top of page
  • Writer's pictureEmma Aspinall

Finding a Legal Voice: From Government Speechwriter to Law School Grad

Hello! Please introduce yourself.

Hi! My name is Emma Aspinall, and I am a recent law school grad from the University of Alberta. Prior to law school, I completed a Bachelor of Communication in Public Relations at Mount Royal University. Throughout my undergrad, I worked at Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) in Gatineau, Quebec, serving several communications teams, including Ministerial Liaison and Policy and Strategic Direction. After graduating, I continued with the department as a speechwriter for the supported ministers and a coordinator for the speech unit.

During my 1L summer, I worked as a summer student at Dentons Calgary LLP. In my second summer, I returned to my previous role at ISC. This continued into my 3L year, where I served as a part-time lead for a media response project that aimed to improve the accessibility of departmental information.

Outside of school and work, I love spending quality time with the people that matter most to me. This might look like playing tennis with my family or trying a new local coffee shop with a friend. I’ve also recently taken up golf, which started out as a joke, but the joke is actually on me because I now look forward to the standing tee times I have with my little brother. I can also be found whipping up a batch of cookies at 11 p.m. just because.

What motivated you to pursue a career in law?

As mentioned earlier, because of my previous experience working in the federal government in the National Capital Region, I was exposed to things like ministerial and senate committee meetings that allowed me to meet interesting people that I felt were making a difference. With every person I talked to, I started to recognize a pattern: a large majority of the people at the table had a law degree. This, paired with my love of Legally Blonde as a child, led me to Google ‘How to write the LSAT’ in the summer of 2019.

From there, the application process was a whirlwind. I signed up for the LSAT in June, wrote the test in September, and submitted my applications while completing the last semester of my undergrad back in Calgary. Thankfully, one of my now closest friends was going through the same application cycle with me, so I had someone to commiserate with every step of the way.

I applied to four schools and got accepted to three. My LSAT was lackluster at 155, but my GPA at the time carried me through at 4.0. Because of how important community is to me, I knew I ideally wanted to stay close to home with whatever school I chose. I picked the University of Alberta because of its solid reputation and its proximity to home. I also knew that I would most likely practice in Alberta, so this felt like a natural fit.

When thinking of whether I should have applied to more schools in different jurisdictions, I think the answer to this definitely varies based on the individual. To be quite honest, law was not a lifelong dream or passion. I saw applying to law school as a step toward more opportunities. For this reason, I think I was very casual with my applications, and how many schools I tried for, as well as the LSAT mark I was willing to apply with. If speaking to someone who is determined to be accepted, I would absolutely suggest applying to more schools than I did.

What was your experience like in law school?

As I’m sure is the case for most students that started 1L in 2020, my law school experience was a rollercoaster. The entirety of my first year was online, which was both a blessing and a curse. Looking at the glass half full, I was able to live at home, save money on rent, and have a supportive network around me on the days that felt too overwhelming. On the flip side, I hated being online. The Zoom sessions were long and isolating, and I felt that much of the fun that comes from building community with your classmates simply was not there. To be fair, my attitude might be to blame for this as well. I’m sure other students found ways to interact virtually with their peers and build relationships online. For me, I need to be in person to really feel connected to people. This made for a very long year, where I finished 1L thinking I would never make any law friends (this sounds dramatic, but I was told to be honest in this interview).

When we returned to campus for 2L and 3L, my experience changed drastically. I found a core group of friends that I loved spending time with, both inside and outside of school. As a very relationship-driven person, having this community made all the difference for me. I did not want to be at school for any longer than I needed to be, so I did not do any moots or clubs during school. I did host dinner parties and theme nights, went on multiple trips with my closest law friends, and generally just enjoyed myself.

While this is not the story of someone who went above and beyond in school, it is the story of someone who prioritized the things that made them feel whole. I still did well in my classes and put in the work when needed, but I knew I needed to have things outside of school for my own mental health. For this reason, I refused to fill up my schedule with school-related activities, and looking back, I would not do it any differently.

I know this is a different journey than most people in law school take, but if I had to provide one piece of advice, it would be this: Do not feel guilty for making your law journey your own. In an environment like law school, it becomes so easy to compare and tell yourself you’re not doing enough. What I realized through school was that staying in your own lane is one of the best things you can do for your own success and mental health. Prioritize what matters to you, and don’t worry about how this looks to other people.

How did you find your first law-related job?

I found my first law-related job in 1L when I completed the formal 1L recruit and was hired at Dentons Calgary LLP. I applied to 11 firms in Calgary and received interviews at 9.

The recruitment process was a whirlwind and extremely overwhelming. My saving grace was my 3L mentor, who walked me through the process and answered my panicked texts daily for two months straight. I prepared for the recruit by reaching out to associates at firms I was interested in beginning the fall of 1L and planning coffee chats with those that were willing to meet. I also attended the available career-day events put on by the school itself. My mentor was helpful in guiding me through the application process itself, from how the online portal worked to what should be included in a law cover letter. My one piece of advice for students when approaching recruit is to find an upper-year student that has gone through the process and get help from them. It is invaluable to have someone’s advice who has already experienced it and knows how to navigate the system.

My summer experience itself was incredible, and mostly because of the people. While I found the work interesting, I loved meeting new people and learning new things every day. The responsibilities were similar to what is expected at a full-service firm. This includes things like taking on general tasks from the student email chain or getting work directly from an associate or partner that works in a specific group. Much of the work was research-based for litigation. For corporate, there were tasks such as due diligence or minute book reviews.

Speaking generally, I picked my firm because of the interactions I had with their people during the recruit. Everyone I met with was kind, interesting, and generous with their time. I knew they were busy, and yet I never felt like an inconvenience or a distraction when meeting with them. Because many full-service firms do very similar work, I knew that it was the people that was going to be the differentiating factor for me. Whether it’s a fellow articling student or a lead partner in a group, I felt comfortable approaching them and asking for help. Considering how much growth happens at the beginning of your legal career, I wanted a place where I felt safe to ask questions. I feel thankful to have found a firm that provides this for me.

For students who feel anxious about their first summer job, let me assure you that no one knows what they’re doing at first. Students are students; they are there to learn. For this reason, the best thing you can do when approaching your first law job is to be curious and open to new opportunities. Say yes as much as you can, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be intentional with building relationships because these will be your lifeline.

If you could give one piece of advice to prospective or current law students to help them succeed, what would it be?

As I already touched on, one of the best things you can do when approaching law school is to understand that you are free to shape your law school experience into whatever serves you best. It takes some introspection and trial and error to find out what is important to you as an individual. But once you have a better understanding of this, making choices that align with these values will lead to a much more fulfilling law school experience than simply checking off the things you’re “supposed to do.”

The one thing I believe all students need to understand is the importance of relationship-building during school. While it may be tempting to see others as just your fellow students, these are actually your future colleagues. These are the people that will be working alongside you. For this reason, it is so important to treat others with kindness and to be generous with your time.

What are your future career plans going forward, and how can our readers connect with you in the future?

Now that I have graduated, I am currently completing the Accelerated PREP program through CPLED to be eligible for the Alberta Bar. In September 2023, I will officially begin my articles with Dentons Calgary LLP. I look forward to being called to the Bar in June 2024. After this, I hope to work in some sort of corporate/transactional capacity (and still find time to improve my golf game!!).

If you’ve made it this far, thank you! If you would like to connect, please feel free to reach out via Linkedin, and I am happy to help in any way I can.


bottom of page