11 April 2018: She hadn’t finished primary school yet, but Erin-Louise Hagerty already knew she wanted to be a lawyer – falling pregnant at 17, however, wasn’t part of the plan.
“I was worried that my responsibilities as a parent would mean my dream of being a lawyer would be put on hold,” she said.
“I sat my final Year 12 exams when I was eight months pregnant, had a gap year and here I am.”
Ms Hagerty was in Year Six when she went home and told her Dad that she wanted to be a lawyer.
“He told me to work hard and I feel like I have,” she said.
In Year Nine, she was asked to draw herself 10 years on for an art project. She drew a charcoal sketch of herself as a lawyer complete with a ‘World’s Best Lawyer’ mug, which her father still has today.
She said her school was very supportive after she and partner Lachlan, who are now engaged, found out they were expecting. She continued with her studies and daughter Anabelle arrived the day after the couple’s Year 12 formal.
Ms Hagerty applied to study justice studies at the University of Canberra having just missed out on law by a few marks.
“That was ok because I knew I would be able to transfer across,” she said.
After one semester, she had the marks she needed to switch to a law degree.
Ms Hagerty’s first semester wasn’t without its challenges. Her grandfather passed away and her nana three months later. Her sister’s boyfriend was diagnosed with leukaemia and a couple of weeks later, Lachlan was in hospital with encephalitis. Her parents were also posted to Malaysia for three years.
“It was a pretty tough time,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of family in Canberra and Dad is in the military so is away a lot. I ended up missing the first five weeks of the semester, so I had a fair bit of catching up to do.”
Ms Hagerty, who suffers from depressive disorder, said Anabelle, now 5, helps her stay focused and is a constant reminder of what is good in the world.
“Having Anabelle changed my priorities and gave me extra incentive to study. I felt like I didn’t have time to waste. I wanted to set a good example for her.”
Ms Hagerty also completed a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice through the College of Law and praised the University’s family friendly atmosphere.
“I was worried about studying with a young child, but it was fine. The teachers were always accommodating if I needed to bring Anabelle to class with me. When I was doing my graduate diploma, she would come in while I completed my exams or sit in the Library with me.”
It is a big week for the 23-year-old, who will also be admitted as a solicitor on Friday, with her parents flying in from Malaysia to celebrate both milestones.
She hopes to one day work for the Department of Public Prosecutions, where she recently completed a placement. She completed her honours thesis on mandatory sentencing for child pornography offenders and said it’s an area she would like to work in.
“I really want to help children and I feel like this is a way I can help. It’s an issue that not a lot of people want to talk about, but it needs attention,” she said.