The LLM's Honours Programme (the Honours Programme) is one of the Utrecht University projects, aimed at quality students, which gathered participants from different study fields of law into one classroom, throughout all the academic year. I have had the pleasure to be a part of it and will be sharing with our blog readers the most interesting and valuable features, which helped me to further develop my skills not only as a student, but also aiming further, as a law practitioner.
In such regard, various skills training meetings were aimed towards building the professional conduct as a lawyer, regardless of possible intentions of pursuing (or not) this path in the future. They were very practical and informative, with guest lectures that brought an additional insight into the topics discussed. For example, the workshop ‘Writing for your Client’ introduced the students to a whole other type of writing than the usual academic one, by emphasizing the need of being concise and to the point with the piece that they might be working on. Additionally, the ‘Client Interviewing and Counselling’ workshop enriched our skills with many practical examples that our tutors had lived themselves in real life, in order to create a full picture of what is to be expected from a lawyer’s daily practice. Particularly interesting was the discussion on the ethical conduct and behaviour of not only lawyers, but of every professional who might also be working in the academia. Moreover, the training that aimed the development of additional skills in legal and non-legal research, to me personally it showed how a student can conduct an effective hunt for relevant books or articles by using the library tools, a vital information to possess, especially for a law student. Overall, the skills’ training was an effective contribution to the personal development of the participants in the Honours Programme.
One feature of the program which greatly contributed towards our critical thinking and teamwork was definitely the individual organisation of the content meetings. In small groups not more than six students, we had to conceptualise and create a few of the excellence masters track meetings, with interesting topics which could be easily correlated with almost all of the study fields of the participants. It happened that the group I was working in was the very first responsible for organizing such a meeting and our feelings were somehow perplexed between trying to find a relevant and interesting topic and imagining what could an ideal content meeting look like. The topics on the table varied between the newly adopted EU data protection regulation and the strategic litigation, also known as public litigation. Ultimately the latter triumphed and the first content meeting organised by students of the Honours Programme focused on strategic litigation, which in other words is the use of legal procedure in a strategic way to bring about certain social, political or legal changes. This can give a voice to individuals, protect vulnerable minorities, and provide access to justice for those whose rights are at stake.
Another highlight of the program was the project ‘Law and Literature’ which envisaged creating parallels between the two fields. The very interesting topic was introduced by Judge Jeanne Gakeer and then carried out by other mixed groups of students. What we had to do seemed simple at the beginning: choose a fictional book/novel and write a legal analysis over it. The first problems though emerged at choosing what book should we all read and write upon. However, this is also one of the skills that I got from the Honours Programme, namely conducting the negotiating process between the team and trying to persuade the fellow students about a specific choice. In the end, our group decided to read The Sellout by Paul Beatty, a novel which depicted the modern segregation practiced in the United Stated and the implicit racial bias when it comes to judicial processes against people with colour. One could not say that the writing process and the presentation at the end went smoothly, but we learned from our mistakes and made sure to improve on a later stage.
This experience was also further enriched by a specific sub-programme that was carried out by the European Law master coordinator, prof. Linda Senden and the students. In the beginning of the year we had a series of collective meetings, where we discussed interesting topics starting from possible amendments of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, to organising a small moot court with the aim of introducing the human rights perspective to our studies, to discussing on a round table the conceptual and practical problems of the European Monetary Union and trying to enhance its legitimacy by strengthening the national parliaments representation and finally, to define and debate the meaning of the well-known term ‘rule of law’. The specific EU law programme was very insightful and taught us, the students participants, how to better use our critical thinking and our public speaking skills. In addition to this, each student then was assigned an individual project to work on, mainly as a research assistant to a professor that was preparing an academic article for publication. I had the pleasure to assist dr. van den Brink for his research on the impact of the European Monetary Union economic performance policies, which was also focused on discussing the role of national parliaments on EMU policy-making. This experience worked as a real boost to my academic research skills, so important for an LLM student nowadays. It has been a long road of writing and researching, but before the end of the program, the article is already sent for publication and I feel that this was an enriching experience in terms of gaining new skills and reinforcing the existing ones.
As a participant of the Honours Programme 2016-2017, I strongly believe that this experience, also in part created by the students and for the students, is a valuable extra-curricular addition, in which everyone should be encouraged to take part. The amount of skills enhanced, the interaction and creativity that we took especially from each-other are the features that show the importance of such initiatives. I greatly enjoyed being part of the Honours Programme and would absolutely recommend it to any fellow/future UU student!