New Zealand Law Society - Law school Deans reflect on 2019 and look ahead to 2020

Law school Deans reflect on 2019 and look ahead to 2020

This article is over 3 years old. More recent information on this subject may exist.

By Nick Butcher

Each year around 10,600 students are enrolled to study law at one of New Zealand’s six tertiary institutions offering law degrees. The four or more years spent at university are an essential introduction to the law for all lawyers.

The Deans of each of New Zealand’s law schools were asked for their reflections on how 2019 went and invited to look forward to 2020.

University of Otago Faculty of Law/Te Kaupeka Tātai Ture

Otago University Law School Dean, Professor Jessica Palmer, says 2019 was a busy year, and particularly special as the university celebrated its 150th anniversary.

Two events were held for law alumni, one a Deans’ panel event which brought together five past Otago Deans.

The other was a celebratory dinner which featured speeches from Justices French, Miller and Lang.

“They’re all proud Otago alumni and gave very entertaining speeches. It was a great opportunity to catch up with over 100 alumni, some of whom had travelled some distance to attend,” she says.

LLB review begins

Professor Jessica Palmer
Professor Jessica Palmer

Last year at Otago University Law School marked the beginning of an ongoing process to review the LLB curriculum which will continue into 2020.

“This is no easy task and I am grateful to Professor Shelley Griffiths for leading this project. We have heard from Professor Prue Vines (University of New South Wales) and from various people across the university as we think through the learning methods and practices that best suit today’s university students and consider our aspirations for a modern LLB,” Professor Palmer says.

She says the faculty is committed to ensuring the Otago law degree continues to provide students with excellent analytical and problem-solving skills, while also broadening their understanding of the value that law can bring to society.

Students challenge themselves outside of the classroom

Professor Palmer says Otago law students have continued to challenge themselves by expanding their knowledge and skills outside of the university.

Savanna Gaskell and Meghan Laing represented Otago at the New Zealand Red Cross International Humanitarian Law Moot and won the competition for Otago for the first time since 2011. The team, coached by Marcelo Rodriguez Ferrere, edged out Victoria University in the final, in front of a panel including Sir Kenneth Keith, Judge Bill Hastings and Brigadier Lisa Ferris.

They’ll now represent New Zealand at the Asia-Pacific finals in Hong Kong in March.

In addition, Nerys Udy represented Otago in the national Kaupapa Māori Moot final held in the Supreme Court before a bench of five judges, including Justice Joe Williams. Abie Faletoese won the Pasifika Law Students Sentencing Competition held at Canterbury Law School.

And in February 2019, fourth year student Hannah Morgan swam 32km across Foveaux Strait in 8 hours and 43 minutes, raising $30,000 for the Mental Health Foundation and the Otago University Students Association.

2020… new subjects such as Chinese law

This year the law school offers a range of new subjects including Chinese law; immigration and refugee law; international litigation and dispute settlement; law and indigenous peoples; international family law; and children and the family justice system. From 2021, that range will expand to include Pacific law; global governance; advanced criminal law; and climate change law.

“In 2020, we’ll be paying particular attention to how we can encourage greater diversity in our student body and support the success of students from all walks of life. As a faculty, we are committed to the value of diversity, both in the university and in the legal profession. We have started this already with some research and faculty discussion on different meanings of diversity and a detailed review of our student cohort over the last 10 years,” says Jessica Palmer.

2019 was also the first year that female professors outnumbered male professors at the faculty.

University of Canterbury School of Law/Te Kura Ture

Last year was a busy one at the Canterbury School of Law, says acting Dean, Professor Elizabeth Toomey. This included the appointment of a new University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Cheryl de la Rey.

Review of undergraduate programme

In line with the university’s vision of providing accessible, flexible and future-focused education, the school is reviewing and refreshing all levels of its undergraduate programme to ensure that graduates have the skills and attributes to thrive in their chosen careers.

Professor Elizabeth Toomey
Professor Elizabeth Toomey

“This work is informed by the student voice, legal education research undertaken by school staff, and the views and experiences of the four new academic staff who have joined the school. Closely linked to this programme refresh is ongoing work to support student wellbeing and success in line with the University of Canterbury vision of nurturing staff and supporting students,” Professor Toomey says.

She says work in this area is aimed at building stronger working relationships between staff and students, and among students. The school also plans to review and transform its criminal justice degree.

“As always, change comes with challenges, including balancing new ideas with practicality.”

She says the staff have been involved in wide-ranging activities and academic interests.

Externally-funded research projects include: the comparison of various aspects of trial process in adult rape jury trials with 20 comparator cases from judge alone trials; the investigation of Forensic Brainwave Analysis (FBA) technology; research into the regulation of resilience; the examination of anti-corruption mechanisms in the South Pacific region; and a project in the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge.

Law student research completed

Professor Toomey says Professors Lynne Taylor and Ursula Cheer and their inter-disciplinary socio-legal research team completed the final-year survey in their ground-breaking national and longitudinal study of the expectations and experiences of New Zealand law students.

The school also hosted its 2019 Sir Eric Hotung Visiting Fellow, High Court of Australia Judge, Justice Stephen Gageler, and the New Zealand Law Foundation 2019 Distinguished Visiting Fellow, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. Furthermore, Professor Neil Boister co-organised an international symposium, Histories of Transnational Criminal Law and Professor Toomey co-convened the national Resource Management Law Association conference, Visionary Environments. Dr Chris Riffel – co-chair of the International Economic Law Interest group of the Australian and New Zealand Society of International Law (ANZSIL) – hosted the group’s annual workshop.

Professor Karen Scott was elected as President of ANZSIL and was appointed as Editor-in-Chief of the leading international journal Ocean Development and International Law. Dr Olivia Erdelyi was the New Zealand representative on the OECD AI expert group AIGO, which was mandated to scope the OECD’s AI principles, and Dr Toni Collins and Dr Shea Esterling have been awarded grants under the Cambridge/Canterbury and Oxford/Canterbury exchange programme.


Professor Toomey says these activities, by no means exclusive, promise a successful 2020 for the school, along with a new University Strategic Vision for 2020-2030: Tangata Tū Tangata Ora.

Victoria University of Wellington Faculty of Law/Te Kauhanganui Tatai Ture

2019 was a year of consolidation and progress for Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington’s Faculty of Law, says Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Law Professor Mark Hickford.

Professor Mark Hickford
Professor Mark Hickford

Student success coordinator appointed

Professor Hickford introduced a new key staff role – the Student Success Coordinator. This position is partly about responding to increasing expectations around pastoral care, he says, focused around wellbeing, along with managing the learning and teaching pressures on students.

“What the service does is to support students who might be at risk in relation to their performance in courses through a range of factors and circumstances. This is a specialist role that is focused on dealing with the risks and stresses that come with student life. The whole point of this was to have someone who had the acumen and skill set but at the same time knew who to escalate matters to and when in a very proficient way.”

New technology

The faculty invested in technology during 2019. It hired Dr Marcin Betkier who – along with the Law of Torts and Data Privacy – specialises in information technology law.

The law faculty is looking at reviewing and improving programmes that include Māori and tikanga, something Professor Hickford says all law schools are involved in.

“This includes tikanga in areas such as contract law and subjects such as commercial law. Broader approaches are needed around the role of the Treaty of Waitangi and tikanga in these areas,” he says.

Enhancing student sense of community

In 2019, the faculty piloted a newsletter for law students, which aimed to improve student access to relevant information, and to build a stronger sense of community.

About half the students who study law in universities don’t go on to be practising lawyers.

But that’s not a new issue as Professor Hickford explains.

“We’ve regarded this as part of our normalised landscape for some years. Law schools are there to train people how to think critically rather than to prepare them for any particular professional outcome. Notwithstanding that we must always have an outlook towards practical legal professional skills such as writing an opinion or mooting. We focus on teaching our students to think and evaluate critically, knowing that those skills may not only benefit the legal profession but also public policy, the non-government sector and so forth.

“There’s always been a relative liberality as to where students might end up and that the skills that we teach are not just for them to become a legal practitioner,” he says.


Professor Hickford says a digital examinations pilot programme was run at the law faculty in 2019, which proved successful and worthy of further investigation. It was trialled while the New Zealand Qualifications Authority continued to run a digital exam pilot in secondary schools.

He says they’ve had excellent feedback from students and professional and academic staff say it has provided them the ability to grade papers more efficiently and therefore be able to give students feedback more efficiently.

Professor Hickford says other institutions are providing digital exams, such as Australia’s Monash University.

University of Waikato Te Piringa – Faculty of Law

Women studying law at Te Piringa – the Faculty of Law at the University of Waikato significantly outnumbered male students in 2019. For the first time, the percentage of female law students exceeded 70%. Māori made up 29% and Pacific students 13%.

“The diversity of the student body is a strength of Te Piringa and challenges the faculty to ensure that its programmes are reflective and cognisant of the increasing diversity of New Zealand society as a whole,” says Dean of Law Wayne Rumbles.

Wayne Rumbles

He says the figures add further impetus for Te Piringa to contemplate how it can contribute to a change in legal culture.

“We have introduced an induction programme for all interns and work placements; we have further developed our work-ready programme of seminars in conjunction with our student associations. This programme includes focusing on general wellbeing, mental health, managing stress, work-life balance and dealing with bullying, sexual and other forms of harassment,” he says.

BA majoring in Law for people not intending to practise

Associate Professor Rumbles says in recognition that some understanding of the law is important for many professions beyond traditional law practice, Te Piringa launched its new Bachelor of Arts in Law this year.

“The BA in Law programme is designed for those that want to gain a non-practice understanding of the law and apply it to specialist areas of interest within the humanities,” he says.

Furthermore, he says to bring law and legal understanding to non-LLB students, Te Piringa started offering commercial law papers in the Waikato Management School and co-teaches the Master of Cyber Security with Computer Science.

2020 and what’s next

Wayne Rumbles says an ongoing challenge for law schools will be to respond to a rapidly changing legal services environment as it reacts to a range of disruptive technologies and new business models.

“Cloud computing, block chain, big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning will contribute to the automation of many legal tasks but also provides exciting new opportunities for wider access and delivery of legal solutions. This challenge means law schools need to reflect and define our role in preparing graduates to practise and take up the opportunities of a very different world.”

He says an ongoing challenge for their students will be how to operate in this rapidly changing legal environment where the way traditional law firms operate is being challenged, where new business models are emerging and technology is moving from concept to real-world application.

“Our graduates need to have flexible high-level skills that can adapt to rapid change, embrace technology and seize new opportunities that will emerge.”

New Dean in 2020

Associate Professor Wayne Rumbles’ term as Dean will end when he steps down to go on study leave in February 2020, to focus on a New Zealand Law Foundation-sponsored TeLENZ (Technology in Legal Education New Zealand) project.

Professor Alpana Roy has been appointed to the role of Dean starting on 10 February. Professor Roy comes from the School of Law at the Western Sydney University.

“She has established an international reputation for research in intellectual property law,” Associate Professor Rumbles says.

Auckland University of Technology Law School

The AUT Law School is in good shape after a decade of providing higher education, the Dean of Law, Professor Charles Rickett, says. It celebrated its 10th anniversary in July 2019 and he says it’s pleasing that the undergraduate numbers have continued to grow.

“In 2013 our first graduating cohort was 54 and by 2018 this had risen to 77. Our LLB(Hons) graduation numbers have also risen, from five in 2013 to 16 in 2018.”

First PhD in Law graduate

Professor Rickett says the law school celebrated its first PhD in Law graduate last year.

Professor Charles Rickett
Professor Charles Rickett

“Judge Layne Harvey will now forever hold the distinction of being that person.”

AUT’s permanent staff numbers include 28 academic staff and five administrative staff. They welcomed three new academic members of staff last year with Dr Akshaya Kamalnath coming from Deakin Law School in Australia, Christopher Whitehead arriving from McGill University in Montreal where he has been completing his PhD in an area of insurance law, and Dr Natalia Szablewska taking up a position as a senior lecturer after teaching torts, human rights and international law at the Southern Cross University on the Gold Coast.

Professor Rickett says the school has attracted a range of lawyers who have been teaching various papers.

Lawyers teaching papers success

“The practical legal knowledge and expertise which they contribute to the learning experiences of our students is invaluable,” he says.

These lawyers include Deborah Manning (immigration and refugee law and clinical legal education) and Frances Joychild QC (human rights litigation).

“Staff have also had a busy year on the publications front and our reputation for research continues to grow which adds kudos to the school,” he says.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd

In October AUT welcomed Lord Thomas, the former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, to AUT as the 2019 New Zealand Law Foundation Distinguished Visiting Fellow. In a series of illuminating lectures, seminars and meetings, Lord Thomas explored various perspectives on the way in which technology is impacting on the law, the courts and the profession.

“It was also wonderful to have Dame Helen Winkelmann lend her support to an event organised jointly by Meredith Connell, AUT Law School and Auckland Law School in September, when around 60 pupils from 10 schools in lower decile areas spent the day at AUT to experience lectures and workshops,” he says.

Professor Rickett says the school continues to teach all its compulsory LLB papers at its South Auckland campus at Manukau.

“This commitment presents resource challenges and the university has been very generous in providing funding to enlarge our staffing cohort. The student demographic at AUT is healthily diverse, but this too presents challenges. Student performance and retention in some groups is not as high as it could be.

“We have recently secured funding from a generous South Auckland sponsor and have established the Aiono Matthew 9 Lectureship in South Pacific Legal Studies. The first appointee takes up her new position in February. We are also facing the need to consider carefully the place of tikanga Māori in our programme,” he says.

University of Auckland Law School

2019 was Professor Penelope Mathew’s first year as Dean of the University of Auckland’s law school.

Reflecting on the academic year, she says legal work is changing and some of it is driven by technology which she says a law degree that is fit for the profession needs to continually address. She says even when she attended law school, there were students who had no desire to study law for the purpose of practising it. These days, Professor Mathew says, it is more common for students to be doing conjoint degrees to spread their career options. She herself did a conjoint degree about 30 years ago in Australia.

“Many students see the law as supporting the other field they’re studying. For example, aspiring business people and entrepreneurs want an understanding of the law. Other graduates are focused on policy so for them the law will be one area that is relevant to policy decisions. Others want to be advocates for human rights or environmental issues, so the law is one facet of the knowledge base required to do this type of work,” she says.

End of year retreat

In 2019, the law school and its public lawyers went on an end of year retreat where they discussed a range of issues, with particular focus on what she describes as the changing role of the law degree.

Professor Penelope Matthew
Professor Penelope Matthew

“How do we respond to changes in the legal profession and how do we ensure the profession changes in ways that it should – for example, how does a law school contribute to a profession that ensures better access to justice?”

Before the retreat, Professor Mathew met 30 of their student leaders and posed questions to them around what they viewed as the future challenges for new members of the law profession.

“Wellbeing was high on their agenda. They are certainly aware of the pressures imposed by long hours at work and issues of diversity and inclusion such as gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality. Many of them work part-time in law firms or have friends or family members who do.”

More technology in first-year law

Professor Mathew wants to include more technology in the first-year law curriculum and the school will be looking at how to integrate innovation content into it with the support of the university’s Hynds Entrepreneurial Teaching Fellow, Peter Rachor. That role was created by the university’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The aim is to embed innovation and entrepreneurship into the curricula across the university.

“We are also participating along with other law schools in the Law Foundation-funded project Technology in Legal Education in New Zealand. The project is looking at helping develop content, resources and information that can be introduced in core legal subjects at the second and third year of the LLB degree,” she says.

LLM and AI Law & Policy

In 2019 the Faculty’s LLM (Masters) programme offered a specialist course, Artificial Intelligence, Law and Policy, which will be available again in 2020.

She says the faculty is engaged in critically evaluating what new skills, content and knowledge its law graduates will require in light of a landscape impacted by new technology.

“Jean Yang from McCarthyFinch presented at our faculty retreat on how technology is disrupting, altering, and providing opportunities for the legal profession.”

The law school introduces a new Vice Chancellor for 2020 with Professor Dawn Freshwater starting in March.

Lawyer Listing for Bots