Te Piringa’s founding three pillars

Founding Dean, Emeritus Professor Margaret Wilson, says the three pillars were important to the shape and direction of the law school in 1991.

“Because we were new, we had the opportunity to set out what our foundation principles would be,” says Professor Wilson. “Firstly, professionalism. We knew we had to produce good lawyers who understood the legal system and legal rules so they could practice law. Because that’s why most people do a law degree, they want to get a job.

“Secondly, we had a commitment to a bicultural approach to legal education. We were the first law school to introduce into our mainstream legal programmes, a Māori perspective.

“And third, and as important in my view, we said we were going to teach law in context. We weren’t only going to teach rules, but we were also going to teach how rules are made and how they can be changed and what the social and economic context was for legal regulation. And that was a distinguishing feature of Waikato. Subsequently, I think some other law schools have incorporated some of what we were initiating at that time.”

Professor Wilson said that Waikato University Law Faculty led the way from the very start.

“We really pioneered dispute resolution.

“It’s important that people know what their legal rights are and how they can get remedies, but going to court isn’t always the best way to get legal resolution; you can do it through mediation or adjudication, so we had that structured into the degree from early on.”

A Waikato law degree would also be practical and versatile, designed as a foundation for a variety of careers.

“The intention was also to provide students with legal skills, but for students to not necessarily get jobs in law offices in a traditional sense,” says Professor Wilson. “The statistics said that about one third of people that got law degrees didn’t end up in law offices, they did other things. We were providing students with a range of skills they could use in all sorts of occupations. And that’s what happened.”

An innovative structure also enabled Waikato law students to do integrated, conjoint degrees - law and management, and law and social sciences, were popular combinations. Professor Wilson estimates that around 50 per cent of law students do conjoint degrees at Waikato.

Even today, the three pillars are a vital part of Te Piringa.

“Our three founding pillars are unique and have continued to serve us well,” says Professor Alpana Roy, current Dean of Law at Waikato University.

“The three pillars of biculturalism, professionalism and the study of law in context is something that we take seriously. It’s in our DNA. Many organisations have a mission, but usually it’s just words. But here, it is something you see embedded in our curriculum, in our vision, our research, our teaching, our engagement, and our student body. These core principles are something our academics go back to again and again.”

“Biculturalism was something that Te Piringa pioneered 30 years ago, and it will always be one of our foundation principles,” says Professor Roy.  “Biculturalism and tikanga Māori will continue to be embedded in our law programme.

“Our genuine commitment to biculturalism is mirrored by the fact we have one of the largest cohorts of Māori and Pacific students in the country..

“Those three founding pillars are as relevant today as back when we were founded in 1991, in fact they seem to have become stronger. The three pillars of biculturalism, professionalism and the study of law in context is what makes us genuinely unique and will stand the test of time.”