University of Waikato makes history with new dean of law

Tafaoimalo Tologata Leilani Tuala-Warren will be the first person of Pacific descent to hold the position

University of Waikato makes history with new dean of law
Tafaoimalo Tologata Leilani Tuala-Warren

The University of Waikato has made history with its appointment of Professor Tafaoimalo Tologata Leilani Tuala-Warren as Dean of Te Piringa Faculty of Law – the first person of Pacific descent to be a dean of law in New Zealand.

“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”, Tuala-Warren said. “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”.

The new dean of law has worked with the University of Waikato since the 1990s; in 2022, she obtained a Distinguished Alumni Award from the university. Her legal career, which spans 26 years, commenced in Samoa, where she logged a two-year stint (1998-2000) as a state solicitor in Samoa’s Office of the Attorney-General.

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Tuala-Warren went on to serve as a tutor, teaching fellow, and law lecturer at the University of Waikato, where she taught dispute resolution, corporate and commercial law, and consumer protection until 2005. Subsequently, she became a partner at Tuala & Tuala Lawyers on her return to Samoa.

In 2009, she was named the executive director of the Samoa Law Reform Commission. In 2013, she became only the second woman in Samoa to be appointed as a judge when she was asked to join the District Court bench.

Tuala-Warren introduced the Family Court and the Family Violence Court – the sole court of its kind in the Pacific outside New Zealand – into Samoa. In 2016, she was appointed to the Samoan Supreme Court, where she remained until 2023.

She continues to hold a temporary judicial warrant as a Supreme Court justice in Samoa, which grants the right to sit on the Samoa Court of Appeal. In this role, she handled matters involving serious offences and constitutional cases before returning to Waikato, where she became the first woman of Pacific descent to become a law professor.

“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”, Tuala-Warren said.

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