Like me

I hated studying criminal law at university. It’s a compulsory paper so it was endured. Granted I was intrigued at the health system and criminal justice system overlap (or lack thereof) particularly in relation to insanity, dealing with offenders with physical/mental health issues and so forth.

The main reason I went to law school was to bolster my understanding of public law to apply that to health policy/health-anything. A lot of my family have died due to chronic disease so I took an interest in the systemic levers that influenced such things happening; from studying all the “isms”  from a health perspective (there are obviously several alongside the intersectionality of the isms etc.) to individual agency.

I almost hated it as much as studying criminal law. Because the stats you played with for your policy research papers showed that brown people were too fat, too depressed, too dumb and too naughty. In criminal law, brown people were too violent so I switched off immediately; although there is no denying the data. However that’s a later blog post – and numbers never disclose the full story anyway.

Advocating for change from within the health system takes decades. Of course, I should have known that. But I didn’t know that several years ago. My parents worked in factories all their lives. The most political discussions we had were about family affairs and how the church was taking out yet another loan to do something for God. So was it wrong of me to take at least a little bit of the university marketing to heart and believe I really could make a difference after getting a degree? That view naturally dissipated as I got closer to graduating.

My parent’s saw the same marketing so it had a compound effect.

Chuckles in polynesian cycnism.

On application when I finally started working on business cases, projects and operational issues within a DHB context, there were several issues I couldn’t stand. The system is so noisy with bureaucracy that if you’re not the loudest (i.e. with authority) then you’ll wait until you’re in your mid-fourties with a postgrad until someone listens and acts. That’s the average age of the health workforce by the way – real issues there. And… I don’t like being loud without evidence-base, even if I do think I have strong intuition. So forget being a loud young-person because I don’t feel like it’s my time to make noise music yet.

I left because I felt like my salary was better absorbed in meeting the baseline clinical needs – I.e. a grad nurse is probably more necessary than a grad wannabe manager right now. And I feel like everyone wants to be a manager but not actually do the work, so no thank you.

Almost 2 years ago after taking the leap into practicing criminal law, I’m trying to predict a possible long-term career in it. Or at least something for the next 5ish – 10ish years (then maybe move into some in-house DHB role? I don’t know, there are heaps of options). There are characters from every angle, complex propositions/arguments to deal with and personal/professional challenges galore. It’s exciting stuff. Albeit stressful – but from what I see of my seniors, it’s the standard junior/grad stress of trying to do the most. But when a win is a win – it feels worth it. What type of wins are a win is for a later post too.

I like this job enough to stay in it for a while but it will depend on my growth over the next two to three years with grappling with the trial basics re advocacy. And then figuring out my style.

Anyway, now that I get to experience an angle of “frontline” work in criminal law, I’ve managed to use my moderate grasp of Samoan language to explain legal processes to a client. I’ve also gotten to do some advocacy on a sentence appeal which considered a s 27 cultural report. And I’d like to think I’ve been able to build rapport even with the most difficult of clients (although I took some shit that I shouldn’t have – the MAFS clients are the worst because of the inherent disrespect for women so I can’t even do my job properly).

I’ve also seen an old neighbour appear for a bail hearing, family members at Court and an ex who now works in Corrections. Which has been a little too close to home.

I like to think that I don’t get attached to clients and their stories, my main reason being that I’ve got enough of my own problems to deal with. But from time to time, there are some stories that resonate with me, not because I have been in their shoes necessarily, but because they remind me of some of the people I grew up with. I grew up in a state house in Onehunga before the gentrification started and the income gap grew. As I grew up, I noticed some of my peers go down pathways that bought them to similar situations that have brought clients before me. My peers could have ended up like me, quite a few of them that had great potential. I know some of them ended up dealing with the criminal justice system (sometimes frequently) instead. I think of this one Tongan boy who went to all of the same schools as me; who I thought had a lot of potential and so did others who invested in him. He is now in prison serving time for manslaughter.

I’m aware that those predicaments are not just a factor of their agency; there are the structural and environmental factors which have A HUGE impact on where your life is headed.

In acknowledging that environmental/structural factor, I’ve met other young lawyers working in criminal law who see how broken the system is and want to make a change. I think I’ve found my fit and what I want to do for a while. It feels so cheesy to say that. SO CHEESY. However, I like to think I’ll be able to do some good work. Even if it’s just in a small way for now. For a little while.