A rewarding challenge

For Joanna Bate, enrolling in her Master of Laws after five years in the workplace was daunting at first, but now she says it’s the best decision she’s ever made.

Joanna Bate sits in front of a book case in the Law School.

Joanna completed her undergraduate degrees in Law and Commerce at Victoria University of Wellington, and while studying she took up a call centre role at Bank of New Zealand (BNZ). She spent five years working her way up from the call centre to a management position in the Collections team. She says the roles she held at BNZ gave her practical experience problem-solving complex issues, and being logical and rational under pressure—building on the skills she had learnt during her undergraduate studies. “Most people at some point in their life will borrow money. Falling behind on repayments, on a home loan for example, when life throws you a curve ball can be incredibly stressful. In that situation, it’s not about being a big, mean bank trying to take people's money—it's about being human, being empathetic and working with people to understand how best to help them get back on their feet.”

Although her job at BNZ wasn’t specifically a legal role, Joanna found there were legal aspects to it, and ways she could apply the skills she’d learnt. “Banks are under a lot of scrutiny around what's fair and what's right, so there's a huge compliance aspect to any job like that. That was a way for me to use my legal knowledge, particularly in improving processes or managing staff—making sure that the people who reported to me understood what was required of them by law. Many of these laws exist for consumer protection and to make sure businesses are doing right by their customers.”

The main thing that convinced her to do her Master’s was the option of completing it by coursework. “It appealed because it allowed me to pick courses across a number of legal disciplines; that way I could dabble in a few different areas of the law while working towards a Master’s.”

Postgraduate study so far has been a challenge, but a rewarding one. “There is a lot of work involved and because it’s so self-directed, you've got to stay really motivated, but that helps you grow because you have to learn to be disciplined. You're not being given a chapter in a textbook to go and memorise, or told what to write an essay on—you have total responsibility for the work you produce with the flexibility to select research topics that you are passionate about. Research like this enables you to analyse and critique the law, to deeply connect with the subject matter. It helps you to develop so many skills that are useful in the workforce, and also in life, while producing work that you are really proud of.”

Joanna found the supportive environment at the Law School helped her quickly overcome any hesitation she had about returning to study. “It was quite daunting coming back to academic life after being out of it for five years, but now I’ve started my Master’s I definitely feel part of the Law School community. I'll often just drop in to see my lecturers, say hi and have a chat about whatever is on my mind regarding my research and bounce ideas off them. The lecturers are an invaluable resource. Many of them are not only highly respected academics in their fields but also have real world experience that as a student I can draw on.”

Reflecting on her Master’s study so far, Joanna is pleased she made the decision to return to Law School. “To me it's been the best decision I've ever made. I loved what I was doing prior to doing my Master’s, but this has just elevated everything for me. Being able to form my own opinion and put forward ideas for how we can improve the law is really exciting.”