Five minutes with…Khylee Quince, senior lecturer in law, University of Auckland

by NZ Lawyer04 Jul 2014
Khylee Quince is a senior lecturer in law at the University of Auckland and has just received one of 12 annual Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award, each worth $20,000, at a ceremony in Parliament.

Quince tells NZ Lawyer about how she made the transition from practicing law to teaching it, what our future lawyers could look like and how she is a shocking side-line “shouty” mum.

What made you decide to make the transition to a lecturer in law?
I was asked back only two years after graduating by Nin Tomas, my former teacher and the senior Maori academic at the Faculty of Law at Auckland. Nin, who passed away in February of this year, was a formidable woman, and one who it was not easy to say no to. I was enjoying practice as a general litigator, but us Maori have a strong sense of obligation – and when Nin told me I was needed at the Law School, I came. So I was really “army volunteered” to become a lecturer.

How long have you worked at the University of Auckland and what brought you to this position?
I started part-time in 1998, moving to full-time in 2000. Practising half-time was becoming untenable in terms of meeting the needs of clients, so I chose the teaching gig.

What does winning the Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award mean to you?
In some ways I’m whakama (shy/embarrassed) about it, as I know that so many of my colleagues are fantastic teachers, and I live in fear of being exposed as a fraud or imposter. On the other hand, I am proud to have won this as a member of Te Tai Haruru, the Maori academic staff of my Faculty, and particularly for our Maori students. We identify and operate as a family, so I see this recognition as afirming that philosophy and practice. I am also really pleased that teaching is recognised in a day and age where externally funded research, and its outputs, are the clear priority of our universities. I think that is a real shame, as teaching students remains the bread and butter of these institutions.

What are some of the main messages in relation to law that you try and impress on your students?
I think the teaching, learning and practice of law has this mystique around it, that perpetuates this myth of unattainability. This causes unnecessary stress and fear for students and for clients. I want to send the message that law is a human-science, and it should reflect the communities it serves. If it is not doing that, then I urge students to push its boundaries, be creative, argue for reform. In New Zealand, this means that we need to adapt the values, processes and practices of our common law heritage to construct a legal system that is “fit for purpose” for a multicultural nation that is respectful of Maori as tangata whenua in a globalised world.   

How would you describe your teaching style?
I don’t think I have any real tricks to my teaching. I speak plainly and clearly – I aim to challenge thinking and analysis without being pretentious. I like to be approachable, sharing myself, and stories of my life and family – so that students feel they know me and can relate to me on some level. I’m self deprecating and love to tell a good story. 

In what way do you think that lawyers of the future will be different from the lawyers of today?
While the obvious answer might be to consider preparing lawyers for the global legal market, in many ways this only highlights the need to preserve what makes us unique as New Zealand lawyers. This will mean a new focus on Maori, and New Zealand’s place in the Pacific. In addition, cost, convenience and public opinion will inevitably result in less adversarial court-centred justice, so lawyers will need to be skilled in other forms and processes of dispute resolution. This will include not only negotiation and mediation techniques, but a focus on the use of law as a therapeutic agent to address social problems. Lawyers often act like they are the most important people in the room – this new philsophy requires lawyers to members of a team of professionals dedicated to solving problems.

If you could invite three people for dinner, dead or alive and excluding family and friends,  who would they be and why?
Ooooh that’s a tough one. Luis Suarez, Jamie Lannister (I know he’s not a real person, but I don't care), Yoda (not a person at all).

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given (work or personal)?
Be yourself – everyone else is taken.

What do you think will be single biggest issue facing the legal space in New Zealand in 2014?
Protecting women and children from family and intimate partner violence.         

If you had John Key’s job for one day, what would you do?
I would totally revamp our criminal justice system – to focus on responses that take restorative, rehabilitative and transformative approaches to address and repair harm and wrongdoing. I would pledge a lot of taxpayer money to facilities, programmes and interventions aimed at eliminating structural inequalities, particularly risk factors associated with social harm.

Do you have any hobbies/interests outside of work?
Supporting my three children in their endeavours – I’m a shocking shouty sideline mum at soccer and netball and I make a mean Lego spaceship. I am a dedicated sports-fan, especially of my beloved Liverpool Football Club and the Warriors. I love television – including Game of Thrones, Dr Who and the Big Bang Theory and I support the global economy with a lot of online shopping.

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