By Elliot Sim
Hamilton lawyers Aidan Warren and Rachel Hall have been elected Co-Presidents of Te Hunga Rōia Māori o Aotearoa (New Zealand Māori Law Society).
Mr Warren – who has tribal connections to Ngāti Kahungunu, Rangitāne and Ngāi Tahu – has been in private practice since 2000. He graduated from Waikato University with an LLM and is one of the managing directors at McCaw Lewis.
Mr Warren is married to Samoan District Court Judge Leilani Tuala-Warren and together they have four children.
His legal work surrounds Treaty settlements, the Waitangi Tribunal, the Māori Land Court and general dispute resolution work. He is an accredited mediator with particular focus on alternative dispute resolution with respect to Māori and Pacific Island work.
Rachel Hall – who has tribunal affiliations with Ngāti Kahungunu and Kāi Tahu – is an associate in the dispute resolution team at McCaw Lewis. She manages the firm’s Māori land practice and also represents clients in the Waitangi Tribunal and estate dispute matters.
Ms Hall has been with McCaw Lewis since 2005, and before that was with Ngāi Tahu Māori Law Centre in Dunedin. She graduated from Otago University in 2002 with an LLB and a BA in Māori studies. Ms Hall and her partner Luke have three young children.
The Māori Law Society was founded in 1988 to provide a support network for Māori who were practising law.
“It’s grown today to where it’s quite a well-recognised organisation, certainly amongst Māori lawyers,” Mr Warren says.
He says it is a unique society, as it is not just for registered practitioners.
“We take an inclusive approach by including Māori Judges, Māori legal academics and those Māori with a law degree or studying towards one … The key focus of the organisation in recent years has been on our annual conference,” he says.
Mr Warren says workshops and seminars “were ramped up significantly this year because of the introduction of CPD requirements”.
“We had over 120 practitioners – one of the largest in recent times – coming to the conference because of that fact [introduction of CPD requirements]. One the realities is that many of the general continuing legal education seminars or workshops don’t necessarily cover areas relevant to Māori lawyers.
“Obviously, Māori lawyers work in a range of areas, but there are times when dealing with Māori and Māori legal issues is distinct and different. We try to cater for that gap in the market as well as taking the opportunity to catch up with our peers and build relationships,” he says.
The Māori Law Society makes submissions on law reform (copies are available on their website), all written by volunteers.
Mr Warren says the society also provides a voice on behalf of Māori lawyers, which offers a holistic perspective on any issue that arises in law reform or any other legal issue.
“We’ve found in recent years that there has been a real emergence of ‘Māori Law’ that plays a significant part in our legal system. There are very few things in the law today that don’t have a Māori element.
“We obviously need to be aware of this reality and provide a co-ordinated approach to commenting on new and amended legislation. This is not always easy given the wide variety of views amongst our membership.”
One of the key distinctions for the society, according to Mr Warren, is that it endeavours to engage with the communities that its members are a part of.
“For us as Māori, our whānau, our hapū and our iwi are integral to our development as lawyers and for all of us using our legal skills to contribute back to our community is a big part of why we practise.”
Mr Warren says he and Ms Hall want to work with the executive and try to “make the society more financially sustainable so that we can do those core things well, like our annual conference, but also provide new and innovative things for our members”.
A planning conference scheduled for November will help bed in some goals for the future.
One new initiative planned is holding practical workshops throughout the year focused on Māori legal issues and contexts. The focus is likely to be on advocacy and alternative ways to resolve disputes, such as mediation skills.
Ms Hall says it is essential for all practitioners to gain practical skills as well as having a good grasp of tikanga Māori and these workshops hope to provide both.
“There is a need for lawyers in all areas of the law to have an understanding and appreciation of tikanga Māori and to be able to relate to their client … That’s quite crucial. Māori are becoming greater consumers of legal services in all areas of the law, and therefore it is imperative that their needs are catered for.”
Ms Hall says an increasing number of new practitioners coming through the system have been brought up with te reo me ona tikanga (Māori language and customs).
“This is exciting, and we will see a new wave of Māori lawyers at the forefront of the growing Māori economy,” she says.
This profile was first published in LawTalk 854, 7 November 2014, page 13.