Born in South Africa, Emma von Veh’s family moved to New Zealand when she was a child.
“At high school, my favourite subject was always English, but I also had an aptitude for maths and the sciences and was wary of limiting my choices if I were to drop any subjects. So, along with English, I took maths and the sciences through to 7th form.”
Before studying law, Emma studied science, though she was pondering a course in the arts. “When weighing up a BA and a BSc, I concluded that a BSc would offer better employment opportunities,” she says.
However, missing the writing aspect of her high school English studies, and after seeing several friends enjoy their first-year law papers, Emma decided to enrol in an LLB.
“I was hooked from the first statutory interpretation lecture, finding that it combined written language with the problem solving and logic that I loved about science and maths.
“During my law degree, I was drawn to subjects that also incorporated scientific and clinical subject matter – such as medical law, law and psychiatry, and intellectual property.”
Ms von Veh completed her final semester in Sweden on an exchange, where she completed her LLB along with a BSc majoring in pharmacology and minoring in psychology.
“Having summer clerked at a large firm in Auckland, I decided to follow the interest I knew I had in health law when I saw an advertisement for a job in the legal team at the Health and Disability Commissioner in Wellington.
“After two great years there, an opportunity came up in health legal at the Ministry of Health, and I have been here for the past year and a half.”
She says it was an easy decision to seek work in that area. “The health sector in New Zealand is largely public, and it was the draw of working in health that lead me here. I love being able to do work that has such a positive, measurable impact on the lives of New Zealanders.”
Now studying in Australia, Emma says there are some differences between the two tertiary education systems.
“I am doing an LLM at Melbourne University, where the class sizes are limited to 20 people, and the coursework is run as a one-week course, with a lot of discussion and engagement with the lecturer and the rest of the class. This contrasts vastly to the large lecture rooms of my undergraduate law degree [in New Zealand].
“I have found them [the education systems] very different, although that may just be the difference between undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, rather than being typical of the Australian education system.”
As part of her Masters, Emma has written on ‘New Zealand’s assisted reproductive technology law, organ donation, sugar taxes, and the law and ethics of research without consent.’
More compulsory subjects
Keeping her international experiences in mind, she shares a suggestion for the New Zealand law curriculum. “I think a couple more compulsory subjects that are likely to feature in the majority of lawyers’ practice, such as commercial law, would be a good idea.”
Emma had a positive transition from education to practice. “I had an incredibly supportive manager and team in my first job, who made the transition both enjoyable and intellectually challenging.”
But she isn’t shy about pointing out that not everyone has a smooth or positive transition into the workforce. “I think that the issues highlighted in Josh Pemberton’s report last year certainly need addressing. For anyone who hasn’t had the opportunity to read it, I highly recommend that they do.”
Mr Pemberton’s report, First Steps: The Experiences and Retention of New Zealand’s Junior Lawyers, showed that many young lawyers in New Zealand are dissatisfied with their post-grad jobs and struggle with overwork and burnout, among other issues.
In her spare time, Emma acts as Convenor of the Wellington Young Lawyers’ Committee. “I run our monthly meetings, maintain oversight of our activities, and sit on the branch council as the young lawyers’ representative.”
To shine a light on the importance of mental and physical health among junior lawyers, the committee is organising a forthcoming event on wellness in the profession.
Keeping a steady work/life balance is important for mental and physical health; Emma enjoys walking and is an amateur photographer. She also runs a website with her partner called Wellington Wanders. The website has details on walking routes around Wellington, and further afield, for any keen walkers after destination recommendations. You can also find them on Facebook and Instagram (@wellingtonwanders).