Māngere College dux realises dream to become a lawyer
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
After years of hard work, sweat and tears, Samoan law graduate Tuluvao Futi has officially been admitted as a Barrister and Solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand.
Accomplishing such a feat took Futi more than five years of many sacrifices but says it is all worth it in the end.
“As my mum would always say; it isn’t about how you start or how long it takes. It’s about how you finish,” Futi says.
When she first received the official email stating she had passed the bar, Futi sat back and thought, “wow, I actually did it!”
“I cried tears of joy and felt an immense sense of relief. I recall saying a little prayer too.”
“There were times I wanted to take a break from uni and even at one point drop out because I wanted to work full time to help my dad provide for my family,” Futi says.
“But I saw the long-term goal and thought, if I work hard now and get this done, I will be able to do more than just providing financial stability for my family.”
After achieving Dux in her final year at Māngere College, Futi began her tertiary studies in 2015 at the University of Auckland. In 2020, she completed her undergraduate studies and graduated in 2021 with a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Law conjoint degrees.
A hard worker at heart, Futi has always excelled in her studies even in her early education.
“I was the student that asked for homework even during school holidays,” she says.
“Since I was young, all I knew at the time was that I genuinely enjoyed going to school and learning.
In Year 11, Futi discovered she wanted to become a lawyer after learning about the social inequalities Pacific Islanders faced while growing up as a minority in Aotearoa.
“One of the many examples I was intrigued by was the fact that Pasifika and Māori made up a large percentage of imprisonment rates,” Futi says.
“I was inspired by seeing first-hand the injustices of how Pasifika and Māori were being treated compared to others. My passion to serve my community grew from there and continues to be one of my motivating factors moving into the profession.”
Now that she’s finally admitted to the High Court of New Zealand, Futi says it is crucial to have our own people in high positions in New Zealand’s justice system.
“Who better understands our people than our own?”, she says.
“It frustrated me learning about this in law school but at the same time motivated me even more to finish my degree and get admitted to the bar.”
There is a small number of Pasifika lawyers in New Zealand’s justice system and Futi believes that societal influences play a huge role in this.
“I realised that the person I am today, is the person I would have felt safe with when I was younger. Growing up in South Auckland, I didn’t know or see a lot of people that looked like me as a lawyer,” Futi explains.
“A lot of people doubted me, and society constantly made me feel like I was never going to make it [and] a lot of our Pasifika students and younger generation feel that having high positions in New Zealand’s justice system is too far out of reach so they settle for less.”
But Futi believes that change occurs at the very top.
“If there are no Pasifika representatives at the top, how do we expect to see any changes? I want to show that it is possible for us to have a seat at the table not only because our Pacific community needs us to, but also because we deserve to be there. If I could motivate at least one other person to do that, then my job here is done.”
Coming from a devout Christian family, having faith and spiritual support enabled Futi to persevere through the difficult times on her journey.
“I found myself time and time again turning to God through prayer and fasting to get me through,” she says.
“I owe a lot of this to my late grandmothers who carried and uplifted me in prayer every day and night.”
“I couldn’t stop thinking about how [they] were not here in person to see the fruits of their labour. Their teaching and words of encouragement are forever etched in my heart. They are the giants whose shoulders I stand on and paved the way for me so that I could be here today.”
Futi’s family are immensely proud of her and have been her biggest supporters since she started her journey. Her mother cried at the news of her passing the bar, while her brother and her father gave her big smiles.
“I told the rest of my siblings over video call, and they were so over the moon for me. My parents kept saying how proud they are of me and to me, that was all that mattered,” Futi says.
Currently, Futi is based in Wellington working as a Legal Assistant for the Ministry of Education legal team and volunteers at the Community Law Centre. She hopes to go on to a boutique law firm and specialise in family or criminal law and learn as much as she can as a junior solicitor.
Her long-term goal is to find her passion within the profession and hopefully return to her home country, Samoa and serve her people there. Moreover, talks of becoming a judge is also in the works but for now, Futi is taking one step at a time and is enjoying every moment as she heads into the profession.