Dr Renata Alexander is an experienced barrister and an academic with an impressive list of accomplishments. She is one of the longest serving legal service volunteers in Victoria, having been involved with community legal centres for over forty years – ever since her fourth year as a law student in 1976. She has been recognised for her efforts and was awarded PILCH’s Community Legal Centre Award in 2000 and the Centenary Medal in 2001, which recognises citizens who have contributed to Australian society or government. When asked what she considered her career highlights, she reflects that her time spent with Legal Aid was something she had dreamed of. Renata is also proud of her academic success. While practising law, she also managed to continue her post-graduate studies focusing on family violence, women’s issues and gender bias in family law. Her long history of work and expertise in family law is what led to her being approached to contribute to The Law Handbook on the topic of family violence.
Renata studied Arts/Law at Monash University, stemming from a desire to help people and a little influence from Perry Mason, a fictional criminal defence lawyer. Although she was initially attracted to studying math at university, she soon discovered that studying law was far more intriguing, sharing a similar framework. ‘It’s all about problem solving and reaching solutions,’ she says.
Her specialisation in family law was the result of a natural progression. Her interest was first piqued after taking on a university elective that dealt with this area of law. Then she got to see her principal – whose specialisation was entertainment law and family law – in action. After going to court with him and hearing him interview, she had a bit more of a feel for it. At the end of her fourth year, when she began volunteering at St Kilda Legal Service, it built on her earlier interest, with around a third of her work for the service revolving around family law. At the end of her education, she jumped straight into practising law.
Despite taking on practical work, Renata’s interest and enjoyment in learning meant that she also continued on the academic pathway, completing both her Masters and her PhD. Since 2001, Renata has also enjoyed her role as a teacher at Monash University. One of the appeals of teaching is that it allows her to draw on both her theoretical and real-world experience; she really enjoys being able to teach students the theory while demonstrating the practical applications with real stories from her own time spent in practise.
One of the reasons that Renata supports the publication of The Law Handbook is due to her strong belief that the law should be accessible to all. ‘I mean, law books are hard enough for law students and lawyers,’ she says, ‘but instead of relying on Women’s Weekly or New Idea, it’s just a very useful resource.’ One aspect that makes this publication such a valuable tool is that it gives good, simple summaries that anyone can read.
Aside from Renata’s contribution to The Law Handbook, a number of her articles have been published since 1997. These range across a number of mediums, including having articles in academic and legal journals, the newspaper, resource centre publications, and educational books.
As an educator, Renata’s areas of specialisation are family law, family violence and child abuse, as well as in clinical legal education. Given that she teaches what she has practised, she has a lot of experience in these areas. Understandably, practising family law can be tough and emotionally draining. It’s an area of law in which you often take feelings home with you and Renata commented, ‘My down-time is pretty much anything that serves as therapy to balance that out.’
In order to maintain a good work-life balance, Renata has a number of hobbies and interests. She currently has two collections that occupy her time. The first is a collection of Russian nesting dolls (or babushka dolls), which she collects from around the world when she travels, as well as from a store in Sydney. Her second collection is something a bit unique; she collects distinctive and unusual pantyhose – though it’s only become a collection because she still has more in their packets than she has open! Like many of us, she also indulges in some TV watching, regularly tuning in to programs like MasterChef, The Good Wife or Grey’s Anatomy to get a good dose of relaxation.