Emma Newman in a blue graduation gown in a close up image. She is leaning up against a wall. Photo: Michael Gray

How Emma fell in love with the law

How Emma fell in love with the law

University Medallist inspired to pursue career in human rights

Emma Newman had always planned to pursue a degree in science or medicine. Law, she thought, was not for her.

But when it came time to submit her university preferences, she added law as a double degree with psychological science, “just for fun”.

Within the first semester, everything changed; Emma fell “head over heels in love with law”.

“My first semester focused on contract law and criminal law. They were two very different subjects. Contract law is quite rigid and formulaic in its application, but criminal law was very subjective. It is not argued in the black and white, but in the greys.

It was the dichotomy of those two elements of the law, the differences that existed between them that really excited me. It showed me the many possibilities not just for my career, but also in how law is applied in our day-to-day life. The universality of law underpins a lot of areas.”

After the first semester of law subjects, Emma withdrew from her psychological science degree and “just focused on the law.”

This week (Tuesday 16 April), Emma celebrated her graduation from the University of Wollongong (UOW) with a Bachelor of Laws (Honours), alongside her family and partner. As part of the ceremony, Emma was also awarded the University Medal for the Faculty of Business and Law, which recognises the student who has achieved the highest academic performance.

From that initial reluctance, Emma is now incredibly passionate about the law. Her focus, she says, has evolved throughout the course of her degree to international and human rights law, which she attributes to her inspiring lecturers.

Dr Luis Gomez Romero and Dr Macarena Gonzalez were two absolutely fabulous lecturers who taught me so much about international and human rights law, they inspired my passion for advocacy within these important areas” Emma says.

“I love that this field is universal and it applies to every single human being around the world, but it is an area of our society that is quite often overlooked.”

Emma Newman in a blue graduation gown in a full length image. Photo: Michael Gray

While Emma has loved her degree, she says her passion for the law has truly thrived when she has the opportunity to apply her theory in practice. She began an internship with the Aboriginal Legal Service in 2021 and has never left, now working for the non-profit organisation as an Administrative Assistant and PLT student. Through this role, she has gained valuable legal and court experience and says it has opened her eyes to the disparities of the legal system.

“I have been working in court advocacy and criminal defence for Indigenous and First Nations people, and it is work that I really love. It has shown me the inequality in our legal system, particularly when it comes to First Nations people, and also given me so much practical experience with navigating interdisciplinary legal issues.”

“This is a space that I imagine myself working in for the years to come and I am so grateful to UOW for giving me the opportunity to intern for the Aboriginal Legal Service in the first place.”

In addition to these roles, Emma is also the Chief Executive Officer of Educating the Future, an Australian non-profit organisation focused on capacity building in the South-East Asian nation of Timor Leste through improving access to education for children.

“I joined Educating the Future in 2019 as a fundraising volunteer and I have slowly worked my way up. It has helped me to flourish in the law, and I was able to immediately implement what I was learning in class, particularly in regards to governance, policy and human rights.”

“Educating the Future has now built five preschools in Timor Leste and educated more than 700 children. Having the opportunity to aid educational access has been so vital and rewarding.”

Juggling these many competing priorities, while at the same time undertaking the rigours of a law degree, has required immense time management skills.

“I would travel to Timor Leste during my university holidays. I’ve definitely had some sleepless nights and sent my lecturers emails at all hours, particularly while working on my Honours thesis.

“But it really helped to have amazing, understanding lecturers, and a supportive partner and family. It has been a lot but I’ve been passionate about seeing that what I am studying is coming to fruition and making a difference in Timor Leste. Being able to see the fruits of my labour has made it all worth it to me.”

Emma said it was amazing but unexpected to learn she was the top student in the School of Law and would be receiving the University Medal.

“My peers are all incredibly talented and achieving great things, so I was pleasantly surprised. It is wonderful to be graduating and to have my partner and family there for the occasion.”