Looking back now, Matewai Tukapua thinks it was a “wonderful decision” to study law.
“What attracted me to law school was first of all being very much encouraged by my father,” the Wellington-based lawyer says.
“My father strongly encouraged me to get into the law. He wasn’t a lawyer himself. He had worked as a senior manager in government and held trustee roles. And I think secretly he may have wished he had a law degree himself.”
What’s kept her in the law “has been the fascinating nature of the subject-matter that I have had the opportunity to work on”.
For the majority of Ms Tukapua’s career so far she has worked as an in-house lawyer in government.
Ms Tukapua’s first job following admission was with the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, where she had the opportunity to work on challenging and complex projects early on in her career.
Among the highlights of working there was assisting with the development of new legislation.
“Being able to advise on developing legislation, from policy through to introduction to Parliament and through to select committees was great exposure.
Working in the Māori Land Court
“We also appeared before the Māori Land Court. We took applications for ownership of taonga tūturu. Under the Protected Objects Act 1975, when any taonga are found the finder is required to notify the ministry. The ministry’s role is to notify the finding of taonga, and receive and assess claims of ownership of those taonga.
“Basically our role is to return those taonga to the traditional owners, which can be an iwi entity or a marae or a hapu.
“Being part of that overall process of returning taonga to the owners, I found that to be very satisfying.”
Another highlight of her time at the ministry, Ms Tukapua says, was working within an organisation and being a “trusted advisor – someone people would come to for any issue or if they want a sounding board on a problem. I really enjoyed that side of it.
“It goes back to your original question: ‘what attracted you to law?’ and I would say the vast opportunities you can get through a legal degree.
“The scope of career pathways you can choose from and the different jobs you can go into with a law degree is really broad. In addition to working in private practice, you can work in-house or in other roles such as policy roles. I think that’s great.”
Of Muaūpoko, Taranaki Tūturu and Te Ātihau-nui-ā-Pāpārangi descent, Ms Tukapua began studying a BA LLB at Auckland University.
After three years at Auckland University, she “made a great decision to become a Wellingtonian” and graduated from Victoria University in 2006.
Before completing her “profs” in 2007, she worked in Te Puni Kokiri’s legal team in a legal assistant role. That, she says, was where she “got a taste for working in a government legal team”.
Ms Tukapua moved to private practice last September to become an associate at Kahui Legal. The work of the firm, she says, ranges from Treaty of Waitangi claims and settlement negotiations, governance, litigation and dispute resolution, corporate and commercial law, public law, resource management and Māori land law.
“What I really like about it is being able to work directly with iwi and with Māori organisations.
Learning Te Reo Māori
“One of my aspirations is to become fluent in Te Reo. I have just recently completed a diploma at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.
“Becoming a fluent speaker of Te Reo is something I’ve always wanted to do. Since completing my studies, I’ve had much more confidence to use Te Reo every day. Also, I really enjoy being able to talk to our clients in Te Reo.”
Ms Tukapua is keen on music. She plays guitar and is still a member of the Ministry of Culture and Heritage ukulele band.
“My other passion is sports and in particular netball. I live in Petone and I play for the Hutt Valley Old Girls. Netball is what I do if I need to burn off a bit of steam.”
“I also mentor a young law student who’s in her final year and we were put together by the Wellington Women Lawyers’ Association. I think it’s been great for both of us,” she says.
“I’ve really enjoyed being able to share insights from my career and help her think about her pathway into the legal profession. She’s in her final semester and we meet monthly.”