When Kiri Tahana decided to leave her corporate law job in Dubai she made the move back home to Rotorua after 15 years overseas. “This is where I’m from. I’m from Ngati Pikiao, Rotoiti, so I was always keen to eventually return home and use my legal skills to help Māori.”
She started at Kahui Legal’s Rotorua office in February, specialising in commercial law. Kahui Legal, which was established in Wellington in 2003, has had an office in Rotorua since 2015.
“The firm opened an office here because many of our clients are based in the Bay of Plenty and some of our lawyers wanted to relocate to Rotorua to be closer to their tribal areas,” she says.
Kahui Legal’s clients are Māori organisations in their various forms, including Māori land owners, Māori-owned businesses, hapu and iwi. “Unlike other types of commercial clients who are often based in cities, our clients are based in their tribal areas in the regions.”
Ms Tahana says the quality and diversity of work on offer in Rotorua stacks up against the kind of work she was doing overseas.
“It’s not about the value but the complexity of issues that makes work interesting and challenging. I’ve had a big commercial law firm and in-house corporate background, and I can absolutely say that you can do interesting legal work, and live here and have a great life.”
Attracting new talent
Although some regional towns struggle to attract new lawyers, that’s not the case in Rotorua, says Stephanie Northey, a director at The Law Shop. “I think if we put out an ad today looking to fill a new graduate position we would be inundated with people wanting a job. The staff we have at present are either born and bred here, or are just happy to live here and raise their families here.”
She says the benefit of working in the provinces is that young lawyers get a good grounding in the law. “At a really early stage in your career you’ll be in court. That’s the beauty of living in a town like this, you get the chance to really become an exceptional advocate because you get lots of opportunities.”
Kiri Tahana says that Kahui Legal seeks to attract lawyers who are passionate about Māori development. “For us, we attract Māori who want to live in, or be close to, their tribal areas, and because Rotorua is seen as a Māori centre, there’s so much here in terms of the Māori world, it’s an attractive place for our lawyers.”
Networking and dealing with stress
Emma Miles, an associate at Holland Beckett and a member of the New Zealand Law Society’s Waikato Bay of Plenty branch committee, is the convenor of the branch’s Women in Law Association. She has set up four Women in Law Association committees – in Rotorua, Hamilton, Whakatane and Tauranga – which hold formal and informal networking events. “The purpose of the association is collegiality and networking. It is not restricted to lawyers; rather is aimed at ladies within the wider legal industry including the police, court staff, mental health professionals etc.”
Networking with people from throughout the system is important, says Ms Northey, who works mainly in family law. She says the local community is good at working together to deal with issues in the community. “There are socio-economic issues here, drug and alcohol issues and violence … I know what my role is and there are other agencies that help. We all have a part to play.”
Despite the stresses associated with her speciality, Ms Northey says she loves what she does. “I really enjoy my work and am passionate about it. It’s a really fulfilling career. I think you have to be a certain type of person to be a family lawyer and love it.”
She describes the local legal community as tightknit. “When I first became a lawyer here I was only 22, and the people here [the legal bar] have become my closest friends. I think there’s a real benefit of living in a community where your colleagues are supportive because they help you through the hard times. It’s a wonderful, really supportive community to practice in.”
Diversity of work
Originally from the UK, Ms Miles says one of the main positives for her about working in Rotorua is the diversity of the local industries. “Ranging from tourism, forestry, agri-business, to geothermal as the main industries. It is also strong in the health, education and social services sectors. So, from a legal perspective, that allows a really broad range of work.”
Ms Miles works between Holland Beckett’s litigation and family teams and says the lifestyle benefits of the area also help offset some of the stresses that inevitably come with the job.
“Rotorua is perfect for providing de-stressing activities, whether it’s something along the lines of kayaking, mountain biking, or just being out in the forest or with wildlife, or soaking in a hot mineral pool.”