New Zealand Law Society - Transforming the lawyers of tomorrow – Khylee Quince

Transforming the lawyers of tomorrow – Khylee Quince

Transforming the lawyers of tomorrow – Khylee Quince

Associate Professor Khylee Quince became the first Māori Dean of Law in Aotearoa New Zealand. Khylee shares her perspective on different kinds of diversity and the exciting work she’s part of decolonising legal education and making training as a lawyer more accessible.

Barriers to legal education – not everyone gets the same start

Associate Professor Khylee Quince

Tertiary education, particularly in the field of law, is very challenging for students, but sometimes peoples’ circumstances can create additional barriers. “Covid-19 really laid bare the inequality in our student community. So we had huge issues in terms of the digital divide,” says Khylee.

“We’re the University of Technology and we discovered that one in five of our students didn’t have access to the internet.”

Some of the experiences of Khylee’s students during heightened alert levels, included people who lacked access to technology that were trying to participate in workshops online who needed to sit outside the library to get access to Wi-Fi. She adds “they had been moved on by police because they were breaching lockdown rules by being outside.” Another student asked a local petrol station if he could sit inside for five hours while he sat his exam, but he didn’t have any money to buy anything.

To address this issue the university has purchased or leased thousands of laptops, modems and data packages for students in need. “You don’t realise what a leveller things like being able to come and study at the library are. Having somewhere quiet where you have space and time are not a given,” Khylee says.

Making legal education more accessible

The law has a connotation of being a flashy profession, but it doesn’t need to be that way and if it is to truly represent people in the community, it shouldn’t aspire to be elitist. Khylee explains that legal education and professional education more broadly have also been inaccessible.

“The way we used to operate was that students live somewhere else and they came into the city to get their education. It’s an out-of-community experience. You leave your home to go somewhere else to do it.”

In recent years AUT has established a law programme at their Manukau Campus which Khylee has embraced wholeheartedly. This has benefited students who don’t live close to the city. “Obviously less advantaged people live further away from the central city. It’s hours away, we have people coming in from Weymouth, Pukekohe, going right down to Waikato University’s catchment.

In terms of law, Khylee has been advocating that the legal issues and the curriculum that AUT delivers also be reflective of issues that matter for communities near its South Campus and their aspirations as students in the law, which can be quite different to the cohort at its City Campus. She explains it’s not about diminishing anybody else’s aspirations but rather to be accommodating of diversity.

Decolonising legal education

For a long time, the kind of legal education in law schools was the same. About 30 years ago Waikato University started offering a bi-cultural legal education while other universities also attempted to be more inclusive of Te Ao Māori and tikanga Māori. That has been the extent of reflecting Māori views in legal education. Khylee says that’s all changing, “Now there’s a real impetus to change that to be more authentic, to educate people differently. I think every law school in the country provides a really good legal education, but we could all be better in terms of cultural education, particularly in reference to the Treaty.”

But it’s not always easy to effect change, Khylee laments, “Resourcing is a particular issue, there are the same number of Māori legal academics today as there were 25 years ago.

“One of the reasons for that is that our communities need lawyers. So to be an academic is a privileged position, one in which you’re not doing Treaty work or in the Māori Land Court, you’re teaching other people, so it’s still a service but it’s quite different.”

It can be difficult being Māori at university, “For long periods of my career I’ve been the only Māori in the building and it’s incredibly lonely. There’s no one else that thinks like you, and they’re lovely people but they don’t have the same worldview or outlook that you do or you have to translate or codeswitch to communicate, or be a particular way,” says Khylee.

For long periods of my career I’ve been the only Māori in the building and it’s incredibly lonely. There’s no one else that thinks like you

It’s also a challenge for students. “To be a Māori in a law school can be quite hard going, it’s a very lonely thing to do. So we need to shift the way we do that, by being more collaborative between law schools to bring in people from the community and the profession.”

Khylee is working as one of the lead researchers for the Borrin Foundation “Indigenising Legal Education” project which is exploring a bilingual, bijural and bicultural legal education. She says it has helped being recently appointed as interim Dean, as she’s the first Māori Dean of law and other contributors to the project are senior members of the Māori academic community. “It just makes it an easier sell if you’re at the helm of the waka, to be able to bring people in and be a conduit between the research group, iwi Māori and the Māori community and the Council of Legal Education.”

She sees that her role of connecting and fostering the relationships with those groups is helping AUT to be a leader in that space. “They’re all my relations, my colleagues at the other universities and on the research team, and being Dean gives you a seat at the Council of Legal Education, it puts you amongst the other law deans. And those are quite important spaces for us to have representation,” Khylee says.

Khylee says of the Council of Legal Education’s recent decision to make learning Tikanga compulsory for law students, that it’s going to be transformational and particularly welcome at AUT. “It’s a pretty exciting time really, and it requires a pretty big mind shift for people who have been doing the same thing for a really long time,” she says.

Why we still don’t have equality in legal workplace representation

While inequities exist within the profession, Khylee says students spread themselves relatively evenly across the sub-disciplines of law. So she doesn’t see the lack of diversity as a legal education problem, rather it’s when people attempt to enter the profession that representation drops.

At AUT company law is compulsory, so all students have a fairly strong grounding in commercial law. But when it comes to the coal face, Khylee observes often diverse people are not employed in those jobs.

Khylee says “The concern from our end is equality of opportunity. So people choose what they want to choose, but the profession doesn’t necessarily respond to them and their aspirations there.”

Khylee acknowledges that the profession has been doing more in this space in recent years. Since Treaty policies and protocols were starting to be drafted 25 years ago up to more recent additions such as, diversity and inclusion policies. Khylee is encouraged by this. “You know when something is being strongly embedded when it gets truncated to an acronym, so everybody knows what you’re talking about when you say D&I.”

Something promising that Khylee has observed is that diversity and inclusion on certain variables has improved, particularly around ethnic and cultural diversity. It will get there, but it won’t happen overnight.

Increasing representation starts with understanding “the hidden curriculum”

In a recent column for Stuff, Khylee wrote about what she calls “the hidden curriculum”. According to Khylee, every context has a hidden curriculum – it’s the unspoken rules about behaviour, about speech, about dress. “It’s like a code, but you need to know what the code is,” says Khylee.

At university the barriers can be as simple as not knowing what to wear to class for students who are the first in their family to go to university. “I had a student this year who missed three weeks of classes and when I rang her up and asked what was going on and she apologised and told me she couldn’t come to class yet because her suit hadn’t arrived.” The student had believed that lawyers needed to wear suits, but hadn’t realised this didn’t apply to the classroom context.

It’s not just dress though, Khylee clarifies, it can also be how to speak, how to address people. These are barriers that she hopes that people in firms and in the sector become more aware of.

Authenticity means being Māori first

A bigger issue Khylee highlights is that people from diverse communities should feel that they are welcome for who they are – not what they are – so that they can be their authentic selves. But she doesn’t think this is how people feel in legal environments currently.

Khylee says “I’ve heard others describe it as a dance – the first step is inviting someone to your dance, the second step is welcoming them inside, and the third step is they should be able to dance in any way they like. People should be able to show up and be who they are, not just be welcome in your space to do things in the way that you do them.”

Relating the analogy back to law, Khylee explains in the first iteration of diversity and inclusion a person is invited to become a lawyer. But in this example, actually they are doing things in the same way the law firm has always done them and that’s not enough.

She says “From a Māori perspective we say it’s our ways of thinking, being and doing. So when clients come in to see you it’s how you engage with them – do you offer them kai, do you have a karakia, do you just do things the way you would just naturally do them?”

The way Khylee tries to educate her students, is to be Māori lawyers, not lawyers who are Māori. “There’s a difference. A Māori lawyer is Māori first and they just happen to be legally trained. Whereas, for lawyers who are Māori, the Māori takes the back seat, you leave that at home, you put on your suit and when you get to the office you be a lawyer like everybody else,” she says.

Khylee is mindful to not deny other people’s experiences, but encourages people to be their authentic self. And that goes for other people too – people from other faiths and cultures or diverse backgrounds. Just be yourself.

“We need to ask – how can firms bring all these rich perspectives together without becoming this monolithic kind of lawyer? It’s such a big challenge but it’s important we solve this because good lawyers and good advocates are people that can be reflective and connect properly with their communities and clients. Clients are diverse so lawyers should be diverse too. So it’s actually good for business, that’s the bottom line,” says Khylee.

Where more inroads could be made

While gains have been made in some areas, an issue that AUT sees that hasn’t shifted is age diversity. Khylee sees age as the biggest barrier to employment. Khylee says working with mature students can bring challenges due to the additional life commitments they can need to juggle. Often they are parents, people that have to work for a living, second chance learners (people that left school with no qualification that are coming back to study), and people looking to change their career.

“We get all sorts of people – I currently have an optometrist, a vet, truck drivers. These people bring with them this incredible wealth of life experience and pragmatism to their learning,” says Khylee.

“But one of the things we worry about is where are they going to go afterwards because for firms, diversity and inclusion policies seem to be quite focused on cultural, ethnic and rainbow diversity, but age diversity doesn’t seem to be a consideration.

“Room needs to be made for older people. If a 50-year-old is willing and able to start in an entry level position, we should make room for them. There’s more work to be done there I think.”

People shouldn’t change, the system needs to change

In the last five years Khylee has seen rapid change to bring the legal profession and community to be closer together and normalising practices that are common from a Māori perspective. This has meant the law schools need to keep up with shifting expectations, but Khylee views this as a good thing as it signals progress is being made.

Khylee points to the work happening across the legal sector running in parallel to judicial appointments and Judge Heemi Taumaunu’s Te Ao Mārama workstream in the District Court. Khylee points to the Ellis case as an example of where a coalescence of some of the big kaupapa have come together. “That was really quite inspirational and important for our students and colleagues to see – look here’s the Supreme Court dealing with core issues of tikanga Māori in relation to a pākehā man,” she says.

“In the Ellis case there are lawyers behaving in a completely different way to the norms of their education and our profession – having a pre-hearing wānanga together for example.

“These are great examples for students, to see that having cultural knowledge and behaving in ways that differ from traditional legal conduct can contribute to a real collaborative ethos and better legal processes and outcomes.”

Khylee thinks experiences like those get people to think differently and that’s driving change to a good end. People start to realise lawyers can work that way and those are the kinds of issues that they could debate. “A key question is whether our lawyers are fit to represent and advocate for our populations? The worst thing that could happen is that legal education and practice doesn’t change while our population changes rapidly and then they can’t connect to one another.”

The face of Aotearoa New Zealand is changing, more than half of the Auckland population wasn’t born here. This means people speak different languages, have diverse backgrounds and different aspirations for what they want for themselves and their families. For lawyers there’s the added challenge that they also have different ways of resolving disputes. Lawyers need to move with the times to help these people appropriately.

Lawyer Listing for Bots