Norman Laing, Partner with Waratah Partners: Lawyers + Consultants

 

As a child, Norman Laing’s family were frequently involved in drug, alcohol and other criminal-related cases. During childhood, he spent a lot of time in and around courtrooms. “From the age of eight, I wanted to be a lawyer because lawyers dressed differently and drove the nice cars,” he says.

Laing’s home life imploded when he was 15 years old. He ran away from domestic violence – his father regularly threatened to kill him – and lived on the streets of Kempsey on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. All the while he attended high school, holding on to the hope of becoming a lawyer, but failed his Higher School Certificate.

The first positive turning point in his life came when he joined the Australian Defence Force and spent eight years in the infantry.

He didn’t let go of his dream. He went to TAFE to re-sit his HSC, scored a 96 ATAR and UTS Law accepted him as a mature-age student. By day, Laing served in the Parachute Battalion at Holsworthy military base. In the evening, he’d attend Law school. “UTS was my second life-changer,” he says.

In 1999, Laing was deployed to East Timor, and took his legal books with him to continue to study and finish assignments. A year later, he contracted Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and had seven months leave for chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

“My prognosis was good so I wasn’t too worried,” he says, ever positive. “Having time off work simply provided me with more time to continue studying law.”

After he graduated, the ADF couldn’t find Laing a legal role, so he left the Army and spent the next four years working as a barrister, one of only three Indigenous barristers in NSW at that time. He then moved into senior government roles for six years; first as Deputy CEO of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council and then Executive Director of Country, Culture and Heritage for the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

Since 2013, Laing has worked in private practice with his business partner, Yuin woman and current UTS Law student, Kellyanne Stanford. They combine government consultancies with a lot of pro bono work with the Indigenous community. “I’ve been lucky,” Laing says. “If it wasn’t for the ADF and UTS, I would never have fulfilled my dreams nor be in the position now to assist those that are less fortunate”.

“We see a lot of these young kids going to court and feeling helpless in some of our communities, and think ‘that could have been me’. So we try and pay it forward and assist one person at a time, to close the gap of disadvantage.”