law presents to me an opportunity to help people with their issues. Family law has the human element; it is the core of the area of law. I like that there are steps people could be advised to take before engaging the legal system unless they are urgent matters.
“[I think] Family law should be less adversarial and more conciliatory.”
After finishing study, did you find the job matched the expectations you had in school?
“To be honest, I wasn’t quite prepared for the level of responsibility that comes with being a family lawyer. Going home and wondering whether a client will be okay over the weekend is a demonstration of the extent to which I have brought this obligation upon myself. This is something I am trying to get used to.”
Are there any issues currently facing young lawyers and/or the legal system as a whole that you’d like to highlight?
“I think, in general, young and new lawyers are expected to work long arduous hours to earn their place and meet expectations. I can only hope that they are all well supported and looked after by members of their practice.
“Sexual harassment and bullying is real in the legal fraternity – to me it is a long term disease that needs serious treatment. Just because I personally haven’t experienced it in my current firm doesn’t mean I’m going to be silent on the issue.
“The profession needs to be free from entitled people who think it is ok to bully or sexually violate their staff. Such behaviour needs to be eliminated. Let’s respect each other and appreciate that upholding each other’s unique mana is conducive to better outcomes for all.
“There is a great and urgent need for diversity in the legal profession. We need more Māori and Pasifika lawyers in litigation teams in all firms, let’s be a reflection of our country.
“I think there is a growing shortage of legal aid lawyers. This saddens me because access to justice is being denied. I’m really hoping this decline is only temporary.
“I feel honoured to be at Wellington Family Law where I feel supported and I can only hope the same for my junior colleagues.”
Can you tell me about anyone who inspires you?
“In general, my mother Piilua inspires me. She is the most hard-working woman that I know. I feel beyond blessed that she is my mother. In the legal profession, Tiana Epati inspires me. I met her early this year and I am so proud of her. I thank her for her bravery and for sharing some of the most painful moments of her career as a Pasifika woman in the legal profession.”
Family law can be very stressful, what do you get up to your spare time to decompress?
“I am a proud believer of God – so going to church gives me a great sense of peace and relief.
“I spend most of my spare time with my nine-year-old brother TJ. He is the greatest company ever. A nine-year-old best friend will make you forget all about your work/life worries.
“I have a solid group of close friends and mentors who I can always count on for a good time – quality at this age and time is important.”
Angharad O’Flynn is a Wellington-based journalist.