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A French intern’s experience of community law

30 June 2017 - By Joséphine Pech

French law student Joséphine Pech completed an internship at Tairawhiti Community Law Centre earlier this year. After completing a double bachelor’s degree in law and foreign languages (English and Spanish) in her native France, Ms Pech gained a diploma in criminology in 2015. In 2016 she completed the first year of a Master’s degree specialising in criminal law and then took a year off to travel to New Zealand “to experience another lifestyle and to discover another legal system”.

She completed three internships, with Marie Dyhrberg QC in Auckland, and a three-month spell with the Public Defence Service in Christchurch which she completed in May. In between, Ms Pech spent three months at the Tairawhiti Community Law Centre. She reflects on her time there.

I got involved with the centre last year when I was still in France. I was looking for New Zealand legal structures in which I could carry out internships relevant to my studies. I found the national website of community law centres and contacted all of them. I was really interested in discovering the community law centres because similar structures exist in France and I wanted to compare their function, goals and the people that they were dedicated to. Gillian [Creach] was the first manager to reply and she was so encouraging that I immediately accepted. I knew that doing an internship in Gisborne would be an atypical experience.

During my time with the centre I observed and did a lot. I researched legislation in various areas of law, for example, who is covered by a protection order, how to challenge a decision of Child, Youth and Family regarding the placement of a child, and whether Māori land can be passed on to only one child in the family.

I also drafted legal documents such as an employment agreement, I amended a client’s affidavit on her behalf in a case of domestic violence and I helped one of the lawyers find arguments supporting parenting order and protection order applications. I attended several client appointments on matters of different nature, such as domestic violence, employment, contract, relationship property, enduring power of attorney and wills. I attended to over-the-phone legal advice and an Employment Relations Authority hearing in the Gisborne courthouse. I visited the Wairoa office and attended overviews on Māori land law, criminal procedure and admission of evidence.

All of this was very interesting and instructive because I worked on various areas of law, including topics that I did not study much in France. Moreover, this internship gave me the opportunity to draw parallels between the civil and the common law systems which differ in many respects.

I really enjoyed my experience with the centre because it is an atypical structure. It is much more than a legal organisation. It is a place where people can truly feel heard and looked after. Clients are often looking for social assistance and emotional support, and in some cases their situations do not even constitute legal issues. Nevertheless, the centre team takes into consideration their needs and provides a real assistance by directing people to other relevant structures.

The centre is a family-orientated structure and is very close to the community. This is necessary for clients to be confident in the people who deal with their cases, especially in the early stages of the legal procedure, when they do not know what to do or where to go.

All centre members are very open and the clients are grateful for that. They thank them as much as they can, bringing food or making small contributions. Gisborne is very fortunate to have such great people committed to helping the part of the population that cannot seek legal advice elsewhere. The centre is vital to the Gisborne community.

The internship with the centre has been a fantastic experience for me both professionally and personally. While I was there I could clearly feel the motivation and positivity that animated the whole team.”


Josephine is now back in France and intending to resume her law studies in September, and she will be preparing for an examination to become a judge.

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Last updated on the 30th June 2017