Tomasi Tuitoga, partner at Haniff Tuitoga
Tomasi gained his Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Tasmania, Australia, in 1996. He then obtained a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the Australian National University and was admitted to the Supreme Court of Australian Capital Territory and the High Court of Australia in 1997. With over 17 years' experience in the areas of insurance law, personal injury claims, property/construction law, employment disputes, criminal law, family law and creditors' remedies under his belt, Tomasi sits down to share with us what it was like starting out, what are some of the most memorable cases he has ever handled, and what it is like to be working in paradise.
Q. How did you get into your line of work?
A. My mum always said I should be a lawyer – probably because I was naturally argumentative being the youngest child. I spent 8 years in Lautoka Chinese School and then had the privilege of attending Queen Victoria School. Boarding in Queen Victoria School had a profound effect of me and in fact some of the things I do today is the result of what I learnt there. In Form 6, I was lucky to be awarded a scholarship (John Crawford Scholarship) to study law at the University of Tasmania. Thankfully, I
managed to finish my law degree and on my return to Fiji secured my first and only employment as a “Conveyancing Clerk” at Fiji’s largest law firm – Munro Leys. I worked my way up the ranks at Munro Leys and remained there for about 14 years before I established the firm Haniff Tuitoga with my business partner, Feizal Haniff (also a former employee of Munro Leys) in April 2012.
Q. What is your typical work week like at the firm?
A. Fairly hectic – particularly if I have a trial. If I am not in Court, I am usually in the office drafting various documents, meeting clients and generally managing the office.
Q. What is your most memorable case and why?
A.I have a few. I think I was the first and probably last lawyer in Fiji to obtain a court order to bury cadavers. The 3 cadavers had been “used” by many student Doctors during their time at the Medical School. Needless to say, the funeral was well attended. I even billed the client to attend that funeral!! I am currently involved in a case where a de facto partner is claiming spousal maintenance. I understand that this is the first time such a claim will be tested by the Fiji courts. I am also involved in a case where a transgender person is seeking Court recognition to the change in her gender identity. This again is a novel issue for Fiji.
Q. Tell us about your achievements and what you are most proud of.
A. It would have to be about our transition to entrepreneurs and the opening of our firm, Haniff Tuitoga. When we first started, Feizal and I sat in our empty offices wondering if we had made the biggest mistake in our lives. We had borrowed money and were in substantial debt even before the office opened. We even “put in” to pay the first staff salary. Thankfully our families, close friends and a few loyal clients supported us. We will forever be indebted to them.
Q. If you can only pick one sport, which one would it be? Why?
A. That is a difficult question. I play golf for the Pirates Club, rugby for the Suva Golden Oldies Rugby Club and soccer for the Hasbeens Club. I also play a bit of squash and cricket. But nowadays I would rather play golf because the risk of injury is low. I think rugby union is the best spectator sport.
Q. What is your favourite spot on the island?
A. The Mamanuca Group of Islands. My parents spent a couple of years working at Musket Cove Island Resort and I spent my school holidays pretending to be a “local tourist”. The crystal clear waters, palm fringed white sandy beaches and live colourful coral reefs are amazing.