The power of scholarship

The Quentin-Baxter Memorial Scholarship is awarded to talented students who are in need of financial support. We caught up with two previous winners to discuss the role scholarships play in supporting law students to complete their studies and reducing some of the additional financial pressures students face, and to hear about their careers beyond Law School.

Left: Judge Taumaunu during a special court sitting held at Whangara Marae (near Gisborne) to mark his appointment. Right: Daniel Kalderimis.
Left: Judge Taumaunu during a special court sitting held at Whangara Marae (near Gisborne) to mark his appointment. Right: Daniel Kalderimis.

The Quentin-Baxter Memorial Scholarship Fund was established in honour of Professor Robert Quentin Quentin-Baxter. Professor Quentin-Baxter taught international and constitutional law at Victoria University of Wellington for 16 years, until his death in 1984. His wife, Dame Alison Quentin-Baxter, also taught at the Faculty and has maintained a close relationship with the University. Dame Quentin-Baxter, a lawyer and expert in constitutional law, has worked extensively with island small states on the drafting of their constitutions.

Judge Heemi Taumaunu (Ngāti Porou and Ngāi Tahu), Chief District Court Judge

LLB, 1993

While in the Army I was inspired by the writings of Sir Apirana Ngata, who was a land reformer, political leader, scholar and the first Māori to graduate from a New Zealand university. I chose to study law because I intended to follow in Sir Apirana’s footsteps by obtaining a law degree. I chose Victoria University of Wellington because my parents lived in Wellington and at the time it was offering, for the first time, quota entry for Māori to Law School—Moana Jackson was a driving force behind that. Without that I would not have been able to gain entry to the Law School. Once I did, I was then in the same position as everyone else at Law School. We all had to work very hard to  continue through the law programme.

Receiving the Quentin-Baxter Scholarship made me more focused. The criteria included research and study in the Faculty of Law and also one’s likely contribution to the Māori community. After receiving the scholarship, I felt an obligation to try and fulfil those criteria in the future.

The highlight of my time at the University was establishing life-long relationships with fellow students who went on to pursue careers using their law degrees. One thing that surprised me was how fierce the competition was for places in the second and subsequent years of the course. During my time at Law School the key skill I gained was that of critical analysis, something that I have been able to apply in my law practice and on the Bench.

After graduating from Victoria University of Wellington, I spent some time as a solicitor with Te Puni Kōkiri and with the Immigration Service in Wellington, before returning to Gisborne to practise law in 1994. I covered a range of legal work, including jury trials, acting as a Youth Advocate in the Youth Court and also as lawyer for the child and counsel assisting in the Family Court. I was appointed to the District Court Bench in 2004 and led the establishment of the first Rangatahi Court in Gisborne in 2008, which has now grown to 15 courts around the country. For that work I received the Veillard-Cybulski Award, which is an international tribute recognising innovative work with children and families in difficulty. I have been the tangata whenua representative on the Chief Judge’s Advisory Group and I have tried to encourage the District Court to embrace tikanga as a way to enhance Māori engagement and confidence in the court.

My advice to new law graduates would be to commit 100 percent to the task at hand and give it their all. This is summed up in the Māori proverb, “Whaia te iti Kahurangi, Ka tūohu koe me he maunga teitei”, which translates as, “Pursue the lofty heights, if you succumb, let it be to the highest mountain”.

For the next eight years I will serve as Chief District Court Judge and my aim is to improve access to justice for all who are affected by the business of our Court. I want to focus on improving the delivery of equitable treatment, recognising that people come before the Court from different starting points. Integral to this is promoting procedural and substantive fairness in the Court.

Daniel Kalderimis, Partner, Chapman Tripp

LLB (Hons), BA (English & Philosophy), 2000

I’ve always been fascinated by how we can use words to express concepts and ideas, to understand each other and the world around us. Which is good, as I’m not a very practical person. I would, for instance, make a hopeless engineer! At the beginning of my time at university, I was more inspired by my English and Philosophy papers, but as my law degree progressed I began to see how the language of law allowed for a counterbalance between theme and logic, providing a structured and powerful way to debate and test competing ideas.

Aside from the usual stories of supporting myself with odd jobs (I washed a lot of dishes), I didn’t face particular obstacles. Compared to my father, who arrived in New Zealand as a refugee from Romania; and my mother, who did not attend university and passed away very young, I was very fortunate. I try always to be aware of this. I supported myself through my five and a half years of undergraduate study. The scholarship made a significant financial difference at an important time. More than this, it validated the connection I felt with international law. I remember being so excited by the prospect of doing the course, then taught by Judge Hastings (as he later became), and reading these famous and impenetrable cases.

The scholarship was a significant honour and privilege. In terms of highlights, the first was that my cohort, many of whom I am still friends with, were wonderful colleagues. Secondly, my experience of mooting and cross-examination at Law School led me to many different places and paved my way to becoming a litigation lawyer. Which, looking back, was definitely the right decision for me.  Thirdly, graduating top student overall for my year is an achievement of which I remain very proud.

The thing I found surprising about Law School was the formality of the argumentation—which does leave considerable scope for creativity; but only once the structure is understood and applied. I had a frustrating time in first-year law adapting my thought process to the specific formula preferred for statutory interpretation problem solving. But I did get there in the end...

When I left Law School I had the privilege of working as a Judges’ Clerk for Thomas J in the Court of Appeal, then with Jack Hodder QC at Chapman Tripp in Wellington, before attending Columbia Law School where (like Associate Professor Joanna Mossop) I taught and studied. I then sat the New York Bar exam, but moved to London where I practised international arbitration at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP. I returned to Wellington and Chapman Tripp a decade ago. I now wear two hats: I am a commercial litigator before New Zealand courts and teach civil procedure at the University (which I greatly enjoy). I also set up and lead Chapman Tripp’s international law practice, which is a unique offering in the New Zealand market.

At Law School I learnt how to think and debate lucidly and persuasively. I indulged my curiosity about ideas with some brilliant minds. In particular, I learnt a great deal from Professor Geoff McLay, whose grasp of torts was (even all those years ago) profound. I don’t believe that all problems can be solved by law. But I learnt how to analyse with rigour and passion those that can be. It was a privilege to be a part of this institution, during a period in my life in which I discovered who I was. I’ll always be grateful.

My advice to law graduates would be don’t be afraid to express yourself and test your ideas. Law School is a place to talk as well as be spoken to. As far as the future goes, at some stage, I will move from my firm to the separate bar. And hopefully spend a little more time with my three wonderful children.