Learning & teaching

Updates from the Associate Dean (Learning & Teaching) on important issues related to learning and teaching at the Faculty of Law.

Learning and Teaching at the Faculty of Law in 2023

This is a learning and teaching update from Mark Bennett, Associate Dean (Learning and Teaching) at the Faculty of Law.

Kia ora koutou katoa.

The cornerstone of the Faculty’s approach is to deliver every course in a way that provides the best learning experience for students. For some courses, where in-person attendance and engagement is crucial to the ideal learning experience, the expectation is that students must attend. In these instances, lecture recordings will not be made accessible to all students.

However, we know that for some of you, being an in-person member of the Law School whānau might only be possible part of the time or in some instances, not all – for example, due to the cost-of-living crisis, family commitments, or health reasons. We also recognise that some students who get help from Disability Services need access to recordings to help them study with us. As a Faculty, we are committed to ensuring that students who need the recordings will have access to them.

This will be the case for students whose lives would otherwise be more difficult, taking into account their situation and obligations. The approach will be consistent for all law students as decisions will be facilitated by the Student Success Advisers from the Tītoko team. To gain access, please talk with your Student Success Adviser, who is there to help you at every stage of your time at university. We are sure that when students get in touch with their Adviser, they will feel supported and comfortable about the conversation. We will not require you to divulge personal details or evidence such as employment contracts or medical information, and your circumstances will remain confidential to the Adviser unless you would like them to connect you to other University support services.

This access is not limited to financial hardship. It is also for students whose situations mean they would have difficulty being successful in their studies without that access. Examples of the kinds of situations that would meet the hardship standard include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • A student has caregiving responsibilities that make it hard to attend classes
  • A student is being helped by Disability Services and the Service advises that access to recordings is needed for the student’s success
  • A student is unable to live in Wellington / away from home due to costs of living
  • A student has to work to be able to live in Wellington and cannot rearrange their work schedule.

You will see from the examples above that most, if not all, the situations that have been raised by students as being of concern, would likely meet the hardship standard.

Our approach carefully balances the pedagogical views of many academics with ensuring that we aren’t making students’ lives more difficult: if you can come to lectures, we want to engage with you and deepen our own understanding of the law by hearing your ideas and insights. To reiterate: our mission is to provide the best learning experience for you and your fellow students. By attending class and engaging with your lecturers, or by asking for our help as you study without attending, you will be helping us with that mission.

Ngā mihi,


Associate Professor
Faculty of Law

Learning law online, in (and out) of lockdown

Kia ora koutou katoa,

This is a learning and teaching update from Mark Bennett, acting Associate Dean Learning and Teaching at the Faculty of Law.

As some of you may know, Associate Dean Learning and Teaching Graeme Austin has been writing an occasional blog for quite a while. As acting Associate Dean, I wanted to add this post reflecting on learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The difficulties of learning at present

Over the past months I have been working with the staff of the Law Faculty, VUWLSS, and the wider University management to ensure that learning and teaching could occur as best as possible under the Level 4 lockdown. The University, the Faculty, and individual course co-ordinators have made the decisions they thought best, within the various pedagogical, financial, and time constraints they are under, and with continual input from students.

Now that we are out of lockdown and hopefully heading towards Level 1, I hope things are looking up for you. But I know that students have all been affected by the threat of COVID-19 and the constraints of the lockdown. Many of you have experienced increased anxiety and stress. Some of this has come from losing employment, moving home, or having to take on additional or different responsibilities at home or at work.

Everyone has also had to adjust to online teaching and learning. Although most courses are offering Zoom discussions, much of the learning is now ‘asynchronous’, with lecturers posting videos. I have heard that not having a set lecture time can mean it’s hard to get motivated to watch the recordings. Students have also told me that it takes longer to view the recorded lectures, or that it feels that way.

I have also heard feedback that there is a continual grind of assessment. That was caused by the University’s decision to return to 9 weeks of study after the initial Level 4 lockdown—which removed the mid-trimester break as a time when you could work on assessment—and the decision to not have an examination period in Trimester 1. Other University rules meant that some courses increased the number of assessment items. In addition, feedback given to VUWLSS, which we were given in our consultation with them on assessment changes, suggested that take home tests were preferred over ‘synchronous’ tests to be taken by everyone at one time, over say an hour or 90 minutes.

In retrospect, the feedback I have received is that all of these decisions have caused your weekly workload and stress to increase. Lecturers have tried to keep course content down to the basics—cutting out material and topics where consistent with course goals and learning objectives. Some have been able to identify innovative ways of lessening stress, such as using ‘double chance’ approaches to assessment items. But we know that Trimester 1 is still very hard. I will be working with my colleagues—on the Faculty and VUWLSS—to try to make things easier for you in Trimester 2.

Feedback to help us help your learning

We are always trying to improve our teaching, so that we can better facilitate your learning of the law. Please keep providing feedback through Class Reps, email, office hours, and the forms that many lecturers have posted on Blackboard.

The University has run a survey to see how you have been going during Trimester 1. We will look at the results of that survey to see how we can improve.

The Law Faculty has also created its own survey that we would really like you to fill out so that we can learn what has worked well and what we could do to help your learning in Trimester 2. The link for the survey is here.

Online learning tips

A number of students have asked for tips about learning online. Student Learning Support has put together a good session on studying online—see the first video on this webpage. Some other good tips for online learning are at this link.

Of course, general study tips also apply. You’ve already got this far through secondary school and university, so you must know how to study. But at this hard time, it is worth making sure you’re doing everything you can to make your studies easier and more efficient. There are lots of good resources about how to best learn or study, and it is useful to take an hour or so and work through them, so that you can put in place a good study strategy for your upcoming assessments. For example, here is a good video summary. Then click through to each of the 6 science-based strategies for studying. Finally, I really like this concept of deep work, as summarised in this video.

I hope your studies and work for all the assessments you have coming up go well. Again, please get in touch with me if you have ideas about how we can improve the learning of law at VUW.

Ngā manaakitanga,


Our Graduate Attributes

The Leavers’ Dinner was this Saturday. The Victoria University of Wellington Law Students’ Society (VUWLSS) does a brilliant job organising it.

One thing I love about the Dinner is seeing how students I’ve met very early in their Law studies (usually in LAWS 212) have grown and flourished, intellectually and personally, during their years here.

This is a good context for highlighting the Law Graduate Attributes. This is about the big picture stuff: What legal education here at Te Kauhanganui Tātai Ture is all about.

The Law Graduate Attributes were extensively discussed in the Law Learning & Teaching Committee (VUWLSS) has two reps, and they made really helpful suggestions), and again by the Faculty as a whole. This was one of the Committee’s first tasks when it was formed late in 2017.

Here’s the list—

The Faculty of Law prepares its graduates to:

  1. Have a specialised and contextualised understanding of core legal principles, important legal concepts, and law reform processes.
  2. Exhibit well-developed skills in legal research and analysis.
  3. Communicate effectively and accurately in written and oral settings.
  4. Demonstrate, in the context of legal studies, intellectual autonomy, critical thinking, independence of thought, openness to new ideas, and a capacity to manage their own learning.
  5. Exhibit an understanding of the role of law in Aotearoa/New Zealand including Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
  6. Exhibit an understanding of law in its international context.
  7. Manifest a commitment to justice.
  8. Demonstrate an appreciation of the ethical obligations that accompany the application and development of the law.
  9. Work collaboratively, cooperatively, independently, and ethically.

The word “prepares” is interesting. I’ve sometimes thought, “Yes, this Law School certainly helps ‘prepare’ students to do these great things. But the most important preparation has been done by all these impressive people themselves.”

When I look around the room at the Leavers’ Dinner, it’s very clear that the integrity of your efforts, individually and collectively, has been key.

Each person’s experience will be different, of course—and, in reality, the Law Graduate Attributes is a set of aspirations.

The root meanings of “aspiration” have a sense of “breathe life into”. When you’re bogged down with exam preparation and reading assignments, it’s sometimes hard to remember this—but when we come together in a place like this, we’re truly breathing life into one of the most important of human endeavours: Learning.


This week, many of us are still shocked and saddened by what happened at the Canterbury hostel. It’s affected many of us deeply. It reminds us that not everyone flourishes in environments like this.

You’ll have noted that there’s quite a lot in the Graduate Attributes about ethics, collaboration, collective endeavour, and so on. In part, the Law Graduate Attributes are trying to capture, in the context of a legal education, what it means to live well in the world.

These ideas tap into a deeper set of values that have to do, in part, with looking after the people around us.

At this time of year, it’s especially important to check in with each other. I said to my LAWS 212 students last week: Try to find time to check in with six other people and see how they’re going, especially people you haven’t connected with for a while. If we all did that, maybe terrible tragedies like this could be avoided. And remember that the Law School and the wider University have a great team of people to support you.

This is the final Law Learning & Teaching blog for the Trimester. The final task for this final blog is to wish you and yours all the very best.

Looking forward to seeing you at the Leavers’ Dinner sometime…

Ngā manaakitanga,


Chair in Private Law
Faculty of Law

Getting ready for exams

Like it or not, the reality is that exam preparation season is looming. As the weeks count down, I’m talking about the final exam with my LAWS 212 students more and more.

Sometimes, I don’t like it very much when I find myself doing this. I know it’s important, and students expect it. But I often wish we didn’t have to have this conversation.

Here’s why: Exams are a step on the way to help students prepare for life as a legally-trained professional. An important and useful step, to be sure. But what’s really important is gaining deep understanding of the material you’re working on in each of your courses day after day.

For me, it is pōuri when students think that all this only happens just before exams.

For one thing, this can be a significant source of stress. In a better world, this could be avoided.

Students who think that exams are an opportunity to show what they’ve learned through all their hard work during the trimester are usually in pretty good shape. They’ve kept up. They’re not catching up. They’ve asked questions as the weeks have gone along. They’ve thought deeply and made connections. Often, they’ve worked together with others. They’ve talked through difficult points. They’ve tried to make sense of it all.

When learning is approached like this, exams tend to be less stressful for everyone.

Emotions are always heightened around exam time. It would be silly to suggest otherwise. But it could be useful to reflect on how to make the most of the experience—perhaps even how to enjoy it!

OK, OK. I can already hear the chorus: “C’mon, Austin… Nice try, but you’re getting carried away…” Even so, with the weeks remaining in this Tri, maybe think about strategies for approaching your studies now, so that you’re not faced with the need to do heroic amounts of work after classes finish.

The rest of this blog is just a few general tips on getting ready for assessment season.

Some of this, you’ve had from me before. But these core messages sometimes bear repeating.

Look out for each other: Remember that in our Law School community some people do better than others at this time of year. Being kind and considerate is always a good way to be in the world. Be there for each other. And if you think that a fellow student is not doing well, encourage that person to get support. (See immediately below.)

Get support if you need it, and get it early: Our Law School now has a “Student Success Coordinator”, Eleonora Bello, who is located on Level one, in GB108, just at the top of the stairs. If you need support at this time of year, don’t hesitate to contact Eleonora—and, if possible, take this initiative early.

Look after yourselves: Rest, exercise, good nutrition, some “down time”: If there were a secret sauce for exams, these would be top of the ingredient list.

Tips from your teachers

Once again, I’ve asked some colleagues to give us some insights about how to think about the work you need to do for exams. Talk to lots of people—especially your course coordinators. But here are some useful thoughts from Ruiping Ye:

“It is easy to get lost in the many details you've learned in a whole trimester. Try to take a step back and find the key themes and legal principles. Consider sketching a tree, with a trunk, some big branches, each big branch having smaller branches. The trunk is the main topic that you've learned (for example, the Torrens system), the branches are the key learning points of the topic (for example, indefeasibility and the "exceptions" to indefeasibility), and the small branches are the key principles of each learning point—you could add relevant case names or sections of statutes as twigs to illustrate the key principles.”

And here’s what Matteo Solinas had to say:

“Problem questions: think who you’re advising, identify the key issues, apply the law to the issues, discuss any problems arising from the application of the law, be strategic… Essay questions: be analytical! Tell the reader what your view is on the issue (‘discuss’) and why. Support your argument with citation of cases, statutory provisions and/or literature on the topic.”

And here’s something from me:

“Time is always limited, so spend most of your preparation time on what you know you don’t know. Were there points you slipped over, intending to go back over them later? That’s where you might want to start. Doing well in an exam is helped by getting all your ducks in a row. Be honest with yourself: If some of your ducks aren’t flying so well, put air under the wings of those ones first.”

Finally, and I’ll keep on saying this to students until the day I leave here, “You are so much more than your exam grades.” A big part of the joy of this environment is that we each get to work with amazingly talented, gifted, and interesting people every day. For me in LAWS212—that means well over 300 of you!

With best wishes, as ever—

Graeme Austin

Imaginative leaps and discussion-based learning

The last Law Learning & Teaching blog focused on “reading for the what ifs,” a kind of imaginative leap that can help you prepare for class.

This blog focuses on another important kind of imaginative leap: Putting yourself in the position of the student who’s currently participating in the classroom discussion. That’s an imaginative leap you can take in the classroom.

When one of your colleagues is engaged in a discussion with the teacher about a legal point, try to avoid “drifting away” from what’s going on.

Instead, engage with what’s going on. Try taking an imaginative leap: Imagine it’s you who’s participating in the discussion, not another student.

Some good questions to be asking yourself are: “What would I want to say about this point?” “Do I agree with what my fellow student is saying?” “How would I answer that question?” “If that were me, how would I be wanting to move the discussion along?” “Do I agree with the teacher—or is s/he missing something that’s key?” And so on.

Here in our Law School, we put a lot of emphasis on students’ active participation in discussion about the law—what’s called “discussion-based learning” or the “interactive classroom”. We see this as key to building students’ analytical skills.

We also want to give students opportunities to practise speaking in public about legal questions. It’s something legally trained professionals are often asked to do. So it’s good to practise now. And people get better and better at this when they have more opportunities to test and develop their own analytical and speaking skills.

(And a trade secret: as a university-level teacher of law, I find it vastly more work to prepare for a class where students are encouraged to participate than for one where I’m just standing at the front lecturing…)

But in large classes, it’s sometimes just not possible to give everyone the opportunity to practise these skills every class—or even every week.

Here’s where this kind of imaginative leap comes in. Pretend it’s you who’s participating in the discussion. Go through the process imaginatively with the student who’s speaking. Think about what you would say, and how you would go about this important task.

It’s not a perfect substitute—but it is a good way of actively engaging with what’s going on, and maximising the benefits you get from the classroom experience.

Those 300-level elective videos again

Here are all of the 300-level elective videos we’ve done so far. These are short descriptions of the courses by course coordinators. Specific content can change from year to year, and sometimes different teachers are involved in the courses. Even so, these videos should give you the general gist of the subject areas.

And while choosing electives might seem a long way off for 200- and 100-level students, these videos will give you a sense of some of the interesting material that’s coming up in your legal studies. More videos to come…

LAWS 307 Sentencing and Penal Policy https://youtu.be/qzXVxV8sxWs
LAWS 309 The Criminal Justice Process https://youtu.be/iJRECvELIMI
LAWS 320 Advanced Public Law https://youtu.be/6HLUNkQU0J4
LAWS 355 Employment Law https://youtu.be/NfhmMp2VhXk
LAWS 362 Insolvency Law https://youtu.be/PWzkySifnXQ
LAWS 321 Administrative Law https://youtu.be/uQ5NZZ9ZzTk
LAWS 342 International Environmental Law https://youtu.be/hh7Nhgx7Rgo
LAWS 344 Law of the Sea https://youtu.be/QAsrqtIlaL0
LAWS 350 Introduction to Commercial Law https://youtu.be/AXuVuZS3hvg

Reading for the “what ifs”

Some more 300-level elective videos

Law School classes often require you to take imaginative leaps. In this Law Learning & Teaching blog, I’m going to focus on just one. What I call “reading for the what ifs.”

A later Law Learning & Teaching blog will discuss another important kind of imaginative leap: putting yourself in the position of the student who’s currently participating in the classroom discussion. That’s an imaginative leap we sometimes ask you take in the classroom. Reading for the “what ifs” is something you can do to prepare for class.

Reading for the “what ifs”:

Reading for the “what ifs” is often a good way to engage with materials you’ve been asked to prepare.

If your reading assignment includes some case law, you might want to ask yourself:

  • what if the facts had been different and the judge did need to decide this or that point?
  • what if the case had gone on appeal?
  • what if counsel had taken this or that point?
  • what if the same facts (assuming it is a foreign case) had arisen in Aotearoa/New Zealand?

And so on…

You can do the same kind of thing with legislative/policy/constitutional materials.

  • what if the drafters had thought about case x or y?
  • what if there were express recognition of this or that right?
  • what if they had considered this or that international treaty?
  • what if this statute had not been passed? What would the background common law position be?

And so on….

Reading for the “what ifs” doesn’t exhaust all techniques for “reading actively”, but it’s a good start. It can be a good supplement to other helpful tools, such as the case brief.

Thinking about the “what ifs” helps shift us from knowledge to understanding—something educators describe as “deep learning”.

All of this helps you equip yourself to use the materials we’re working on in the classrooms. It’s a key ingredient of legal analysis.

More 300-level electives videos:

Here are a few more 300-level elective videos. They are short descriptions of the courses by course coordinators. Specific content can change from year to year, and sometimes different teachers are involved in the courses. Even so, these should give you the general gist of the subject areas:

LAWS 307 Sentencing and Penal Policy https://youtu.be/qzXVxV8sxWs
LAWS 309 The Criminal Justice Process https://youtu.be/iJRECvELIMI
LAWS 320 Advanced Public Law https://youtu.be/6HLUNkQU0J4
LAWS 355 Employment Law https://youtu.be/NfhmMp2VhXk
LAWS 362 Insolvency Law https://youtu.be/PWzkySifnXQ

And here are some of the 300-level elective videos that had been posted earlier:

LAWS 321 Administrative Law https://youtu.be/uQ5NZZ9ZzTk
LAWS 342 International Environmental Law https://youtu.be/hh7Nhgx7Rgo
LAWS 344 Law of the Sea https://youtu.be/QAsrqtIlaL0
LAWS 350 Introduction to Commercial Law https://youtu.be/AXuVuZS3hvg

Five Reasons for Getting a “Notes Buddy”

Kia ora koutou,

First up: best wishes for the new Trimester. I’m excited about getting back in the classroom again—and working with what I’ve heard is a terrific group of LAWS 212 students.

This Learning & Teaching blog is about “Notes Buddies”—an idea we discussed at a recent Faculty Meeting.

In law school, knowing content is important. But analysis—knowing what to do with the content—is also key.

Like many challenging and rewarding aspects of life, legal analysis benefits from practice. There’s a diverse range of things happening in our classrooms, but practising legal analysis—using legal materials to address new problems and new issues—is usually a big part of it.

It’s very hard to learn in this way if you’re not there. And, as I say to my students, keeping up is a whole lot easier than catching up.

These are some of the reasons why, here at our Law School, we’ve got high expectations around class attendance.

That said, stuff sometimes gets in the way. You’re unwell. You have an accident on your way to our campus. Roads are blocked by a flood. Your train is delayed. You need to attend a tangi. Your child needs to stay home from school.

This is where “Notes Buddies” can come in.

Notes Buddies are people in a class you can rely on to share their notes if stuff happens, and you need to miss a class. And they can rely on you if they’re ever in that position.

The beginning of the new Trimester is a good time to think about this. Consider chatting to a few people who are seated around you and setting up a small Notes Buddy group. Three or four is probably a good size.

Why should you get a Notes Buddy? Here are five reasons that quickly come to mind:

  1. Even the fittest individual occasionally needs to miss a class. And trains and busses sometimes just don’t show up. I once had a student (he was one of my LAWS 212 tutors) who never missed a class in his whole time at Law School. Really impressive, but pretty rare.
  2. You might get to know a few more people. Mutual support builds community. [If you’re concerned about sharing personal details, maybe consider setting up a specific email address (that bounces to your main one).] And it’s an opportunity to be your best selves: if you’ve noticed somebody sitting close to you who doesn’t seem to know many people, think about asking them to join your group.
  3. Getting a Notes Buddy can prompt some deeper thinking about what it means to be genuinely supportive of others. It’s a great feeling when others are there for you—but it’s also important not to take advantage of the group’s mutual goodwill.
  4. With a Notes Buddy system, you’ll know that the notes are about the particular course, in the year you’re taking it. Content can change really quickly. And different teachers have different takes on the same subject area. Getting notes from a Notes Buddy will usually be a lot more useful than relying on notes banks containing past years’ materials. Sadly, I very often see students who have become really confused as a result of relying on old materials they’ve got from somewhere—materials that don’t reflect what’s actually happening in the course they’re doing.
  5. You can also learn a lot by seeing how others take notes. It might be interesting for you all to share your notes from a particular class, and see how your Notes Buddies took their notes. That could prompt some interesting discussion about what’s important about a specific topic or task.

Getting a Notes Buddy group up-and-running is never a perfect substitute for showing up to each class and taking an active part in what’s going on.

But it can be a useful backstop when stuff happens…

Preparing for Exams

Talofa lava—

The reality is that exams are looming. They’ll be just creeping into your consciousness, if they’re not firmly planted there already. This blog offers a few tips for exam preparation. It then tells you a little about what goes on behind the scenes.

Exam Preparation

Here are just a few ideas for preparing for exams.

Try to see the big picture: You’ll usually have lots of material to revise. Some of this will be in the form of information and legal principles and doctrines. You need to be on top of all that. Also, it’s important to see the “big picture”. In an earlier blog, my colleague Bill Atkin emphasised this. It’s great advice. It helps you see how all the details come together and fit within a conceptual framework.

Knowledge and understanding are crucial. At the same time, it’s what you do with the knowledge—your analysis—that’s often the most important thing.

Diversity: But remember that each of your teachers is different. In our Law School, we value diversity in our courses and learning environments. So don’t assume that something that’s emphasised in one class will pay dividends in another. If your teachers haven’t told you about their exam and what they’re looking for, you should ask.

Different approaches to exam preparation: Think about what works for you. Do you like studying in groups? Do you like working alone? Do you find it useful to go over past exams? Or do you find that gets in the way of being “agile” on the day—focusing on the task in front of you now? It’s often a good idea to listen to yourself and work out what is the best way for you to spend your time. (And, if you like going over past exams, find out from your teachers whether they think this would be helpful. The Law is very dynamic, and sometimes things shift so quickly that past exams will only confuse you.)

Practise in the format of the exam: It’s also a good idea to practise for the exam in the format you’ll need to use in the exam. While a few of our exams will be in digital format this Trimester, most still require you to use handwriting. For those exams, it might be a good idea to practise handwriting. Get used to the “look and feel” of the tasks you’ll have in the specific exam.

Look out for each other: Remember that in our Law School community some people do better than others at this time of year. Being kind and considerate is always a good way to be in the world. Be there for each other—and if you see friends who are not doing well, encourage them to get support. (See immediately below.)

Get support if you need it, and get it early: Our Law School now has a “Student Success Coordinator”, Eleonora Bello, who is located on Level 1, just at the top of the stairs. If you need support at this time of year, don’t hesitate to contact Eleonora—and, if possible, take this initiative early.

Look after yourselves: Rest, exercise, good nutrition, some “down time”: if there were a secret sauce for exams, these would be top of the ingredient list.

Behind the scenes….

What goes on behind the scenes during exam season? I thought it might be helpful to say a little about this.

Here in the Law School, we take assessment very seriously. We want to ensure that we have fair and robust processes. And, with Law, there is a wider public interest in the integrity of our degrees.

Because Law is a regulated profession, there is oversight of our programme by a professional body: the Council of Legal Education (CLE). The CLE’s focus is the public interest. It has a statutory responsibility for the quality and provision of legal education in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

With most core courses, the exams are approved by individuals appointed by the CLE: typically judges of the superior courts or very senior legal practitioners.

For exams in other courses, we’re paired with another New Zealand Law School (it rotates each year), and we send the exams off for peer review by other legal academics. After exams are marked, and the marks are entered, we send a sample of scripts to the same people for peer review. This is really useful for borderline cases.

Internally, colleagues also use peer review, and, for large courses with teams of markers, there are intense moderation procedures. We pay particular attention to marks that fall on grade borderlines. We take decisions about which side of the line a mark falls very seriously.

Eventually, all the results are gathered together and the Faculty looks at the marks for each course at an Examiners’ Meeting. For Trimester 1 courses, this is on 2 July. While we try to get the marks out as soon as possible after the Meeting, some exams have been scheduled very close to the end of the exam period. This sometimes slows things up. And sometimes we ask examiners to go back and revisit their marks. This can delay the release of marks, but it can be necessary to ensure that the marking process is robust, and that it produces accurate and reliable results.

That’s mostly it for now. But I also wanted to say thanks for all the amazing support for the new Student Newsletter. It’s early days, and there’s much we can do to improve it—but it has been so terrific to receive all of the positive feedback.

I wish you all the best. And I’m really looking forward to working with a large group of you in LAWS 212 in a few weeks’ time!


A conversation with Steph Dyhrberg

Kia ora koutou,

For this week's Law Learning & Teaching blog, I chatted with Steph Dyhrberg, a partner at Dyhrberg Drayton Employment Law. I started out by asking Steph to reflect on the state of the legal profession.

Graeme: Steph, thanks for chatting with me. Before we get started, congratulations on the 2018 Wellingtonian of the Year award! The award citation was “Leading the fight against sexual harassment in the legal sector.” Where’s the sector at, and what’s top of your wish list for what still needs to be done?

Steph: Thanks, Graeme. The legal sector is a work in progress, but we are seeing encouraging developments and some improvements. Many firms and workplaces, including in the public sector, are having courageous conversations about their culture, and are reviewing or putting in place harassment or “safe to speak up” policies. The Law Society is receiving and dealing with more complaints about harassment, which is a good thing. Top of my wish list is for more men in the profession to really engage in the debate and lead the change. So much is still to be done; reviewing the Law Society’s role, regulations, processes and approach to harassment complaints. Deeply engaging with people about what we want the culture of law to be and how that fits with tackling the inequities of the patriarchal society we live and work in. Putting greater emphasis on respect and sexual consent, from primary school upwards. Making it safer for people to speak up, and finding better, more mature ways to resolve conflict and fix unsafe situations.

Graeme: Something we emphasise in discussions with our students is that the study of Law fits within a unique ethical framework. This means that being the best you can be is not just an individual thing. We encourage the pursuit of excellence for many reasons, including the responsibilities to others that come with being a legally-trained professional. Here at our Law School that has all sorts of implications, I think – including learning how to work collaboratively and in an ethical way—and recognizing that a dog-eats-dog world is a pretty unhealthy place. Do you agree with that?

Steph: Absolutely—I couldn’t have put it better myself! It seems like the culture of legal practice changed a lot in the 80s, and it was not all for the best. This used to be more of a profession than a business, one of public service. We need to value the contributions lawyers make to their communities as much as the business of law. Every firm says it values teamwork, but many only recognize and reward individual achievement and that incentivizes the opposite behaviour. Legal workplaces need to get help to implement more modern leadership practices, become less hierarchical, and listen to their younger staff more.

Graeme: If you met your 20 year-old self, just starting out at Law School, what would you say to her?

Steph: Be braver: apply for Honours earlier, audition for the Law Revue, admit you need to drop that German paper. Do a “How to Stop Procrastinating” course! Don’t borrow so much from the bank. And take Labour Law!

Graeme: Should Feminist Legal Theory be a compulsory course?

Steph: You’re kidding, right? Of course!

Graeme: Students getting toward the end of their studies start thinking about where their qualifications will take them. I know that you do a lot of work with our students in the careers context. Thank you for that. What are some of your key messages to students who are thinking about employment options?

Steph: Big Law only recruits a tiny number of graduates, usually with the best grades. If they don’t recruit you, maybe that just isn’t for you (or maybe not right now). You are valuable and there will be great opportunities out there. You really just need a couple of years legal experience, of any kind: you will then be sought after. You won’t know about all the types of legal work, so do your homework. Attend all the career days and talk to lots of different people. Read the New Zealand Law Society’s LawTalk and online legal news services—you will find out about the incredible variety of jobs law graduates do and some advertise vacancies including internships. Government entry level jobs are not a dead-end and they employ lots of lawyers. Lodge your CV with the local Law Society Branch employment database. Go to any events where you will meet and talk to lawyers from all backgrounds. Find out what they do, what they love about their job, and discover what you love about law. Get out of the big city mentality: try the provincial towns—they are crying out for lawyers and offer great work and lifestyle.

Graeme: The reality is that some students don’t have established networks in the legal sector. And gender, socio-economic status, sexuality, culture, age, disability, race etc., all have an impact on life’s pathways. There are very big systemic issues here. But are there some practical things that students can do to help make their journeys toward a career in the legal sector a little easier?

Steph: Connect, connect, connect. The more people you know, the more opportunities you will discover: law is all about people. Engage with any groups that offer support or extra assistance to help meet your particular needs. If you are experiencing anxiety or health issues, access help early and often. Many Law Society Branches and young lawyers’ committees are running mentoring schemes, including for students and graduates. Think about joining a business or professional network. For women law students, join your local Women Lawyers’ Association. In Wellington (wwla.org.nz) Victoria University of Wellington Law students join for free. We have a mentoring scheme. Bring your friends of all genders to our awesome events—most are free and open to all. The Law Society has ‘Practising Well’ resources on its website and is just setting up a free counselling service for lawyers. Keep balance in your life: work, play, creativity, exercise, wellness, service. It will keep you healthy and increase your resilience.

Graeme: Many thanks, Steph.

Getting Involved/Electives Videos

Kia ora koutou,

This Learning & Teaching blog focuses on a few strategies for making the most of your time at our Law School. At the end, there’s some information about the 300-level electives.

Planning for belonging

When students feel they belong, they tend to have a much better time here. Having a sense of engagement and identification with your Law School is key.

This doesn’t just happen. It sometimes needs a bit of planning. This can be a good time in Trimester 1 to start looking for opportunities.

The VUWLSS and the other law student groups always have a lot of interesting things going on. The “Insiders’ Guide” is full of helpful information: Clubs, competitions, and information about different kinds of jobs.

On the more academic side of things, you could look out for projects being spearheaded by the Law School’s academics.

When the full-time faculty aren’t teaching, we’re engaged in research projects, community service, running events and speaking at those events, presenting submissions to government, advising on litigation, presenting webinars, speaking to the media, etc. In fact, our busiest time is often when the teaching time is over.

Students often get involved in these projects as paid research assistants. Here are just a few examples:

As the mana wahine for a recent “feminist judgments project”Māmari Stephens brought in students as co-authors. Māmari has had students helping her on many other projects that reflect her diverse range of research interests.

Bill Atkin does the same. For a recent article on Police Safety Orders, Bill also gave his research assistant an author credit. He often gets students to work alongside him on family law research.

Ruiping Ye, whose new book on indigenous land issues was just launched, is currently working with a third-year law student on some fascinating issues relating to the colonization of Taiwan.

Nicole Moreham, whose research on privacy law is funded by a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship (RDF) awarded by the Royal Society, also employs research assistants to help her.

Catherine Iorns often brings in students on-board to help her with research projects on environmental law and climate change.

I’ve highlighted these examples because the large majority of the student research assistants weren’t honours students. It’s a myth that only the LLB(Hons) cohort get involved in these kinds of projects.

This summer, for example, I had three students help me prepare for a talk I was giving overseas. The students did terrific work, and they all came straight out of 200-level courses.

Projects like this are a great way to work alongside the people you see every day at the front of our classrooms, to get to know us a little better, and to earn some extra money. And when the faculty are giving talks, running seminars, talking to the media, or publishing research papers and books, we’re raising the national and international profile of the Law School. Students I’ve spoken with appreciate the importance of this.

Getting involved will also help you get a richer appreciation of all the many different things that are going on here in the building beyond the classrooms. And most students say that these are great learning experiences. It’s an opportunity to see more of the “big picture” of the law.

You should also look out for talks and events. Interesting things are happening in our building every week.

Just one example: the New Zealand Centre for Public Law, led by Dean Knight and Claudia Geiringer, recently held the Government Law—Year in Review Half-Day Seminar.

They packed out RHLT1 with legal practitioners, policy analysts, and other leaders in government. They came along to hear Claudia, Dean, Carwyn Jones, Eddie Clark, and other leading public law thinkers talk about latest legal developments. They made space for a group of Law students to attend. These students were exposed to some great discussion of current public law issues.

Also, look out for the “Lives in the Law” lunchtime talks. Alumni come along to chat with students about where their Victoria University of Wellington LLB degrees have taken them. So far, we’ve had Louise Moreland, a senior lawyer at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and Fleur Knowsley, Senior Counsel at Google Inc in San Francisco. You might also want to check out the Fleur Knowsley scholarship. The Lives in the Law series has been very popular. More talks are planned for 2019.

We’re going to use this newsletter as a way of letting you know about this kind of thing.

Electives Videos

Finally, I wanted to tell you about an initiative we’re trying out: Electives Videos. My colleagues have started to make videos that say a bit about elective courses. These are designed to get you a bit more information as you think about planning your programme.

They take a bit of time to make, so please be patient. But let us know if you like them.

Administrative Law: LAWS 321: https://youtu.be/uQ5NZZ9ZzTk

Introduction to Commercial Law: LAWS 350: https://youtu.be/AXuVuZS3hvg

International Environmental Law: LAWS 342: https://youtu.be/hh7Nhgx7Rgo

Law of the Sea: LAWS 344: https://youtu.be/QAsrqtIlaL0

With every good wish,

Graeme Austin

Bits and pieces for Trimester 1, 2019

Kia ora koutou.

Welcome to Trimester 1, 2019!

There are a few bits and pieces in this blog: some stuff about my Learning & Teaching job; information about support services; and a few tips for success from your Law School teachers.

Associate Dean (Learning & Teaching)

Students sometimes ask me what I spend my day doing.

The Learning & Teaching job has many moving parts.

There’s a lot of work that’s done behind the scenes with individual students. Sometimes I do that myself, and sometimes I direct students to other people who can help.

I’m also responsible for developing our policies around legal education. This is done with a large Law Faculty Learning & Teaching Committee, which includes both staff and students, including the VUWLSS Education Officers.

And I’m often the voice of the Law School in central university committees focused on education issues.

But for me, all the bits and pieces of the job really boil down to this: helping to make our university and our Law School environments where our students can fulfil their potential. With the resources we have, we want to provide the best educational environment we can.

Helping to get the new Law School student newsletter up and running in 2019 is one small part of this. We hope you like it. It’s a way of enhancing communication within the Victoria University of Wellington Law School community.

And we want to get as many impediments out of the way of your success as we can. This doesn’t mean dumbing things down. Not at all. It’s about doing our best to help you pursue excellence and really flourish here.

Now, I want to hear from you. If you’ve got ideas for how things can be improved for everyone in the Law School community, please come and see me. I’m on the third floor—just at the top of the stairs, toward the Moot Room. Tuesday afternoons are usually good. Contact my administrator Jayne Campbell (jayne.campbell@vuw.ac.nz) to set up a time.

Sometimes progress can seem slow. This is a very large and complex institution. And then there are real breakthroughs. I was up on the main campus last week helping the university’s new Rainbow and Inclusion Advisor with a student welcome. I met a bunch of very impressive people, including a number of students about to embark on LAWS 121. I had a flashback to when I was a young gay man studying law here at the University. Way back then, it would have been amazing to know that a Rainbow and Inclusion role existed. Even just knowing this would have nudged a few of my anxieties out of the way so that I could focus just a little bit more on my studies. This new role is a very positive step for our university.

Student Services

The main messages I want to convey with this first Learning & Teaching blog for 2019 is “Find out about the services available, and, if you need help, get it as early as possible.”

Many problems can be avoided if you seek out support as soon as you see problems emerging. Don’t let things fester.

Getting help early usually leads to better solutions. And taking some control over the issue can also clear some headspace.

There’s actually quite a large number of people you can talk with. If it’s an issue with a particular course, the best thing is usually to talk directly with the teacher concerned as early as you can. If it’s serious, and you don’t feel you’re any making progress toward a solution, you might want to contact me, your student rep, or a tutor.

In the Law School, our dedicated Student and Academic Services Team can help with personal courses of study, and issues that might come up with things like enrolment. If there are broader academic issues, the team will often refer students to me. These staff are wonderful—but they’re usually able to do more for you if you see them early.

The university also provides an array of Student Support Services. Check these out soon, and find out what’s available.

And don’t forget your own personal support networks within and beyond the university. They always need care and attention.

Tips for Success

Students sometimes ask me “how can I do better?” That’s a terrific question. Being the best we can be isn’t just important for us as individuals. Typically, student who ask this question are also thinking at some level about the communities they will serve after they graduate.

There’s really no easy answer. And, as usual, you’ll find a diversity of views.

So I asked a few academic colleagues to provide some tip for success in a couple of sentences. Here’s what they came up with:

Nicole Moreham: “Structure, structure, structure. When you are preparing to write an exam problem answer or essay it is important to work in advance on how you are going to structure your answer. You should go into your exam knowing that if a particular topic comes up then you will need to work through issue A, then B, then C. Exactly how much detail you go into for each issue will depend on the question but it is vital that you know how the different elements of the cause of action fit together and how you can succinctly discuss them under exam pressure.”

Bill Atkin: “Lawyers must master the detail of the law. That can be very important. But remember that the big picture can sometimes be even more important. Be ready to explore how the law impacts on society and people”.

Joanna Mossop: “Don’t judge yourself by your marks. If you get a disappointing result in an assessment, use all the resources you have to figure out what went wrong and how you could do it differently next time. Don’t be afraid or ashamed of talking to your lecturer—we can often help you understand how to improve. I really respect those who ask for my help to do better.”

Mark Bennett: “The study of law demands your full attention. ‘Multitasking’ does not work. Distractions are your enemy, and even resisting them drains your willpower and energy. Develop study routines, habits, and environments that eliminate distractions. Your notifications can wait; turn them off. Study with focus, get your work done, and then turn your attention to other things.”

And here’s one from me:

“If you’ve not understood something from a class, don’t let it slip away until the end of the trimester. Not understanding something is often a good sign. It means you’re engaging with the material. But make sure you follow up: see if you can find the answer in a textbook or on-line source, using your research skills. Or ask your tutor or ask your large group teacher at the next class.”

Legal education can be challenging. It’s also very rewarding. Each day in our classrooms there’s some exciting stuff going on. We want you to make the most of your experience here.

Remember, come and see me if you have ideas or other things you want to discuss. And, once again, a big welcome to Trimester 1 of 2019.

Mihi nui


Getting results back

From Graeme Austin, Associate Dean (Learning & Teaching):

Kia ora koutou—

Getting your final results back can provoke a range of emotions: relief, pleasant surprise, and a sense that things are just about right, and the planets are pretty much aligned.

For some students, though, it can be tough. It’s time to call on your friends, whanau, and loved ones to be there for you. They should help you get things into perspective. But if you’re struggling to cope, please get help. Check out our student support services here. And if you see your friends having a hard time, please be supportive.

Ideally, assessments should be learning experiences. If you’re perplexed by your mark, this might be a good opportunity to think about why you might have gone wrong—or, if you’re pleasantly surprised, where and why you did well.

You can ask to see marking guides in the Faculty Office. It’s best sit down quietly and carefully compare your answers with the relevant coordinators’ explanations. You’ll get more out of this if you’ve got some calm headspace.

Going through this process usually clarifies things. It should give you a sense of how to improve next time.

If you still think something is off, there is information here about the reconsideration process. You’ll find a link to the Assessment Handbook, where the process is explained in detail.

One reason I love my job is the opportunity I have to work with such impressive people on a daily basis. Every interaction I have with students reminds me of this. As I’ve said lots of times, please remember that you are more than your exam marks. And this also goes for members of our Law School community who have done really well.

Exams are important milestones in everyone’s law school journey. But what’s much more important in your journey is who was there for you when you started it; who’ll be there for you at the end; and who’s supporting you along the way. Please take care of each other during this time.

While this is largely a repeat of a blog from our last exam season, I think that the messages remain important. As always, if you have ideas you want to share with me about how we can make the Law School community a better place for everyone, please make an appointment to see me (through my administrator: Jayne Campbell).

Ngā mihi—

Graeme (Austin)

Associate Dean (Learning & Teaching)