Simpson Grierson solicitor: Cultural competency is key to maintaining the rule of law

"Classics buff" Amarind Eng has learned to "be comfortable in uncomfortable spaces"

Simpson Grierson solicitor: Cultural competency is key to maintaining the rule of law

Injustice has always lit a fire in Amarind Eng – even if it was just a “cheeky handball” in a football game. Unsurprisingly, he slipped easily into a career in law, where he loves helping clients to right wrongs, big and small.

The Simpson Grierson solicitor is now a part of the firm’s public law litigation team in Wellington, and has enjoyed employing his legal expertise in pro bono matters involving “dodgy car dealerships”. He is also a strong advocate for cultural competency, believing it to be “key to maintaining the rule of law”.

In this December 2023 interview, Eng talks Simpson Grierson’s Asian Cultures Group, and being comfortable in uncomfortable spaces.

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What made you choose a career in law, and what's your favourite part of the job?

Growing up, I always felt passionate whenever I saw injustices around me; not just the big-ticket items but the little issues too, like cheeky handballs during some 'innocent' games of football!

A career in law lets me apply myself to those issues daily, assisting clients in righting wrongs – big or small. Luckily, that is a big part of litigation and dispute resolution. I particularly enjoy applying myself to pro bono matters. For example, in assisting Community Law Wellington and the Hutt Valley, I was very eager to assist in resolving issues ranging from flat disputes to dodgy car dealerships.

What is going on at the firm? Are there any new programmes and initiatives that you're particularly interested in?

There is always exciting work being done by our different teams. For example, we often juggle meaningful pro bono work alongside many first-principles public law disputes. It is very rewarding being able to apply your skills to professionally difficult but stimulating work.

In terms of new initiatives, we are currently re-vamping our Asian Cultures Group at Simpson Grierson. As a person of Asian descent, it's fantastic being able to connect with other Asian lawyers and others who work in law. It has been great to continue the sense of community from the different Asian Law Students' Associations at university, to something in the professional workplace.

What's the biggest lesson you learned in the past year and what advice can you give fellow lawyers about it?

Find, nurture and grow tuakana-teina relationships with people at all levels. It is a great source of comfort and challenge in being pushed to grow while having a safety net to fall. From those relationships, I picked up two things: First, be comfortable in uncomfortable spaces – the best place to learn is when you are ready to fail. Second, kindness is king – approach any relationship from a place of understanding, and you will go much further.

What should the legal profession focus more on?

In a nutshell: cultural competency as the key to maintaining the rule of law.

I've recently published a thesis on how a distinct lack of cultural awareness can lead to problematic outcomes for Asian peoples. However, the same can be said for the myriad different cultures we have in Aotearoa New Zealand.

In law, we often default to 'objective' tests, such as the 'reasonable person'. However, a more critical view of this approach necessitates practitioners drawing out relevant cultural perspectives to inform their approach to providing advice. It also is relevant for the Bench to consider in adjudicating cases. As I note in my paper, lawyers should be able to bring out the points our diverse communities may 'know' but not be able to articulate in submissions and advice.

As a society, we can only maintain the rule of law if we have community 'buy-in'. People need to see the law fairly reflect their lived experiences and for the law to fairly apply itself to the communities it serves. That buy in is as important from the profession as much as it is for the community at large.

What are the challenges you expect in your practice, and in the business of law in general, going forward? What challenges are particularly pressing in New Zealand's legal industry?

The positionality of te Tiriti o Waitangi | the Treaty of Waitangi will be the key constitutional question in the lead up to 2040 and the 200-year anniversary of its signing. It will become increasingly important to address the 'what next' constitutional question, especially with cases such as Ellis leading to the application of tikanga in more areas of law – including commercial transactions.

The key issue is whether our profession is up to the challenge of addressing the questions around New Zealand's constitutional makeup.

What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?

I've got a long-awaited return to Japan booked in! I last visited in my gap year, and I am excited to revisit some of my favourite spots, this time with my Japanese and university friends too.

If you were given an opportunity to spend a day with anyone (living or dead), who would it be and why?

I am secretly (not anymore, I suppose) a classics buff. So, I would spend my day with the Emperor Justinian who wrote the Corpus Juris Civilis – the basis of all civil law – and it is still used today!

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