QLS "The Hub" Interview: Princess Avia
Originally published on Queensland Law Society website and reposted here with permission
Meet Princess Avia, the first in a series of interviews for The Hub. Princess, who goes by Prini, is in the final semester of her law degree at Griffith University. She also works part-time at Corney & Lind as a law clerk, is the Pasifika Law Association Queensland (PLAQ) secretary, volunteers as a peer researcher at the Pasifika Young Peoples Well-being Network, is a youth leader, and teaches Samoan to children at her parents’ church after learning the language herself 6 years ago. We spoke to Prini about all things law, imposter syndrome, self-care, and her Samoan heritage. Read the full interview below.
Prini talking with her Honour Catherine Holmes AC, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Queensland, who attended the New Year Brunch of Pasifika Lawyers Association of Queensland in February 2022. Tell me a little bit about yourself. I was born in New Zealand, and I come from a Samoan background. I moved over to Australia when I was twelve. I really liked school so I knew I needed to study something, and ever since then I’ve been on the scenic route of university. And now I’m at the end of my degree, it’s more just like planning for the future. So why did you pick law specifically to study? I really loved writing, reading and history in high school, so I thought law was a profession where I would be able to put all of these skills together. What made you decide to do uni part time? Well, in my first year I actually got sick at the end of my second semester, so I wasn’t able to finish that. It really did have an effect on my mental health. I think there was a process of coming to peace with that, but it was also understanding there’s no one way to finish university, as long as I do finish it. I realised I had to adjust my studies according to my responsibilities and also my capabilities. It’s tricky to readjust your expectations. Yes. I have to segue into my involvement as a secretary at PLAQ. I joined two years ago. I was at a point in my degree where I was finding it really tough to keep moving forward. I realised I needed to be around people that would continue to propel me forward, and I think that really showed the power of volunteering and even service. The legal profession is all about service, but I think that even more so as I joined the association. You get so much more than you put in, you receive so much more back. What about your work as a law clerk? What does your day to day look like? So three days a week I am a law clerk. I do three main things: writing articles for our website, and providing legal support to our lawyers, and helping out with community events. We’re a full service private firm, so that has been really helpful for me to just get experience and continue to build up my knowledge in the different areas of law. As a law clerk, I’ve been able to assist in mainly migration, criminal and personal injuries matters. I have some really, really great lawyers I’m able to sit under and learn from. The last little bit I do is help out with our community events. At Corney & Lind Lawyers, we’re not only focused on providing advice and solutions with just and redemptive outcomes, but also on finding ways to serve our community. Since we’re very multicultural, I also help to plan ways we can serve through supporting different cultural events and finding ways to give back to the communities we service.
Prini and her boss Heilala Tabete attending iBelong Pasifika Holiday Programme in Logan in January 2022 – a community initiative as part of community work at Corney & Lind Lawyers. What do you want to do after you graduate? I was uncertain about my future as a lawyer, especially before I got my role as a law clerk. After working in a firm I realised the next step for me will be admission, and then hopefully staying where I’m at. Beyond law school I can see myself continuing to help out in the Pasifika space. I know I will be a lawyer for a period of time, but I see how my legal skills could help me do things outside of the legal sphere. The work I do as a peer researcher is another area I'm really passionate about. How do you feel about the legal profession so far? Any changes you’d like to see? You’re a young Samoan woman, so I imagine there probably isn’t much representation. Well, the first thing that came to mind was progress within the profession. I think there’s been so much progress. This was really emphasised when [the Honourable] Catherine Holmes [AC, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Queensland] was speaking at our [PLAQ] brunch, sharing her own experiences of when she first got admitted in 1982. She said it looked so different – she was the only woman! Looking at all the diversity there is now, it makes me quite excited. I think there’s a lot of progress happening within our profession. Personally what I would love to see is more Pasifika young men deciding to follow the legal profession. I can see that representation really does matter and it is powerful. I think a lot of young men don’t think they’re capable of holding that position as a lawyer.
Prini with some fellow PLAQ members at the PLAQ New Years Brunch in Feb 2022
Left to right: Anne-Maree Lofipo, Teisa Lanivia, Bless Mafile’o, Osanna Fa’ata’ape, Prini Avia. It’s so important to see somebody like you doing something that you want to do. It shouldn’t stop people if they don’t see people who look like them, but it can be so powerful when you do meet someone and you see they come from similar experiences, similar background. It really empowered me, because when I joined the association I was able to do some law clerking with one of our lawyers, and I actually met my current boss through the association. So yes, being around like-minded people and people who are already advanced is such a powerful way to propel you forward and closer towards your goals. And what do you do as the secretary? A lot of it is admin! I assist our President with the administrative matters of running the association, including minutes and ensuring we’re fulfilling our obligations (good practice for me as a future lawyer). Our President Tilé Imo – a lawyer within the Older Persons Advocacy and Legal Service at Caxton Legal Centre – has really taken me under his wing, and I am so grateful for his leadership and navigation of our association.
Prini with the Executive Committee of PLAQ Left to Right: Prini Avia (Secretary), Osanna Fa’ata’ape (Public Officer), Martinez Lopau (Treasurer), Tile Imo (President) It’s cool that you get to assist the President so much, because you get to see everything that he does. Maybe you can be the President one day. Would you want to? Yes, if I’m supposed to be the President, then one day. If the shoe fits! We’ll see! I guess we'll see, but I’ve realized the importance of not saying no to things and not being scared to potentially step into a new role.
Prini attending the Domestic Violence Awareness Workshop 2021 in Logan run by the Pasifika Lawyers Association of Queensland. So talking about learning Samoan, did you teach yourself or did you learn it from your family? How did you go about it? It was a community effort! After my grandpa passed away in 2016, I realised time is not infinite, and I wanted to continue to build my relationship with my grandma. It’s been six years now, and I’d say I’m conversational. It helped me understand where I came from and also strengthened my values and foundations as a Samoan person. When I go out into the world, when I'm in the legal profession, I can represent myself, my family, my culture and my faith. Now that I'm teaching others, it really makes me want to help them to be even more connected with themselves by connecting to their culture, and that kind of links to my work as a peer researcher. We do a lot of work helping to understand what the current perspective is for young Pasifika people, helping them to figure out ways to connect with their culture. Can you tell me more about being a peer researcher? What does that involve? Within the Pasifika community there's not a lot of research done about our people and by our people living within Australia. As a peer researcher I assist a public health lecturer at QUT, Dr Jo Durham, and we write papers about the current status of Pasifika young people. It's great work because there's a lot of help out there for our young people, but sometimes there are particular cultural nuances that will stop people from accessing health care or services. Just to jump back a bit to the PLAQ breakfast. You were doing a performance, right? Yes, I was. That was a little Samoan siva, which means dance. We as Pasifika people love to celebrate, and I thought, “What a great way to show some other legal professionals a little bit of our culture.” I was able to complete that with another recently admitted lawyer, Bless [Mafile’o]. What do you like to do in your downtime? How do you stay balanced? You’re so busy! I exercise, but before exercising I read my Bible every day. Praying is something that flows on from that, and then exercising is the next step in my schedule when I wake up. Oh, and I love reading too! As a law clerk I realised lawyers are very busy, and maintaining self-care is not only self-love, but love to others. That’s been a real benefit of taking the scenic route. I’ve been able to learn about the importance of not over doing things, not over committing. I feel like there’s a shift coming, or already starting, to get lawyers to focus on looking after themselves and make changes from within the profession. One of the highlights of my job was when our director said, very seriously, “Can everyone please make sure that they’re not reading their work emails once they go home?” What a great example set by the leaders of our firm about the importance of that work-life-home balance! I think it really does start from the top. So that was very encouraging to hear, especially in my first real law job. What’s your proudest moment or accomplishment? I would have to say when my sister told me she was proud of me. Having gone through that tough health battle, for so many years I didn’t feel like I was being an older sister, so for her to say that… I'm so grateful. I think when you have that perspective of gratefulness, it really does transform the way you see things. Do you have a role model? Who’s your greatest influence? Definitely my mum and dad. They have been ministers for the past 30 years, so my entire life I have seen them serve and love others. My parents have definitely been my biggest influence and my biggest cheerleaders.
Prini with her family at her parents’ 30th anniversary as Ministers in February 2022. As the daughter of two Baptist Ministers, serving others is something she has seen modelled by her parents. At her church, Hosanna Church Brisbane, she is a Co-Youth Director. Alright, one more question. What’s your favourite food? Can I say sugar? It would probably be lollies. I’ll be very specific, I love the sour gecko lolly. That’s my favourite food. Probably not a sustainable meal, but it’s great. I’ll have to try them! Do you have any general advice or parting words that you want to leave off with? Act like who you want to be. Sometimes I do have imposter syndrome. Everyone has it, but I think if you can continue to just cultivate the type of person you want to be, then it really does help you continue to be that type of person. Also, join groups! Join groups that you’re interested in. Find ways that you can volunteer and give your time to other people. It will come back 100 fold for you.