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Joe Mathis en Chelsea Gunning

How do you bridge the gap between law students and the commercial legal profession?

Published on 04-06-2024 10:00
Lawyer Chelsea Gunning and M&A broker Joe Mathis are committed to connecting first-generation and bicultural students with the legal profession. As board members of Bridges Network, they organize events to lower the threshold towards the commercial legal profession. UvA alumni Oumaima Mkabri and Sophie Mostert discuss what Bridges Network can do for students.
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Bridges Network was set up eight years ago by board members Soeradj Ramsanjhal and Faysal Barrachdi to inform students about work in the legal profession. Through Bridges Network, students get in touch with lawyers who want to share their knowledge and experience, for example, on the role of cultural diversity within the legal profession. One of Bridges Network's core activities are the student events, where a peer is invited to the office of one of the cooperation partners for a Q&A session.

What exactly is meant by a network of peers?

Chelsea: 'The peer network consists of lawyers, tax experts, and notaries working at one of our cooperation partners. These are peers who already have some experience in the legal profession and often, but not always, have a bicultural background. They are listed on our website on a dedicated peer-network page. These people are all willing to talk to students who approach them, so it doesn't have to be through Bridges Network. As a student, you can think: this person is at a firm or works within an area of law that I would like to know more about. That's what the peer network is for.'

Chelsea Gunning en Joe Mathis
Photo: Oumaima Mkabri

What kind of questions do you get from students?

Joe: 'It starts with the cover letters or at all with the thought: I am interested in career opportunities in commercial law or a specific law area. Based on our network, we can quickly match one of our peers to a student with the specific experience and knowledge to help the student get started. At the same time, we often receive questions about cover letters. We are, of course, happy to help with that. Above all, students are looking for a bit of guidance.'

Chelsea: 'Until my Master's, I had no relevant legal experience. I have always worked in the Rotterdam market, and I have worked in a care home. I often talk to students who did not have legal experience during their time at university because they had other side jobs, for example, who think that those kinds of jobs are legally irrelevant. But those jobs got me through my student days financially and also taught me other skill sets that you can use in the legal profession, which are, therefore, definitely relevant. Ultimately, I think it's essential that these kinds of side jobs are not underexposed because it often says something about someone's perseverance.'

Joe: 'What we also very often pass on to students is: be proud of your path and don't feel pressured to conform to the prevailing norm. Nobody expects that of you. Everyone has their own story, and we can all be there.'

Why do you feel it is important to get involved with Bridges Network?

Chelsea: 'I started as a peer. I was invited to a student event, and from there, my love for Bridges Network grew. Then I thought: gosh, what an effective method. For example, I spoke to first-year students who said: 'How nice that you're here, and I didn't really know this and this at all.' Besides talking to students, I have catch-up meetings with offices, as well as with legal advice centers we work with, student associations, and study associations.'

Joe: 'I have an American background. I did a Master's degree in European Law at the UvA. When I started working at a big firm in Amsterdam, I saw a big contrast between the legal profession and Amsterdam society. I wanted to contribute to more diversity in the legal profession because I enjoy working with a diverse group of people. But also because I want to allow everyone to work within the commercial legal profession. I know some talents do not apply for various reasons. Sometimes, these reasons are motivated by incorrect perceptions or a lack of open and honest information. I want to change that.'

What is your tip for young starting lawyers?

Joe: 'Don't be afraid to contact professionals, even outside the area of law that interests you. The more people you talk to, the more insight you will gain into what is possible; consider fellow students and lecturers, too. You can't start this early enough, and it will continue to help you throughout the rest of your career.'

Chelsea: 'And a practical tip: try to set as many expectations back and forth as possible. It's an open door, but it helps.'

What else would you like to pass on to students reading this?

Chelsea: 'It sounds super cliché, but chase your dreams. Go for it because there is a place for you in the legal profession. You are an addition and an enrichment to the legal profession. So don't be put off too quickly. And also, above all, call on us and our network.'