At the heart of the Law

As a Year 13 at Howick College, Toni Wharehoka (Taranaki, Te Ati Awa) already knew she wanted to study Law, and what better place to do so than in the capital?

Toni Wharehoka stands in front of the Law School

Toni packed her bags and came to Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington where she spent the next five years studying for a conjoint degree in Law and Arts, majoring in International Relations and Criminology. She says Wellington felt like the right place to study Law.

“It’s right at the heart of law making in New Zealand, and you can see the intricacies of the law up close.”

Toni recalls her time at Law School as one of inspiration and connection. Having the chance to learn from inspiring and passionate lecturers—who are all experts in their respective fields of Law—encouraged her to immerse herself in the material. The skills she honed in research, communication, and problem-solving, would prove very handy in her chosen career.

Toni also found support in her new Law whānau: Ngā Rangahautira, the Māori law students’ association at Victoria University of Wellington. This was very important to Toni, because, although Law requires you to work hard, she believes that she had what she needed when things got tough.

“It’s really common for people to fall into the ‘grind’, so I made sure I stuck to a routine and made my physical and mental health a priority, surrounding myself with friends and whānau.”

“I found a real sense of community in Ngā Rangahautira and met people who I now consider lifelong friends. It helped me to immerse myself in my taha Māori and find my purpose for studying Law—to create a better and fairer legal system for Māori in Aotearoa.”

Toni’s desire to make a difference was at the heart of her decision to study Law, and her time at university showed her the variety of pathways available for Law graduates.

"The Law School's capital city location opened my eyes to career opportunities in the public sector that I wouldn't have known about otherwise," she says. During her study, Toni worked at the Treasury, the Law Commission, and the Crown Law Office, but it wasn’t until her fourth year that she found her calling.

A panel at the Law school, explaining what it means to be a judge’s clerk, made her realise that this was where she wanted to be. Carrying out research for a judge who makes decisions that have an impact on the lives of people meant she could see the law in action and feel like she too could make change.

“I thought it was the perfect way to start off my career,” she says. “Judges’ clerking means you deal with all types of law—including criminal law, public law, and company law.”

What’s one piece of advice Toni would give to students leaving school and thinking about studying Law? “You don’t have to be a lawyer if you study Law but, I will say, open your mind to the opportunities that Law can bring. You can make a real difference in the world.”

So, where can Law take you? Watch our Law students talk about the different paths they have taken with their Law degree.