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Student story

Rachael Harris

20 July 2023

Ngāti Tama, Ngāti Pamoana

"UC provided me with opportunities that I would never have dreamed of..."


(Ngāti Tama, Ngāti Pamoana)

Bachelor of Arts in Māori and Indigenous Studies with a minor in Geography and a Bachelor of Laws

Master of Laws

Solicitor, Rhodes & Co

"Canterbury provided me with the sort of opportunities that I would never have dreamed of as a starry-eyed Year 13." Rachael has absolutely grasped every opportunity she can at UC, creating an impressive range of experiences within her Law studies.

Through her role as a research student at the Ngāi Tahu Research Centre, Rachael was granted a fellowship at Stanford University, USA, in the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. "This exciting opportunity hugely broadened my horizons and allowed me to think critically about a whole range of issues affecting indigenous people outside New Zealand," she says.

Shortly afterwards, Rachael was granted the tremendous opportunity to pursue an internship on Capitol Hill, Washington DC, in the office of Senator Max Baucus not long after the elections. "UC Law is the only law school in the country to offer this outstanding opportunity," she says.

She also got to return to Washington for the 2013 Pacific Partnership Forum as a Fulbright Future Partner.

One of her particular highlights while at UC, though, was participating in the University Challenge TV show revival in 2014, and being part of the winning team for UC against other New Zealand universities, an experience she's 'particularly proud of as a UC Alum'.

For her master’s study, Rachael researched the development of co-governance agreements between iwi and the Crown, and their success in promoting the interests of their people.

In particular, she focused on the governance agreement between Ngāi Tūhoe and the Crown that created legal personality for Te Urewera, which has become the first natural area in the world to be given its own legal identity.

"I researched a “world first” – the creation of legal personality for a natural object. It was cool to be researching something as it developed; for example I got to attend select committee hearings to watch the Parliamentary process develop this interesting concept."

"It’s interesting from a constitutional perspective as well," she says. "In New Zealand, how will a whole new form of legal personality be interpreted? My research involved thinking biculturally about a lot of sensitive issues."

Her other interest was a unique co-management arrangement with Ngāi Tahu as a partner in the recovery process in Christchurch following the earthquakes, giving them equal standing with CERA (Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority) and other local authorities.

"Ngāi Tahu’s role in the Christchurch rebuild is simply fascinating, as the iwi have a unique role to play in formulating the future of Christchurch."

During study, Rachael also had a role as an Advisory Board member with the NZ-US Council, a non-governmental body set up to help develop the relationship between the two countries.

After graduating, Rachael still maintains her role providing a youth perspective on the NZ-US relationship and the TransPacific Partnership Agreement, which is important ‘due to the far-reaching, future nature of the agreement’ in the Asia-Pacific region. She was also a speaker at the 2015 Pacific Partnership Forum in Auckland, and a participant in the US Embassy’s Tuākana Mentoring Programme.

Rachael was quick to land a role with the Christchurch District Court after completing her master’s, where she worked as a Judge’s Clerk for judges in the criminal, civil and family law jurisdictions.

Currently she works with Rhodes & Co law firm as a Solicitor, which allows her to develop courtroom and trial skills.

"I am really lucky to be working for a small firm like Rhodes & Co, which gives me a wide variety of work and the ability to take charge on exciting files. Rhodes does a lot of insurance work for policyholders, so it's rewarding to be able to help people within the community recover from the earthquake and the resulting insurance aftermath.

"Rhodes has also encouraged me to step up and take on court work. It's great to get time on my feet in a court room and develop those skills, particularly after clerking and being “on the other side"."

Rachael is keen to build on her successful track record so far, which she attributes to her extensive studies, and potentially go on to a PhD examining the government response to insurance claims during the earthquakes.

"UC provides a quality Law degree, and this in addition to my research-based LLM adequately provided me with the background to succeed in a busy research environment. It is also a valued degree amongst those in the profession."

"A Law degree provides you with high quality research and critical thinking skills that can be applied to any situation. I chose Law because I wished to pursue a degree that would prepare me for a challenging writing and research-based career."

She agrees that there’s no better place to have prepared than UC. "The student lifestyle at UC is like no other. Canterbury offers a top-class Law school where the lecturers write the textbooks, and the engagement is exemplary."

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