It takes a special type of person to be a family lawyer. The work can be emotional and stressful but the rewards are worth it. Just ask Tekatau Bio.
Tekatau, or Tau as she’s known, is a barrister and solicitor working at Carlile Dowling in Napier, specialising in family and immigration law. She is also the first woman of Kiribati heritage to be admitted as a barrister and solicitor to the High Court of New Zealand.
Tau is a University of Waikato law graduate who had her heart set on practicing both immigration and criminal law, but once she started picking up family cases she found she got immense satisfaction from helping victims, mostly women, get out of violent relationships, or by helping make their and their children’s situations safer.
She also represents clients with mental health issues. “I see a lot of life that a lot of people don’t see, and my clients come from all walks of life,” she says. “It’s hard not to take your work home with you. I’m still working on the ideal work-life balance.”
In addition to her legal work, Tau is a certified translator and interpreter for the Kiribati community. While she grew up in New Zealand, the eldest of six children, Tau’s parents are from Kiribati and Tau reads and speaks the language fluently.
While studying at Waikato she was involved in the Pacific Law Students Association, taking on roles as secretary, vice-president and then president during her study years. She was also on the Waikato University Law Students Association Committee and served as a law student ambassador promoting the faculty at careers expos and other events, and manning Te Piringa – Faculty of Law stands at university open days. “While helping others, these extracurricular commitments were useful for me too. They gave me confidence to talk to strangers and helped with my interpersonal skills,” Tau says.
She’s glad she chose to complete her law degree at Waikato. “I didn’t start my degree there. I spent my first year down south, but I wasn’t happy. I didn’t like being so far away from my home and family in Te Kuiti and I didn’t find the atmosphere very collegial, so I found out what Waikato could offer and transferred. It was the right choice. I liked the atmosphere and the collegiality I found at Waikato.”
Tau had the opportunity to shadow practicing lawyers while she was studying, and after graduation she secured an internship at Awhina Law before joining the practice full-time as a staff solicitor. She volunteered in an evening role as the family solicitor for the Hamilton Community Law Centre.
Tau began work as an immigration and family lawyer at Carlile Dowling in December 2019. She likes Napier, the size of the practice and the city, and the good weather is a bonus.
She says while you learn a lot about law while studying, nothing really prepares you for reality of law in practice. “But that’s okay. You get a bit of a reality check when you start work, and you grow up a lot. It’s hard to prepare for a job in family law.”
The Family Court was set up is to settle disputes in a less adversarial way than a traditional court room. It’s a closed courtroom which means that the public aren’t allowed in. “I love [traditional] court work, but I have to do my best to stay out of it,” Tau says.
She also says she’s represented very few men who are victims of family violence. “It’s usually women asking for help, but there are men who are victims too. I’ve heard people say that the legal system is at times gender-biased,” Tau says. “There is no doubt that it’s hard to talk about abuse, but I can’t stress enough for people to seek the help that they need.”