Brianna Boxall with her nana Matariki who is proud of her granddaughter’s success as a lawyer.

Winning her category at this year’s In-House Lawyer Awards was a “bittersweet” moment for Northland’s Brianna Boxall.

The 29-year-old senior solicitor, of Rongomaiwahine and Ngāti Hine descent, credits her late dad for encouraging her to aim high while attending hui in Kawakawa as a youngster.

He was “hugely influential” in her decision to pursue a legal career.

Boxall’s dad passed away after battling cancer, a few weeks before she graduated with a conjoint law and arts degree from Auckland University.

“Sitting in those hui with my dad really opened my eyes at an early age to the complexities in the Māori settlement space,” she said.

“He would encourage me to see myself ‘at the table’ supporting the decision-making. It’s a huge reason why I wanted to pursue a legal career.

“I often think about him when I reach milestones in my career, and he was definitely in my thoughts on the night that I won this award.

“Out of everyone, he would be the one cheering me on the loudest.”

Boxall won New In-House Lawyer of the Year at the awards, held earlier this month by In-house Lawyers Association of New Zealand [ILANZ], a section of the New Zealand Law Society.

The ILANZ noted her “technical expertise, passion, respectful nature and unique ability to facilitate meaningful engagement with different communities and iwi”.

Boxall is also glad she has made her nana Matariki and her other whānau “so proud” and that she got to represent the team at Te Ohu Kaimoana, where she works.

“It was awesome seeing her [nana] get so excited with all of this. It was amazing to win lawyer of the year in my category.

“I haven’t been practising in an in-house space for a time, so to win and represent Te Ohu was quite awesome.”

Boxall grew up on the Māhia Peninsula in northern Hawke’s Bay and still has whānau in Kawakawa.

She is based in Wellington with Te Ohu Kaimoana, a charitable trust that works to advance Māori interests in the marine environment, including customary fisheries, commercial fisheries and aquaculture.

Before joining Te Ohu Kaimoana, she worked at the Waitangi Tribunal as the legal advisor and deputy registrar for four years which involved a “huge variety of work”.

This included work around Oranga Tamariki, the housing crisis, and the health and wellbeing of Maori in a contemporary sense, she said.

“I didn’t grow up with lawyers around me, none of my whānau went to university.

“I was always looking for something that didn’t seem possible, and I realised quite quickly I was good at writing and reading.

“My whānau always encouraged me from an early age to think about studies in a serious way.”

Boxall completed her degree in 2016. While studying, she got involved with the Te Rākau Ture [Māori Law Students Association] and is an active member of Te Hunga Roia Māori o Aotearoa [The Māori Law Society].

In 2017, she earned a Certificate in Indigenous People’s Rights and Policy from the Centre of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University in New York City.

She is now part of a small legal team with an “amazing” general council Aroha Beck, Boxall said.

“It really comes down to the support I’ve been given by people here.

“Last year I spent Easter at Māhia and realised I wanted to be back home more … so Te Ohu lined up a secondment to work for iwi in Gisborne.

“That’s incredible. They lined up a full secondment … with Tāmanuhiri iwi in Muriwai helping them develop plans for customary fishing.”

Long- term, Boxall said she wanted to be a mentor for young lawyers starting out, to give them the same support that she’s received.

“It’s so important to see young people in these spaces; I encourage all my cousins and nieces and nephews to go to uni.

“It’s important to work for your own people. I’m really lucky I landed here so early on in my career.”

Te Ohu Kaimoana chief executive Lisa Te Heuheu said Boxall’s ethics and commitment to achieving equitable and positive outcomes for iwi are “second to none”.

“She is a steadfast advocate for the status and rights of our iwi organisations throughout Aotearoa and also brings a very understanding nature and natural ability to create strong and trusted relationships.

“We are beyond proud that her talent has been recognised and feel incredibly lucky to have Brianna on our leadership team.”