Combining Law with a love for the arts

A Victoria University of Wellington Law graduate is carving out a niche career that capitalises on her creative strengths.

Mia Gaudin

When deciding what to study, Mia Gaudin felt Law was a good fit with her abilities, and she graduated with her Bachelor of Laws with Honours in 2010.

“I was keen to study law because it made the most of my strengths in writing and language. Plus it has excellent employment outcomes, which was also important to me.”

But as a very arts-focused high school student who immersed herself in painting, drama and writing, Mia was reluctant to give up her creative interests to focus solely on law, so did a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in English and Art History alongside her LLB(Hons).

She recalls being taught by Dr Grant Morris at Wellington’s Law School. “He made a big impression on me, particularly his work on law and literature—I felt he was an ally in thinking about how law fits with the creative arts,” she says.

While completing the Law Honours programme, Mia found quite a few papers were angled towards art and law, including one on indigenous intellectual property rights, and another on freedom of expression. “I also did my Law Honours essay on a bill called the Artists Resale Royalty Rights bill, so was able to find quite a few crossover points between art and law.”

Mia also speaks very highly of lecturers Dr Carwyn Jones, and Catherine Iorns, both of whom she describes as extremely kind and approachable, as well as experts in their respective fields.

It was through Dr Jones’ classes that Mia’s interest became piqued by Māori rights and indigenous legal studies, and after a summer clerkship in Kensington Swan’s Treaty of Waitangi team, she did her final semester of Law at a university in Canada.

“If you’re interested in indigenous law then it’s really natural to go over to Canada and see what they’re doing there,” Mia says. “They’re doing some really fascinating stuff in British Columbia where they’re only now in the process of negotiating treaties with indigenous communities because they didn’t have any when British settlers first arrived.”

Mia attended University of Victoria on Vancouver Island which she says has a big focus on First Nations law and history. “I had the opportunity to go to a Native American reservation in Arizona for a summer internship, where I wrote my final research paper about my experiences there. I learned so much and made some lifelong friends during my time there.”

Mia returned to New Zealand and found a job as a Research Counsel for the Rotorua District Court.

“It was a really cool time in my life—my job was to write memos for the judges and do research,” she says. “I met some awesome people at the court, and got to know my fellow research counsels at District Courts around the country, including current Labour MP Kiritapu Allan, who was based in Napier at the time—we had been in the same class at Law School, but really solidified our friendship over that job.”

Mia says as a Pākehā New Zealander, her time in Rotorua gave her a stronger connection to te ao Māori. “It’s a part of New Zealand where Māori culture is far more alive and part of daily life than what you see in, say, Auckland or Wellington.”

After a year in Rotorua Mia got a job back in Wellington at the Crown Law Office, where she worked in the Treaty of Waitangi team and the Human Rights and Constitutional Law team. “A big thing I was working on within the Treaty team was the hearings of historic claims, which meant I travelled to a lot of different marae where claims were being heard,” she says. “The Waitangi Tribunal is a unique place for a young lawyer to learn to practice because the rules are different from a traditional court environment—a Tribunal might have 20 different lawyers representing several claimants at the one hearing, which meant I was sometimes given the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses. It was a great place for cutting your teeth.”

Mia left Crown Law after about four and a half years, a few months after her mother passed away. “I’d always intended to travel but with Mum so sick the time was never right,” she explains. “So I arranged with work to do a six month OE and then come back, and it was a good distraction at such a sad time in my life.”

Mia’s first stop was at a conference in Rome where she delivered a presentation to a conference of the Association of Research into Crimes Against Art.

“New Zealand judge Arthur Tompkins, who taught an art crime course I’d done through Victoria University of Wellington’s Continuing Education programme, goes to this conference every year,” Mia says. “He suggested that I do a presentation covering work I’d done for Crown Law and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage about the return of a flag from Auckland Museum that had belonged to the prophet Rua Kenana from Tūhoe. It was super fun to present on this repatriation within a New Zealand Treaty Settlement context to an international audience.”

Mia then spent the next six months holidaying around Europe, and returned to Wellington where she was immediately seconded from her role at Crown Law to Treasury. “I’d never considered Treasury as a place I might work some day, but I was assigned to work on a social housing reform programme to transfer state houses from Housing New Zealand to private community housing providers,” she says. “It was a highly contentious and political programme of work, but they needed someone from Crown Law’s Treaty team to be involved, because a number of Treaty issues arise when you start to privatise Crown land which would otherwise potentially be going to iwi in a settlement.”

Mia really enjoyed the working environment. “I wasn’t just working with other lawyers—there were policy people, project managers, finance people… I liked it a lot because you get this overview of the whole organisation and gain an understanding of all the different projects people are working on.”

Mia didn’t end up returning to Crown Law, opting instead to stay on at Treasury. But all the while she still felt the pull of her artistic side, so decided to apply for Victoria University of Wellington’s prestigious Master of Arts in Creative Writing programme.

“I thought I needed to do something for myself that was an expression of my interests,” she says. “It was actually life-changing because I was able to fully immerse myself in something creative for the first time. It was so productive, and I found it really energising—I wrote an entire novel over the course of the programme.”

While studying Mia was able to contract at Treasury part time as a senior policy advisor on the housing project she’d been working on previously. But at the end of 2017, when the course had finished and the new government ended the programme she’d been working on, Mia applied for—and won—a prestigious award.

“I received funding from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust’s McNeish Writers’ Fellowship, which is awarded to a young emerging writer or journalist to travel and work overseas,” she says. “I went to California and Mexico to research a writing project about my aunt and grandmother, who had spent time there. So I spent all of 2018 travelling, which was a lot more challenging than I’d expected—I was outside of any institution for the first time ever, and I found it really confronting to not have any structure to what I was doing. But my research has been very fruitful and will become a travel memoir.”

Mia returned to New Zealand from Mexico City when the fellowship funds ran out, and lined up the perfect job to come back to.

“I saw a role advertised for a senior solicitor at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage (MCH), which was a place I’d always wanted to work. I knew I could do the job really well and that I had all the right skills and interests to be able to hit the ground running,” she says. “However, I had obtained a visa to work in the United States, so was upfront with MCH about my plan to eventually move there. Luckily they decided I was the best person for the job anyway, and hired me with the understanding it wouldn’t be for the long term. They’ve been really great, but that ability to ask for what I want is something that I’ve only come to realise as I’ve got older and more confident.”

Mia will eventually return to the role at MCH. “It’s just the beginning of an ongoing working relationship with the Ministry in this area of policymaking, which I’m passionate about.”

Earlier this year Mia moved to New York City, which she says is a hub for jobs combining law and the arts.

“I’ve just applied for a job at the Museum of Modern Art in their legal team. While I can’t practice law here, I am able to work as a paralegal which would be very exciting,” she says. “I also recently saw a job advertised for a paralegal at (children’s television show) Sesame Street! So the huge arts scene here offers some unique opportunities and a lot of potential for someone like me.”