Leading local family law specialist Fiona Mackenzie was awarded a PhD in law from Otago University yesterday, three decades after she first graduated.

Ms Mackenzie and her husband, Graeme Elvin, who is also an Otago University graduate, run Tauranga firm Mackenzie Elvin.

Speaking from Dunedin after she joined other graduands in being piped down George St in the traditional ceremonial procession, Ms Mackenzie said that over the years she had continued postgraduate studies in conjunction with private practice.

She did a masters in law through a hybrid Victoria University distance learning programme about 10 years ago. The masters whetted her appetite for further study and her long-time friend, University of Otago Faculty of Law dean professor Mark Henaghan, encouraged her to do a full thesis to further explore her thinking on the implications of changes to family law for motherhood.

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"He felt it was a good fit for me. It was a very holistic way of bringing together all the threads of who I am, what I do, and how to address the tensions in family law that were arising."

Ms Mackenzie said she had been challenged by the transformative power of becoming a mother in the 1980s and had been determined to make her own way as a young professional married woman while prioritising mothering their four children. All four are Otago University graduates, three in law, one of whom is doing a law PhD at Oxford University.

Her thesis took about five years' part-time as a distance student, while she continued working fulltime in the law practice.

"It was very complementary to my work in family law, and that helped a lot. Otago University was very supportive and I got excellent supervision and fantastic support."