New Zealand’s first Pacific Dean of Law

Professor Tafaoimalo Tologata Leilani Tuala-Warren has been appointed Dean of Te Piringa Faculty of Law at the University of Waikato.

17 Jun 2024

Professor Tafaoimalo Tologata Leilani Tuala-Warren has been appointed Dean of Te Piringa Faculty of Law at the University of Waikato, becoming New Zealand’s first Dean of law of Pacific descent.  

Professor Tuala-Warren says the humbling appointment allows her to be of service to Te Piringa, the University and the wider community, in an effort to show that the study of law is attainable.  

"Te Piringa offers a unique learning experience steeped in professionalism, law in context and biculturalism,” says Professor Tuala-Warren.  

These principles distinguish Te Piringa from other law schools, aiming to produce graduates with a well-rounded and balanced outlook when they enter the workplace. They will be able to apply the law effectively and understand Aotearoa’s context and how it has been shaped by Tangata Whenua. 

Professor Tuala-Warren has been part of the University since the 1990s, after completing a Bachelor and Master of Laws and a pre-admission course at the University's Institute of Professional Legal Studies.  

Her master’s thesis looked at ifoga, a traditional Samoan apology, and examined whether this cultural practice could be integrated into the New Zealand criminal justice system. 

She received a University of Waikato Distinguished Alumni Award in 2022 and holds an undergraduate degree in economics from the University of Sydney.  

Te Piringa has always been a vibrant, exciting and diverse place to study law and our focus remains on welcoming international students into our global community, while equally prioritising students from Aotearoa. 

“The University and the Pasifika community have always had a strong relationship, consistently producing high-achieving Pasifika graduates who excel globally, especially in the Pacific region. I am dedicated to strengthening those ties with all Pacific nations and the Pacific-descendant population within Aotearoa.” 

Professor Tuala-Warren began her legal career in Samoa, 26 years ago, serving as a state solicitor in Samoa’s Office of the Attorney-General from 1998 to 2000. She returned to Waikato University to teach until 2005, holding various positions as a tutor, teaching fellow and law lecturer, where she taught dispute resolution, corporate and commercial law and consumer protection.  

She then returned to Samoa to work as a partner at her brother’s firm, Tuala & Tuala Lawyers. In 2009, she became the Executive Director of the Samoa Law Reform Commission and in 2013 she was invited to become a judge of the District Court, becoming the second woman in Samoa appointed to the bench.  

As a newly appointed Judge in Samoa, Professor Tuala-Warren established the Family Court and the Family Violence Court, the only court of its kind in the Pacific outside New Zealand, before she was appointed Supreme Court Justice of Samoa from 2016 to 2023.  

Professor Tuala-Warren holds a temporary judicial warrant as a Supreme Court Justice in Samoa, which allows her to sit on the Samoa Court of Appeal.  

She dealt with serious offences and constitutional cases in this position, before returning to Waikato to become the first Pacific woman in New Zealand to attain a law professorial position.  

“My family, particularly my late father, have always driven me throughout my law journey. This achievement is not mine alone; I carry with me the essence of my heritage, my family, friends, villages, church community and judicial colleagues in Samoa.  

“I carry the aspirations of an entire nation with me, and I hope to make them proud, while also serving the people of Aotearoa.” 

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