"You learn to be a lawyer and gain the confidence that you can really do this!"
When Emma Mahern picked up her Bachelor of Arts in English and theater/drama from IU Bloomington in 2006, she wasn’t sure where it would lead career-wise.
Mahern's interest in helping others was piqued when she began working for a shelter for Spanish-speaking families in Chicago. As it turns out, it led to a detour after work at Indianapolis' Beef & Boards Dinner Theater and a shelter in Chicago. She ended up following that path to law school, legal-aid clinics and a growing expertise in employment law.
While in Chicago, Mahern began working for a shelter for Spanish-speaking families, helping people with a variety of issues, many related to their jobs.
“I remember thinking at the time that ‘I like doing this, and I can help people at the same time,'” she said. After moving back to Indianapolis, she decided to pursue a degree at the McKinney School of Law in fall 2011; she’ll graduate in May 2014.
It wasn’t long before she and professor Fran Quigley, head of the Health and Human Rights Clinic, found one another. “We have a lot of the same views,” Mahern said. “I knew I wanted to get into the clinic as soon as possible, because I wanted to help families deal with day-to-day problems. Being able to work on real problems for people is exciting for me.”
Speaking Spanish effectively has been a big advantage for the Indianapolis native, since language barriers can contribute to clients’ employment issues. But it comes naturally for Mahern: Her husband, Eduardo Luna, hails from Mexico; and her earlier job as a house manager for Beef & Boards brought her into regular contact with Spanish-speaking employees.
It also brought her into contact with people facing some of the employment issues she now deals with at the clinic, or who had friends dealing with those issues. Among the cases are wage theft, requirements to work too many hours, unlawful firings and more.
Working at the clinic can mean long hours and fatigue, she said. “But at the end of the day, even if I’m feeling tired, I always know that what I am doing is urgent and important to our clients,” Mahern said. “That means that it’s urgent and important to me, too.”
“All our (school) clinics are different, but a key aspect in all of them is having a real client to represent,” she said. “You learn to be a lawyer and gain the confidence that you can really do this!”