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Emma Aldersea: Take your time and gain valuable life experience

Emma is the owner of Laneway Legal here in Brisbane. Emma is a Criminal Lawyer and a Registered Migration Agent. Emma’s time at law school was anything but conventional, travelling to many different countries and gaining life changing experiences along the way. While Emma has always had a passion for social justice, when she started law school she never knew she would actually practice as a Lawyer. All of the life experience Emma gained during her time at law school helped her get to where she is now and her advice is to take your time at law school so that you can gain valuable life experience and also have fun!

having a passion for social justice

Following an unplanned meeting with a friend in October last year, Emma decided to start her own law firm. Emma’s firm, Laneway Legal, specialises in the intersection between criminal law with health and disability law and migration law. Growing up, Emma’s parents fostered over 80 children from various walks of life and Emma’s Mum also worked as a support worker in the disability sector. This exposure led Emma to work as a residential support worker for the Victorian Department of Human Services when she was only 18. Emma started law school after she wasn’t able to get into Naturopathy because she hadn’t completed the prerequisite of Biology at High School. At the time, Emma enrolled in law because she was inspired by a family friend and because her passion was social justice. Emma didn’t actually plan on becoming a lawyer but after undertaking a practical subject at Victorian Legal Aid in the third year of her law degree, Emma discovered that her passion for helping vulnerable people could be satisfied as a criminal lawyer.

travel, gain life experience and have fun!

Emma started her law degree when she was 18 and upon commencing study, immediately felt like she had chosen the most boring degree possible! So, Emma switched to a Bachelor of Laws/Arts degree in order to be eligible to do an exchange to India. Emma went to New Delhi for 12 months, staying at a women’s college which had a variety of strict rules. Emma also travelled to Pakistan during the 12 months with a group of the girls who she was studying with. This amazing experience opened Emma’s eyes to life outside of her usual life in Melbourne and reinforced her passion for social justice. Emma didn’t spend a whole lot of time at university focusing on her grades, instead Emma travelled to many different places including Samoa, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, New Zealand, Mongolia, Siberia, Mexico, Cuba, Colombia, Guatemala, Nepal and the United States. Travelling during her university years meant Emma experienced life but also had a lot of fun doing it! Now, you may be wondering (like I was during my chat with Emma) how did Emma manage to travel to so many places while working full-time hours and studying? Emma had the option to do a 50% essay and a 50% exam or a 100% exam, so Emma opted for the 100% exam and would just cram at the end and pass. As they say — P’s get degrees! Emma’s job was also flexible with the hours she was able to work, giving her the opportunity to make time for university and also save the money to be able to travel. Emma explains that everyone who finishes law school knows the black letter law — but that is only a small part of being a lawyer and the bigger part is the interpersonal skills they don’t teach you at law school. Emma says that being a great lawyer, particularly in areas such as criminal and family law, means being able to communicate effectively to someone who is in a crisis in order to alleviate their concerns and so that they can understand what their options are and make truly informed decisions.

if you know what you want to do — be strategic!

Emma’s experience working in disability and her passion for social justice meant that she was motivated to improve her skills so that she could better support vulnerable people. Emma did a Certificate IV in disability through TAFE and this gave Emma a lot of insight and skills that she could implement working in the disability sector. Emma then did training as an independent third person with the Office of the Public Advocate in order to support people with disability or mental health issues who had been charged or were being interviewed by the Police. Emma then also obtained a scholarship to do postgraduate study in disability and Emma completed this while she was also completing her law degree. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Emma found this study more interesting than her law degree. While Emma wasn’t the best student, she was strategic in the additional study and experience that she gained because after her third year of law school, she knew that she wanted to work for Victorian Legal Aid. Emma’s end goal was being able to do her Articles, which we now know as PLT, with Victorian Legal Aid. During her 12 month Articles, Emma worked in various areas of the law in 2 month rotations. Emma found the benefit in this experience was seeing how the different areas of the law intersect. The intersection of the law is of particular interest to Emma and is the reason she runs her law practice the way she does. Emma explains that very rarely does someone only have a criminal law problem, but instead they have a criminal law issue that will intersect with another area of law such as family law or migration law if they are a non-citizen. It is important to focus on the whole person and not just a legal problem, in order to achieve the solution that is best for that person.

there is a lesson in every experience

In 2011, Emma moved from Victoria to Queensland. What Emma didn’t realise was going to be so difficult about her move was the fact that she had been working in a senior role in Victoria and her move to Queensland meant that she had to essentially start her legal career from scratch. Emma said that finding employment wasn’t easy and she ended up in roles that were similar to ones that she had been in at during her time at university. Rather than dwell on the situation and see it as a setback, Emma embraced it and used it as an opportunity to gain more insight and experience. Emma then worked in a large full service law firm and during her time in private practice, Emma learnt that there are unique circumstances for New Zealanders living in Australia (even if they have been living here for most of their lives) when they are charged with criminal offences. This experience led Emma down the path of becoming a Registered Migration Agent in order to be able to help those people who are non-citizens. Had Emma not worked in private practice, she may not have been exposed to the New Zealand clients that ultimately led her to specialise in the intersection between migration and criminal law.

take your time!

Emma started her law degree when she was 18 and she believes this was too young. If Emma had things her way, she wouldn’t have started law school until she was at least 25. Emma went into her Arts degree so that she could travel and gain life experience while she was studying. One of Emma’s favourite experiences was her trip to Samoa. Emma went for an adventure but at the time was also studying Auslan (Australian Sign Language) as part of her Arts degree. As part of this experience, Emma and her friend found themselves at a school for people with intellectual disability and hearing impairment. Emma found this experience, like many others during her time at law school, to be such an important and beneficial one. Emma explains that if she had of rushed through law school and focused only on the end goal of getting a job, she would have missed all of those amazing opportunities. The array of life experience Emma gained outside of law school has helped shaped her into the lawyer that she is today, where she focuses on the person and what they need and not just the legal problem. Emma was admitted at 26 and she feels that even though she was older than a lot of graduates, she still feels that was an incredibly young age to enter the profession. Emma says that if you have started law later on in life, that is an advantage and not a disadvantage to your legal career. Emma explains that the interpersonal skills that you gain through valuable life experience are the skills that can’t be taught at law school and are the skills that help make a great lawyer.

it’s okay to keep your options open

Emma says that if you know what you are passionate about or what your drivers for wanting to be a lawyer are, then pursue them relentlessly. This is what Emma did — she knew she was interested in disability and was quite strategic in the work experience that she gained in order to get her position at Victorian Legal Aid. However, Emma also feels that it is unusual to know exactly what area of law that you want to work in. Emma believes it is advantageous to keep your options open, so if you are at law school and you don’t know where your passion lies, that’s okay and completely normal. Emma says to take every opportunity that comes your way and if it doesn’t work out, don’t see that as a negative — you will gain something from every opportunity even if it is only that you hate it and can remove it from your list. Emma says it is better to learn the areas of law you don’t have a passion for earlier in your career rather than later, so don’t be disheartened if you have a bad experience.

emma’s awesome tips

Take your time with law school — take the opportunity to have fun and gain valuable life experience, don’t just rush to the finish line!

If you know what area of law you are passionate about — it’s perfectly okay to be strategic and pursue it relentlessly!

If you don’t know what area of law you want to work in — don’t stress, keep your options open and you’ll work it out as you experience different areas!

Being older or having life experience outside of law are advantageous to your legal career as valuable interpersonal skills aren’t taught at law school!

Embrace every opportunity that comes your way — there is always a lesson to be learnt!

Emma is happy for you to reach out to her on LinkedIn or send her an email if you have any questions –

Emma’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/emma-aldersea-b100b7b3/

Emma’s Email: emma.aldersea@lanewaylegal.com.au