New Zealand Law Society - Wilber Tupua: new Auckland Branch Council member

Wilber Tupua: new Auckland Branch Council member

Wilber Tupua speaks about his new role on the Auckland Branch Council and his journey into practising law.

About me

Wilber Tupua

My name is Wilber Tupua. I work as a criminal defence lawyer with the Public Defence Service in Manukau. I have worked in the Manukau office for almost three years; one year as a law graduate and subsequently as a practising lawyer.

Recently you have been elected a new council member of the NZLS Auckland Branch Council, congratulations. What made you decide to run for election?

Thank you! I decided to run for membership on the Auckland Branch Council for two reasons: principally, I wanted the council to be representative of members of the profession - I’m referring to young or newly admitted members ( 1 – 5 year PQE); members from South Auckland or perhaps the criminal bar, which are groups that are conventionally underrepresented . It’s important that their perspective is conveyed when fundamental decisions are made by the council. Some critics have asked, “well, how much do you even know about the profession?,” and my view is simple, I know enough to provide input on matters that affect the membership.

Second reason, I recognised an opportunity to give back to members of the Auckland profession and I thought it was fitting to put myself forward. It’s also a fantastic space to develop my leadership skills and also to connect and learn from other prominent members. I serve on the council with experienced colleagues who are brilliant and outstanding in their respective positions.

What would you like to achieve in your new role?

I’d like to see a greater collaborative network between the council, the branch/law society and its members. There’s a rigid perception out there that the law society is the “mean regulator” so people prefer to disengage where possible. However, there are a lot of services provided by the branch, or the law society in general, that would benefit the wider membership. It’s underutilised because some do not recognise the utility in working with the branch.

To see an increase in young practitioners, or perhaps candidates from other areas of law, putting themselves forward and running for these positions would be another achievement I’d like to see.

What inspired you to study law?

My grandfather – he was not a lawyer, but he worked tirelessly as an advocate in the Samoa Lands and Titles Court. He represented members of his family, village and anyone that sought his expertise. Often he would do it pro bono because he recognised the privilege in his position whereby he could act for some who could not represent themselves. I wanted to do the same.

What do you enjoy most about being a lawyer?

While I may be a quasi-new lawyer to the profession, I’d like to think that I’m a fierce advocate for my clients. The part where I interpret, apply and challenge the law in court, is the part that I enjoy the most about being a lawyer.

I’m experiencing that circumstances of some cases are evolving rapidly but the law is struggling to keep up. I enjoy finding unconventional arguments or perhaps new ways to interpret and challenge the application of the law (of course all sound and reasoned).

Why did you choose to take up a role at the Public Defence Service?

I was immediately attracted to PDS after law school because it provided a good training ground for young criminal defence lawyers. I saw the Manukau Office as the perfect fit because it was doing a lot of good for work in South Auckland.

What made you embark on a career in criminal law?

In any jurisdiction, the law is challenged by injustices, particularly magnified in criminal law, but suffered the most by marginalised groups; Maori & Pacific, immigrants, gender-minorities etc. I became a defence lawyer because I recognised the human value in this line of work. I wanted to make a difference. I’m enriched with experience from my own upbringing (Pacific immigrant; raised in a low-socioeconomic household) whereby I can ably serve in criminal law with humanity, civility and good advocacy.

What are some of your career highlights?

In my very limited time in the profession, I don’t have many highlights that are worth sharing but I do recall one from last year. I appeared for the first time at the Auckland High Court for an appeal on behalf of my client that was successful.  It was one of those matters that I really believed in and I thought it warranted appellate intervention and reassessment of the common law on the issue.

What does success look like to you – in life and in work?

Work success for me is fulfilling my potential and becoming the best criminal litigator that I can be, but also, not losing the passion and drive for what I do and why I do it. Life – well, success in life is measured by the oldest cliché in the book = happiness.

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