Christchurch space law specialist Dr Maria Pozza is “the New Zealand Woman in Law to Watch”, according to AI magazine.
AI (for Acquisition International) is a United Kingdom-based magazine with a focus on corporate finance. It is published by AI Global.
A consultant lawyer with Helmore Ayers, Dr Pozza “is often referred to by media outlets as one of Australasia’s foremost experts in space law,” AI said. “She is at present the only lawyer in New Zealand offering dedicated legal services in space law.”
Yet space law is just one of her practice areas.
“My practice is very wide and varied. For example, I do a lot of construction law, commercial law, corporate law and a variety of other law which includes wills, trusts and public law,” Dr Pozza told LawTalk.
“I’ve also got a growing practice in UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles]. There is more and more use of them in New Zealand.
“I’m really enjoying the wide variety of work I’m exposed to as a consultant lawyer. No two days are the same. When I have a little break between files I might start drafting something on space, write book reviews or review parliamentary bills open for public opinion. Sounds boring, but I love it.”
What attracted her to law
What attracted her to the law, she says was that “I think I’ve always had a sense of speaking for those who can’t speak for themselves. In saying that, though, I don’t think that criminal law or family law was my calling. I undertook work of this nature in the UK after being called to the bar by the Honourable Society of Lincolns Inn in 2005.
“I enjoy legal work in the commercial, corporate, construction and public law sphere as day-to-day work. There is a natural correlation between these areas of law and the work I undertake in international law surrounding the fields of space, UAV, aviation and cyber law.
“We as lawyers must never forget the very privileged position we hold. People who do not know us personally come through our doors and confide in us with implicit trust. We are able to help people in this way, and it is something we should always remember when acting as a lawyer for a client.
“With that in mind, we as lawyers, have a very important role in society.
“I undertook Voluntary Service in Kenya with an Italian Catholic Mission before starting university. This experience cemented the notion into me that law and order always has a place in society. I learnt a lot from this experience and, ever since, I have been extremely grateful for everything I have, the opportunities made available to me, the comfortable life we have here in the first world. I always say ‘yes’ to projects which have community benefit.
“If you’re asking me what attracted me to doing a law degree or what attracted me to the role of a lawyer, that’s two different things.
“For me, doing a law degree is just one of those things that is very useful for everything. At the time of looking into courses for my degree, it seemed to me that law offered training in a variety of skills which may be useful in any profession. I undertook some serious research when applying for university law courses.”
So she studied law at Birmingham City University, graduating with LLB (Hons) in 2004.
“I chose this university because it offered a criminal clinic, community law clinic, a variety of other internship programmes (which I see, finally, many New Zealand universities have just started to offer) and other programmes which moved away from traditional black letter law to more hands-on law and real life experience.
“This was the best decision I have ever made. I learnt so much undertaking my degree of life as a lawyer. I was so involved with my studies that my peers elected me to hold positions as the law school representative for the first year LLB law course – President of the legal society within the law school – as well as a variety of other elected positions.
“I made some great friends on that course. While undertaking my degree, I was extremely lucky to be awarded an internship in Huntsville, Texas, to work with an attorney on death row cases. This experience really did open my eyes to concepts of social justice and the role of a lawyer.
“After my LLB (Hons), I undertook the Bar Vocational Course at the Inns of Court School of Law in order to train and become a barrister in the UK. It’s a one-year course – focusing on advocacy drafting and analytical skills. It’s a very heavily skills and practical based course. I also undertook a Postgraduate Diploma is legal skills and research, and learnt Arabic.”
She worked in London as a paralegal and began training to become a barrister.
“In London I was working in areas of criminal law, white collar crime and military law. I didn’t finish my training, though, because New Zealand was calling me.
“I decided that the bar in London wasn’t quite for me. I really enjoyed doing law, but I’d been studying, studying, studying and I just decided I needed to go travelling and that’s how I ended up in New Zealand.
“I liked it so much that I stayed. I undertook the New Zealand Law and Practice Exams through the New Zealand Council of Legal Education. These were not easy, but I passed all the exams within a year.
“However, before admission, I decided that I wasn’t quite ready to go back into the profession. I had lots of ideas and undertook a Masters in International Studies at Otago University. It’s a masters in international law, international economics, global politics and international history.
Interest in space law
“Then I was really lucky because I was the recipient of a series of scholarships and I went on to do a PhD in law and politics at Otago University.”
The PhD focused on the international law of space, a specialty that has rocketed Dr Pozza into prominence both in New Zealand and overseas. It has seen her sought after by a number of institutions and as a guest speaker.
Dr Pozza is, for example, the official space law adviser to the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand, and she is a member of the International Institute of Space Law.
Her interest in this specialty began while she was working towards her Masters.
“While I was doing the masters, I was looking at topics for my dissertation. During the Masters I was exposed to some very interesting topics which included arms control and it was an area I knew nothing about.
“As I started looking at this topic, I realised there wasn’t very much arms control law, and thought this would be a good topic to write about in order to better inform myself. During the course we looked at international law, but didn’t really consider space law. We had been reading and talking about Antarctica, the oceans, air law and I couldn’t understand why we hadn’t considered outer space.
“I linked the two and began to undertake serious research on the topic of outer space, arms control, warfare and the like. I did extraordinarily well in my dissertation and thereafter the topic progressed into a PhD.
“My PhD considered the dilemmas of outer space and offered a new definition when dealing with arms control in outer space.”
Over the years, Dr Pozza has received a series of awards and scholarships. The latest was the 2016 Inter-Pacific Bar Association (IPBA) Young Lawyers Scholarship. She was one of five international young lawyers to receive this 2016 IPBA award.
She has also received the Peace and Disarmament Education Trust of New Zealand Award, the Claude McCarthy Fellowship, an Otago Postgraduate Scholarship, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Historical Research Grant, the Kennedy Grant (from Otago University), the New Zealand Political Studies Association Projects Grant (among other awards) and a number of travel awards.
In 2013 she was awarded a Lauterpacht visiting Fellowship from the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law at Cambridge University.
As well as working within the law in London and New Zealand, Dr Pozza has also worked in other areas. She was an order taker on the London Stock Exchange. While given the opportunity to progress to stock broker, Dr Pozza says law was calling.
In New Zealand she has worked in an art gallery, as a tutor, as an examiner and as a supervisor for examinations for the Department of Disability at Otago University.
“While I was at Otago University I worked as a mentor for the Pacific Island Centre, for their law students.
“I was really lucky that the Pacific Island Centre at Otago University took me in. They really were like home from home.
“I just got on well with the Pacific Island students because of my Italian heritage. We seemed to share a lot of the same family values.
“Similarly, some of my best working experiences were with the Department of Disabilities. The team there was absolutely fantastic to work with. I learnt a lot of skills in organisation, communication and teaching with these departments. I am forever grateful to them for the many opportunities they gave me.
“At present I am also working with Victoria University on their feminist judgments projects.”
Dr Pozza has been both an external and sitting moot court judge for four years (and coming up to her fifth) on the Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot competitions with the International Institute of Space Law, and was also a moot court judge while reading for her PhD.
She is a member of the New Zealand Law Society Canterbury-Westland branch Committee on Trusts, the Canterbury Women’s Legal Association, Canterbury Young Professionals, is a legal advisor for the Citizens Advice Bureau, has just joined Rotary, and has been nominated as a Council member of the Canterbury-Westland Law Society branch.
Dr Pozza has a keen interest in social justice, liberal critiques of feminism, New Zealand art, and global technological development of space and UAV assets. She also enjoys hiking, swimming, travelling, watching sports and touring on her motorbike.