New Zealand Law Society - Behind the scenes Vatican peek for would-be beautician

Behind the scenes Vatican peek for would-be beautician

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Nisha Dahya
Nisha Dahya

Directly related to one of Wellington’s first Indian settlers, family lawyer Nisha Dahya can claim another capital first – she and husband Sam were the first couple married in the St Mary of the Angels church when it re-opened after being closed five years for earthquake repairs.

“Sam and I got married there in October last year. When it closed I said to the priest ‘I am going to be the first wedding when the church re-opens’ – and we were. It was quite special,” says Nisha, an associate at ARL Lawyers in Lower Hutt.

Nisha and Sam, an electrician, went to Italy for their honeymoon. “I always wanted to go to Italy, and apart from a bit of time in Australia and a visit to the United States, have not done much travel.

Nisha Menzies (Nisha) Dahya
Lower Hutt
Entry to law
Graduated LLB from Otago University. Admitted in 2009.
Associate at ARL Lawyers, Lower Hutt.
Speciality area
Family law.

“I didn’t have a lot of time off. I had just started a new job in July, we had been renovating our house and didn’t have heaps of money for a six-month holiday. I suggested Italy, Sam was keen and it seemed a good place for a honeymoon.”

To cater for Nisha’s interest in religious art, the couple visited Florence, taking in tours of art galleries such as Florence’s Accademia, and ones in Venice and Rome.

“It was really great but a little bit overwhelming if you don’t know much about art. I am quite into religious art, through studying art history at school. It was good to see those paintings in real life. There was a lot of amazing art at the Vatican we had studied at school.”

A chance meeting with a New Zealand nun from West Auckland – Sister Bernie – who was working in the Vatican gift shop, opened up a private tour for the newlyweds as Sister Bernie took them behind the scenes to see some of the Vatican’s private chapels and areas not usually available to the public.

“That was the highlight of our visit,” she says.

Mother’s influence  

Never keen on going to university and wanting to stay at home and be a beautician, Nisha was eventually inspired by her family lawyer mother Miriam Menzies – who died in 2014 – and developed an interest in family law, including getting work experience in her mother’s practice during holidays.

“I was always interested in law, which was more my strength than science or numbers. Family law was something I liked to do. I also had a keen interest in criminal law. Mum practised in those areas as well, so it was a matter of talking to her and being interested in her work.”

Her mother, who was from Dunedin, studied law at Victoria University, while her father Babu, a physical education teacher, studied at Otago University.

Her father was born in New Zealand of Indian parents and his father owned a milk bar near Wellington’s Basin Reserve, before moving to Petone. Nisha's great-grandfather was one of the first Indian settlers in Wellington.

Babu Dahya is retired and lives in America, where he took the opportunity to capitalise on cheap property during the global financial crisis.

“My brother Josh – a consultant with Ernst and Young - and I didn’t get a choice where we went to university. We were not that keen but it was expected that we would go to Otago. That’s where our parents said we had to go.

“I enjoyed Otago, but had to apply myself. I studied really hard and did not get involved in the party scene. I started doing a qualification in social work as well at Otago but decided not to continue with that.”

With ARL Lawyers since July, 2017, Nisha began her career with Melanie Baker in Lower Hutt, then moved to McWilliam Rennie in Wellington for a year and then to Rachel Dewar Law for the next half dozen years, before returning to Lower Hutt.

“I don’t play any sports but have dabbled in golf and spent thousands of dollars in lessons that haven’t really got me anywhere. I don’t even know about a handicap and have played about one game in my life.

“I enjoy walking. Sam was into sports when younger and we walk around the Hutt together.

“I enjoy spending time with the family and have spent a bit of time in Brisbane with my Mum’s brother and his family. Recently one of my Mum’s other brothers (lawyer cousin Chris Menzies’ father) moved to Upper Hutt and we spend more time with them. And Sam’s parents and sister live locally.

“I like cooking things like roasts that I can put in the oven and then get on with entertaining, socialising and partying. Sam doesn’t cook much. There’s always plenty to drink at our place. We enjoy champagne – Perrier-Jouet please.”

America by Greyhound bus

Previously involved in activities such as Citizens Advice, Community Law, the board of Hutt Valley Stopping Violence services and six years on the Wellington Family Courts Association committee, Nisha has pulled back and is having a break.

“I’ve done a little travel in Australia and in the United States about eight years ago with my brother to visit Dad in Columbus, Ohio. We travelled mainly by Greyhound bus because our car broke down.

“Mum is really musical and there was a lot of music in our house growing up. I played piano for a while but was not very good applying myself – it’s a bit of a theme. I like Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Bruno Mars, Elton John, Joan Baez, AC/DC and Jimmy Barnes.”

Unlike some lawyers profiled, Nisha has not read any of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. “I tried a John Grisham but could not finish it. I go through reading stages. I went through a Jodi Picoult stage and Bryce Courtenay.

“I belonged to a book club for a while but didn’t keep that up, despite a bit of wine drinking and cheese eating.

“It’s been a while since I read a book. I was a keen reader, mixing fiction and non-fiction, and did heaps of reading about the Middle East, mainly about women there and in Northern Africa. My most recent is a book about defectors from North Korea.

“We watch Netflix a lot, like Homeland. And the recent documentary Wild Wild Country, about controversial Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and his community of followers in Oregon, investigated by the FBI.

“Sam is obsessed with sport on TV and I’m into the NRL and cricket. He doesn’t go to movies that much so I sometimes go on my own.

“I look for what has good reviews. The last film I saw was Australian-made biographical drama Lion - one of the best I have seen in ages.

“We don’t have any pets. I like other people’s dogs but we go away quite a bit and it wouldn’t be fair on dogs. Maybe one day.

“We like holidaying in the Wairarapa because it is handy and my favourite spot is Northland – the Bay of Islands. I’d like to go to the Coromandel – I’ve never been there nor to Nelson. We didn’t do much beach holidays when we were kids.

“I’ve spent a bit of time in Central Otago around Arrowtown, Queenstown and Wanaka. The last time we were at Arrowtown the New Zealand Open golf was on and the town was packed.

“I drive a Mazda Axela - something like that. I had a terrible Mitsubishi Lancer - two of them. There is pressure from Sam to get another vehicle. He has a work vehicle and my car is not ideal for long travelling.”

Beating the big agency

“I won’t forget a case of a grandmother I acted for who had the care of her grandson, and there were a lot of allegations she wasn’t fit to take care of him.

“Child Youth and Family as they then were, said they were taking him away to live with other people. They had not consulted with the grandmother. We had a court hearing and I fought hard for her to change the court orders so that the ministry did not have the power to just make decisions about moving the child.

“She was successful and the child remained with her. It was a big thing for her and quite stressful. CYFs were saying ‘we are going to move the child today’. We were under pressure to get that resolved and we did.

“In my first job with Melanie Baker, who had a large family practice and also did criminal work, I enjoyed family law more. I wanted to specialise in that when I went to work in the city because I wanted to work for family lawyer Rachael Dewar.

“At the time there were changes to the legal aid regime and there was a lot of wasted time sitting around in court on criminal stuff, which is frustrating. I was keen to learn the advocacy stuff we do as family lawyers and drafting and relationship property.

“My colleagues at work reckon if I was not a lawyer I would probably be unemployed or a professional wine taster. I think I would do something in social work perhaps. Working with people, refugees, something like that.”

Now surveying the legal profession from Timaru, Jock Anderson has fifty years experience as a court reporter and commentator on the profession.

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