Pursue a fast-paced career at a law firm? Or opt for an environment of reflection, research and teaching at a university? Law professors and working lawyers Pim Rank, Teun Struycken and Toon van Mierlo advocate combining both. They share their thoughts on the benefits, challenges and rewards.
Combining the practice of law with academia.
Pim: I have always been passionate about legal research and exploring subjects in depth. The practice of law constantly inspires me. Academia, on the other hand, provides me with an environment for reflection. I also enjoy teaching.
Teun: I was raised in a family of academics which made academia a logical career choice for me. I loved the academic life. However, I also knew that practical experience at a law firm enhanced one's credibility as a legal scholar. That's what brought me to NautaDutilh. In fact, I ended up liking the practice of law so much that I stayed. But universities never lost their appeal. So when the opportunity to become a professor at the Molengraaff Institute in Utrecht arose, I jumped at the chance.
Toon: Throughout my career, I have gone back and forth between academia and working at a law firm. I was a full-time professor for nine years at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. But after a while, I longed once more for the buzz of a law firm. So I ended up working at the university three days a week and practised law on the other two.
Value for clients.
Pim: In academia, we look at the broader picture. Clients benefit from my overall knowledge of the law – especially where public and private law intersect – as well as from my authority as a professor. Sometimes, it matters that a professor wrote an opinion.
Teun: The skills necessary for a successful academic career – such as perseverance and the creativity to come up with innovative solutions to legal challenges – are also key to my work as a lawyer.
Toon: When you stay up to date on academic developments, you have a better working knowledge of the law. My work as a litigator also benefits. In order to explain highly theoretical legal subjects to students, you have to be able to simplify them. Being able to break down theoretical subjects really well can also come in handy in the courtroom.
Value for students.
Pim: My position at NautaDutilh enables me not only to teach the letter of the law but also provide a practical perspective. This includes acquainting students with the practice and customs of a leading law firm based on actual cases, including those in which I have been involved. I can tell them that, in real life, the object of a pledge is not a fishing rod or a bicycle – but inventory, equipment, claims and financial instruments. I can explain to them how supervisory authorities work and how contracts are concluded in practice. Students appreciate that.
Teun: Students often find that the most interesting case studies are those derived from real life. This demonstrates that what they are being taught at university is also relevant and real. It also helps that I can provide examples based on first-hand experience.
Toon: I teach procedural law which is considered a pretty dull subject. However, as I’m able to draw on examples from my practice, I can make the subject more appealing. Procedural law is not something that can be taught from a book.
Learning from the next generation of lawyers.
Pim: Students are always inspiring. They ask surprising questions and continuously challenge the obvious. Students keep us young and can make us better lawyers.
Teun: It's great fun to enter into interesting discussions on detailed aspects of civil law with my students – and to be able to share my experiences working at an international law firm. A legal career is so much more than what's taught at university.
Toon: Brilliant students ask questions that do not have easy answers. They make you a better teacher. Students are also very honest. And if you can explain procedural law to them in an appealing way, it makes you a better litigator.
Professor of Financial Law at the University of Leiden. An expert on financial regulatory law and private law.
Professor of European Property Law at Utrecht University. A partner in the Banking & Finance group of NautaDutilh.
Toon van Mierlo
Professor of Civil Law and Civil Procedural Law at the Erasmus School of Law (Rotterdam) and Private Law at the University of Groningen. A counsel and arbitrator who specialises in commercial litigation and domestic and international arbitration.