It’s a big jump from law student to law practitioner and University of Waikato law graduate Josh Nyika is one of a small team helping new lawyers transition and settle smoothly into working life.
Josh is a senior solicitor at law firm Tompkins Wake and is part of the Waikato New Lawyers Group, which includes Bay of Plenty, recently stepping down as chair after two years in the lead job. The group provides opportunities for education, socialising and networking among new and young lawyers – ones who have been practicing for fewer than seven years.
Being part of the group means Josh has retained links with Te Piringa Faculty of Law. “When I was studying I went to WULSA (Waikato University Law Students Assn) events, and this is my way of giving back,” he says.
Once a year, New Lawyers invite Waikato law students to a speed-networking event year where students can connect with the profession. They have more experienced lawyers come and share their experiences at “litigation war stories” events and look at issues new lawyers face providing strategies and support for dealing with some of the challenges.
Josh says during his term as chair the group worked to extend their reach in the region, reaching new lawyers from smaller towns such as Te Awamutu and Cambridge, and helped to establish a new network of new lawyers in Tauranga. Josh has now joined the national New Lawyers Group, which is working on a suite of resources that’ll be available to the six regional groups.
Josh’s family background is a story in itself. In the nutshell version, his Ugandan grandfather Tom Nyika was a dental student at Otago University when he met and married a Welsh woman called Jenny. The couple were living in Uganda with two small children when Idi Amin – who became known as the Butcher of Uganda – came to power. It became clear the country wasn’t safe for an educated man, or for a mixed-race family, and they fled Uganda to New Zealand. Jenny and the kids escaped earlier, with Tom later escaping after travelling to Kenya for a “dental conference”. One of their children was Simon, Josh’s father.
The family settled in Oamaru. Simon studied pharmacy at Otago, met Susie, a physiotherapy student, “two scarfies” as Josh says; they married and Josh was the first of their four children. Josh grew up in Hamilton, went to Hamilton Boys‘ High School and says it was not only convenient to study law at Waikato, he’d also heard good things about the law school and university, including its recognition and practice of Te Ao Māori.
“When I started law school, I didn’t know what I’d specialise in, probably like a lot of people who study law, but I thought it would be rewarding, maybe difficult, but rewarding. Law influences just about everything in our lives and is crucial to society.”
Josh says his second-year torts paper stands out for bringing together the technical and practical perspective of law, and he particularly enjoyed international law papers. But he’s found his niche in employment law and dispute resolution, including advising clients on health and safety, employment agreements and policies, organisational restructuring, serious misconduct, redundancies and dismissals.
While he was studying at Waikato, Josh took up boxing. He was good at it too (though not as good as his younger brother David who won bronze at the Tokyo Olympics last year). Josh found getting into the ring was a good release for the stresses of academic demands. He won a national welterweight title in 2014 and represented New Zealand and won a gold medal at the Oceania championships in Australia. He went to the world championships in Qatar in 2015 and also travelled to Poland and China for his sport. But there came a point when he had to decide between boxing and law and after graduating in 2015 and completing his professional studies in 2017, he chose law.
Josh clerked at Gurnell Harrison in Hamilton and later took up a permanent position there. He says that first job exposed him to many different aspects of the law and gave him a good grounding. He joined Tompkins Wake, a bigger firm, in 2019. He’s now a father of two small children and says family and work take up most of his time; he keeps fit by running when he can and is quite happy to support his brother in the ring.