Wellington Community Justice Project: Part 2 Law Reform
In part two of our four part series, Survive Law NZ interviewed two student volunteers - Finn O'Donnell who volunteers as a writer for The Hive, a bimonthly publication that explores social and cultural issues, and Jin Kim who volunteers for Research and Submissions, where volunteers produce research papers and make submissions and recommendations to Select Committees on the Bill.
ICYMI, we spoke to volunteers from the Human Rights team in part 1 of our series. Check it out here.
Finn O'Connor (The Hive volunteer)
What does being a volunteer writing for The Hive involve?
As The Hive is a bimonthly publication my fundamental involvement as a volunteer is contributing a piece to each issue of the magazine. What this ultimately amounts to is applying what I’ve learnt so far through my law studies and applying it to, often contentious, areas of law in New Zealand that are in need of reform. The magazine form of The Hive has lent itself a lot to trying to get people engaged in these issues through a law lens by trying to spread awareness of these law reform areas in a way that is interesting and relevant to the reader - making the law interesting and relevant through education and awareness of issues that everyone has an opinion on but might not actually be well-versed on in terms of their current legal status.
What has been your favourite project thus far?
Probably the first issue on Sexual Violence because I really enjoyed writing on it from the perspective of the criminal law, which was an area of law I was really enjoying learning about at the time. It was really satisfying and fulfilling being able to directly apply what I had learnt in my advanced criminal law classes. Also, since I had the freedom of writing a ‘magazine’ piece and therefore didn’t have to stick to absolute boundaries, it inspired me to do my own extra research down certain trails of thought I might not have otherwise gone, leading me to take my interest in the criminal law even further and even solidifying content relevant to my class.
What have some highlights and challenges whilst being part of The Hive writing team?
Writing on topics that carry so much contention and strong feelings has been my biggest challenge and highlight. I don’t know if I would ordinarily chose to write about topics such as sexual violence and abortion because of the difficulty surrounding them, so the challenge has been taking these issues and thinking of my own angle on them. However, it’s this very aspect that has lead me to have some satisfying discussions and engagement with the issues that I probably would not have had otherwise. It’s a good reminder to push yourself and to think about challenging subjects because that’s where you often have the most interesting discoveries.
Jin Kim (Research and Submissions)
Why were you interested in being part of the Research and Submissions team?
Practising legal research skills was, initially, my main motivation to join the Law Reform team. I did happen to be interested in law reform and genuinely enjoyed legal research (yes, LAWS 297 can be surprisingly enjoyable once you get over the initial terror). Putting aside the joys of LAWS297 and my interest in law reform, in the end what drove me to apply was a sense of obligation to do more than the status quo to set myself apart from the rest. Now, of course, it means much more than a mere line on my CV.
Hindsight is painfully powerful. The 'bubble' I was in before taking part in the Law Reform team was a fantastical world in which GPAs and learning for exams were the prime objectives of a 'good' law student. That 'bubble' and figment of my imagination could not become more trivial since joining the Law Reform team.
Of course, for most people, it does not take conscripting yourself to a year of legal research to realise that exams are not all there is to Law school, but I am a slow and forgetful learner. (I like to think it makes me human.) At any rate, Law Reform did not suddenly replace my 'bubble'. I have not suddenly outgrown the classroom. Sadly, I never will. But I have become more engaged in class and motivated to learn. Doing more for Law Reform has lead me to appreciate, rather than fear, the opportunity to learn from leading academics who are experts in their respective fields, a great privilege we have been endowed with. Class is no longer a means to a stellar GPA but has become a means to learn and to influence people's lives. (I might end the answer to this question here because I am making myself cringe.)
What exciting projects have you been part of so far?
I have been fortunate enough to work with other volunteers on the issue of investor-state dispute resolution in the CPTPP (Comprehensive and ‘Progressive' Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill and the reconciliation process leading to the Parihaka Bill.
What have been some highlights and challenges whilst being part of the research and subs team?
Waiting nervously for the first experience submitting to a Select Committee has been one of my highlights. We were sitting in the room waiting for the person before us to finish submitting and an MP had questioned the reasoning in the submission. My heart had never beat faster. Abby's presence helped overcome the nerves and get up to speak to the Select Committee.
Some challenges are to research widely, because there will be differing viewpoints on any issue. An Auckland Law Professor may have vastly differing views on the CPTPP than Professor Campbell McLachlan, and as a volunteer on the Law Reform team you have to remain unbiased in your submission.
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