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Elena with laptop in Amsterdam Law Hub

'You must be able to explain legal problems in plain language'

Published on 02-10-2023
Law student Elena applies her knowledge as an adviser at the Rechtswinkel Bijlmermeer and at a law firm. In this interview, she shares how this practical experience has shifted her perspective on the future and how it affects her studies.
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What is your study programme?

What does the Rechtswinkel Bijlmermeer do?

'You turn to the Rechtswinkel when you have issues that are to small for a lawyer to handle, but that you can't resolve on your own either. We handle inquiries in all areas of law, except for family law. For instance, if you've bought something on Vinted, but the package never arrived, and Vinted is being difficult about compensation, we can assist you. And we don't do this alone. There are 12 lawyers affiliated with the Rechtswinkel whom we can always consult for advice when writing summons, notices of default, and reminders.'

'You develop skills you don't learn during your education. By working on real cases with real people, you not only develop a sense of responsibility, but also practical skills, like legal writing and asking questions. On an exam you have to analyse legal problems at a deep academic level. But where I work the clients hardly speak Dutch or English, so you have to be able to explain legal problems in plain language, sometimes even using your hands and feet. You don't learn that on an exam. We also receive a lot of training, for example on de-escalation, but also in labour law and tenancy law.'

Do you encounter difficult issues?

'Yes, I have sometimes come home crying. Because sometimes people come with problems you can't solve, such as a vagrant looking for shelter. The work makes you more aware of issues that are not given as much attention. It is also difficult when a client lies to you. Often it is not consciously, but out of shame or stress. A client doesn't always know what is legally relevant. In addition, it could also happen that someone is crying in front of you, but cannot provide supporting documents, which means you cannot help them. My tip is not to get too close to clients and not to take things personally. The moments when you do manage to mean something to people motivates me to keep going.'

'Yes, the number of hours I spend varies. I have a consultation hour once every two weeks and the rest can be arranged flexibly. Sometimes I send an e-mail during the break of a lecture.'

At the law firm, I wear my academic hat more than my practical one, and at the law school it is the other way round.
Elena CornelisseLaw student

'I am an administrative and legal assistant at a law firm in personal and family law. My work varies from preparing procedural documents for a case to sorting things out, for example what the conditions for recognition are for a father. One day I learn how to file something with the court and the next day I delve into US law. At the law firm, I wear my academic hat more than my practical one, and at the law clinic it's the other way around. It complements each other. Law firms are happy that by working at the Legal Advcice Centre you already know how the practice works.'

Has your work changed your outlook on your future?

'Yes, working at the Legal Advice Centre has made me think I like being a lawyer more. When I started my studies, I wanted to be a judge, but not a lawyer. At the Legal Advice Centre, where you have to stand up for your client, I found that I like being able to help people in that way. I thought it would be very difficult, especially with clients who have cases that are problematic. In tenancy law, for example, someone may not be an excellent tenant but can be demonstrably disadvantaged. Then that person still needs to be defended.'

What are your tips for first-year students?

'The first thing I would do is follow Florens van Recht en VacaturesExternal link on LinkedIn. That's where I found my job. They share internships and jobs every day. In addition, make a good page on LinkedIn and make sure your CV is in order. Even if you have no work experience yet, make sure your page looks neat. And finally: believe in yourself and just do it! Send as many applications as possible. Do not start at the Zuidas but approach small and medium-sized law firms. That way, you can gauge whether you like it at all.'

Are you interested in working as a consultant? Take a look at the website of Rechtswinkel BijlmermeerExternal link.