Taking part in counter-piracy operations at sea isn’t run-of-the-mill for a lawyer but it’s the kind of challenge that attracted Natacha Wisstt to joining the New Zealand Defence Force as a legal officer.

Sub Lieutenant Wisstt, from Rangiora, Canterbury, finished her Master of Laws degree in International Law and Politics from the University of Canterbury in 2019 but she knew a conventional legal career wasn’t her style.

She realised working for the armed forces would allow her to combine her interests in international law and the law of armed conflict and offer plenty of excitement and new skills.

“Through doing my Masters I got really interested in the law of armed conflict and international law. Working for the New Zealand Defence Force became the natural choice from that point, because I could get exposure to those areas,” she says.

“I love my job. Every day is so different and there are loads of really unique and exciting opportunities that come from being part of the armed forces. I wanted a career where I could help others and this is where I feel I can do that.”

SLT Wisstt is now living in Auckland working for the Royal New Zealand Navy, although she also works equally with the New Zealand Army and Royal New Zealand Air Force and can be posted to any of their bases. She has recently been accepted to the bar.

She spent the majority of last year going through Junior Officer Common Training 20/01, a 23-week commissioning course which teaches you the skills to be an officer in the Navy, before marching out in July 2020.

She had to be weapons qualified, go through Damage Control training including fire-fighting and flood training at sea, and be prepared to cope with communal living on ship and go on overseas deployments.

Her role includes understanding military law, international law, human rights law, and the law of armed conflict. It also gives her the chance to keep fit and active with many opportunities for fitness and sports-related activities within the NZDF.

Before she graduated she met with a New Zealand Army legal officer who introduced her to what was involved in the job.

SLT Wisstt’s advice to other students is explore a wide range of options for your career and take advantage of every opportunity that comes along.

“Put your hand up for opportunities, even the ones that you don’t think you’re necessarily qualified for. In law school I felt like everyone else had it together and I was the only one who didn’t know what I wanted to do.”

She says putting herself forward to work on a piece of research during her undergraduate degree – despite feeling she might be out of her depth - ultimately sparked her interest in international law and led to her current role.

“Taking that first step meant that more opportunities opened up for me. I think that a lot of people don’t take the opportunities because they don’t think they’re good enough for it. But my advice would be to go for it, and make sure you find out about all the options that are open to you, not just the ones that seem obvious or expected.”

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