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UC alumni provides access to justice with free legal clinics

30 October 2023

Keegan Jones is making waves in his community by offering iwi-based free legal clinics to reduce barriers to justice through a te ao Māori lens.


After graduating with a double degree in Law and Commerce from Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC), Jones returned home to Northland to start work as a lawyer for WRMK Lawyers.

His decision to return home came from a need to serve his community. “I knew I wanted to do something for my community; I just didn't know what,” Jones says.

While working full time, Jones also volunteered for a family law legal clinic organised by the local community law centre. “I had only been a lawyer for five or six months, and that was the most fulfilled I had ever felt,” he recalls. Jones later found the services would be discontinued and says that was when he decided to open an iwi-based legal clinic.

He launched his first clinic in March in partnership with Ngāti Hine Health Trust and 155 Community Law and has already helped over 60 people.  

Inspired by his mother's own exploration of her whakapapa, Jones had made an intriguing discovery about his heritage. “Ngāti Hine, who I whakapapa with, are actually my iwi,” he says. “It was just a natural fit for me to contact them about my idea.”

Jones says his legal clinics make justice more accessible. “In Northland, we have the largest proportion of poverty across the country, which increases barriers to justice. People don’t have the money to afford food, let alone a lawyer.”

A key focus for Jones is building strong connections. “When you're dealing with these kinds of issues, a lot of them are really raw, and you want to establish a relationship before getting into the nitty-gritty of the issues.”

Specialising in commercial law at WRMK, Jones acknowledges that not being able to help all clients was an initial challenge for him. “When you're a lawyer, it doesn't necessarily mean you're a jack of all trades,” he says. However, the support of partners, colleagues and kāimahi (staff) has helped build his knowledge. “I’m actually becoming a general practice lawyer because I am learning so much on the job,” he says.

While at UC, Jones spent much of his free time with Te Pūtāiki: the UC Māori Law Students' Society, and as a tuakana (tutor) for the Māori Development Team. “I feel UC gave me the skills to analyse legislation, look at specific issues and hone in on clients’ needs,” he says.

Jones has received the UC Young Alumni Community Impact Award, a new awards programme launched to mark the University’s 150th anniversary.

“Keegan's dedication to reducing barriers to justice through a te ao Māori lens is inspiring and it's great to see the impact his legal clinics had within his community. I look forward to seeing him bring his vision of a more inclusive legal system to life across all of Aotearoa New Zealand,” says UC Amokapua | Assistant Vice-Chancellor Engagement Brett Berquist.

Together with his partners, Jones is hoping to expand their services by creating a hub for clients that provides legal support as well as internal referrals for other Ngāti Hine Health Trust services such as mental health support.

His vision extends beyond his local community, and he aspires to see free legal clinics based on te ao Māori and tikanga established throughout Aotearoa New Zealand. "I want to copy this blueprint that we created here in Whangārei and make it accessible to every other inspiring lawyer who wants to create their own clinic," he says. To facilitate this, he started another project called 'The Free Legal Clinics Project' and is currently collaborating with two other lawyers who are based in South Auckland and Waikato.

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