Sunday, 18 March 2018

Top rated Materr's in Law, say no more!

I am very proud, as the recent news has shown that the Legal Research Masters -I am enrolled in- is rated as top rated masters in the Netherlands 2018. For that reason we were gathered by the LRM dean to celebrate and enjoy eating cakes. Thanks to the dean's efforts and the professors and of course the hard working students to make that success happen; congratulations to all. The results are based on the Keuzgids’ survey published on the 8th of March about master's rating. The survey has shown that the LRM has achieved a score of 94 out of a 100! This score also places the LRM as the best legal research master's in the Netherlands and provides a corresponding quality seal -shown below- for information communication. 

As the university's news describes it, the Keuzegids is an annual publication by the Center for Higher Education Information. It is compiled on the basis of accreditation decisions of the Dutch-Flemish Accreditation Organization and on the basis of student assessments from the National Student Survey. This means that this guide is not only based on scientific criteria, but also on quite extensive empirical data. Underpinning these data are students’ opinions; this year more than 740,000 students were invited to give their opinion about their study and educational institution. This means also that this publication is not only important for the faculty deans and policy advisers to improve their work, but also as a guide for students to select their master’s program. So, if you are applying for masters next year this guide should be one of you references.

The main and simple point to take away from this blog is when selecting a master's program, there are seemingly a few references that can help you create your opinion and narrow down your choices, such as the program’s website, the information provided therein and students' suggestions, but there is a yet another example of some other criteria that you can look at to assess whether this is a good master for you and your future. If your are doubting or comparing very similar programs and standards then you may ask the policy advisers to provide you with the outcome of this source, or simply look for this seal. 

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

How to research, even when it’s dynamic

In a previous blog on the 15th of January I wrote about how the Legal Research Master's is a medium to see law from three perspectives; philosophical, methodological and practical. In this blog I discuss the Dynamics of law courses –the practical aspect of the LRM. But what does this word “Dynamics” entail in a legal context? 

Dynamics simply implies the interaction, challenges and connectivity of and among legal orders. Thus, the central issue of each dynamics course is the legal intertwining of the national, European and international legal orders in a specific field of law. In other words, how do legal orders interact in a given situation? Do they interact in a hierarchical or in a horizontal way in a given situation? Which order dominates? Does the international legal order or law constitute a highest norm, since it regulates the relationship between states and international organizations around the world? Or are the states, represented by their national legal orders and state sovereignty, constituting the highest norm or the source of all orders? What is the role of European law and institutions as a middle order between the national and international orders, especially when it contradicts International Law?  

Overall, there are three Dynamics courses. Each Dynamics course focuses on certain aspects; in the first block we started with the dynamics of constitutional and administrative law, the second was the dynamics of criminal law and human rights and currently we are diving into the dynamics of private law. In these courses, words like globalization, trans-national, Europeanization, harmonization, unification, convergence, divergence, etcetera are closely tackled. To my mind this is a thrilling legal discourse and an essential skill to any person who looks forward to being a legal researcher. In my experience, applying and writing about the coexistence of these legal orders is a vital activity in a dynamic fast world full of technology, legal development and globalization.

Now I pay attention to the presence of these dynamics. First of all, International law influences states in many occasions such as treaty law, jus cognes customary norms, UN binding resolutions and the case law of the International Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights. Similarly, the European order is yet another legal order that influences a big number of European states. The role of the EU legal order in these dynamics is manifested in norms and principles such as direct effect, effectiveness, primacy, etc. These have implications on the national legal orders of the EU member states –and in some occasions other states. Though, national legal orders are able to push back as they still possess a respective protected legal identity and culture, sovereignty and autonomy in applying law in its territory.

Ultimately, even when conducting a seemingly domestic legal research other layers may come into play and vice versa. In a more connected world than ever, a thorough legal research cannot be conducted in isolation from a background of the interaction and dynamics of legal orders. This suffices to say that it is vital for any legal researcher to be mindful of the Dynamics of law.   

Saturday, 3 February 2018

In the loving memory of Matthias Jorissen

Over 10 days ago I thought about blogging about people of the Utrecht University law faculty. I thought about picking a monthly character from my fellow students, university employees and my teachers. The Idea was to pick someone to take a picture with and to write about. The very first person who popped up in mind was Matthias Jorissen. Perhaps he was even the one who made me think about it. More or less a week ago, I had a conversation with one of my fellow students in front of Janskerkhof –the law faculty building, when Matthias ran into us as he was photographing and covering some event, as usual. I remember we had had a short conversation with him. As soon as he left I told my friend about this idea and that I will start with writing about Matthias and that I will contact him later about it. It could have also been an opportunity to tell Matthias what I had in mind, but too much trust I give to longevity! I thought I had all the time in the world to contact him.
Even greater was the shock when I heard that less than a day after this coincidental meeting, Matthias passed away as the result of a heart attack. But who is Matthias? Matthias worked as the LRM policy advisor, but he was so much more than that. Both current and former LRM students called him the father of the LRM. He was a counsellor, a friend, problem solver. He was the perfect bridge between staff and LRM students. For our LRM dean prof. mr. Janneke Gerards he was immensely valuable in assisting her with the organization around the LRM. She told me the work he did cannot be replaced by five others.
That Matthias was a special man who was loved by many became even clearer during his memorial service yesterday. The Janskerk next to the faculty was packed with people who came to so say goodbye. Many of them brought flowers and the memorial was filled with speeches and music. Matthias was praised for his humor, his devotion to everything he did, and above all his attentiveness to each and every one of us. Matthias will leave an enormous gap in all of our lives. He will not be forgotten. Goodbye Matthias, rest in peace.

Monday, 15 January 2018

I am a legal researcher. What is your superpower?

Surrounded by articles and books and constrained by deadlines and meetings, I could finally manage to reach out to my blog. Glad to be here again. My motive this time is to warn you not to apply for the Legal Research Master’s! Yes, don’t you dare.

Unless you are genuinely striving for learning what law is and ought to be, how to solve complex legal issues, and which methods would enable you to do so; do not apply for it. Many people here in the Netherlands and in Egypt have been asking me “what do you study?” When I reply with: “legal research”, they say: “Yes, but which domain of law; public or private? Which branch of law; criminal, administrative, civil, etc.? And, which legal order do you study? Is it national, international or European?        

I reply with: “perhaps all; I study legal research, I am being trained to research law, but let me further explain...” To my mind, Legal Research Master’s (LRM) inspires me to see how Law can be used as a tool of change. At the LRM arena, this inspiration arose from looking at law from three windows; one is philosophical, the second is methodological and the third is practical.

The first is philosophical, because when I read the assigned literature and attend lectures, I approach law as a science, and therefore, many questions emerge about Law and its characteristics.  Secondly, the methodological discourse exposes me to various debates on several types of legal research. This makes me understand more how law actually functions and how it can be used in the most reliable sense. Lastly, I see law from a practical window because at LRM we are acquainted, more often than not, with tackling and solving complex issues that emerge from the intertwinement of legal orders, in each domain and in each branch of law. The rational is, those who understand law best and know how to use it through a thorough training are able to lead in any branch of law -able to change for better.

These insights are provided to me via Methodology and Dynamics meetings, assignments and literature; the foundational elements of the LRM.  Although I make the substance of the LRM seem too broad, in later blogs I will dig deeper and discuss with examples; how such elements can be utilized in a given specialization. Also, I will discuss the possibility & flexibility to narrow down your focus to the topics of your interest.
If you are up for this challenge and want to know more about the LRM from an international perspective, stay tuned for the upcoming blogs in which I will give some insights on the LRM activities, research projects and courses, etc. Stay tuned!

Friday, 22 December 2017

A new page... 
  Two years ago, I visited this beautiful city, Utrecht, for the first time, and as a usual traveler I was fascinated by every little detail of this city; the architecture, streets, canals, restaurants, libraries, the university buildings, the harmony of everything and a lot more that I will be elaborating throughout my blog. 
     Now, and for over four months, I am so lucky to be living here and studying at the University of Utrecht. It is not at all easy, yet utterly adventurous to live and learn in a different place than what you’re used to. This is not a view of a person who has seen a few, I would confidently say my life has been adventurous to some extent; I am always on the move; never afraid to take risky decisions; and I am always ‘curious’. However, moving to another city, let alone another country, was one of the most challenging decisions I ever made. Totally worth it.

   It is not easy to relocate, I am aware that our directions and destinations have to be always justified and clarified by reasons, such as: sentimental ones; old roots to this destination, family reunion or friends, but also financial reasons such as pursuing a scholarship. Even myself, I would not have moved or applied for the Master’s that I am currently enrolled in unless I had that “big reason”. My reason was to be with my fiancee.  However, paradoxically, the main aim I am writing this blog is to tell you that you do not need that big a reason to be and to study in Utrecht, if you are an ambitious, hard worker and willing to develop this organization will help you by all means. 

My vision is to transfer to you, wherever you are, an internal practical experience of Utrecht and it’s university. I will do so by shedding light on specific topics that you may wonder about or need to know.

As this first blog mainly meant to be an introduction, I am writing some background information about myself, my vision, mission and the value of this blog. My name is Waleed Mahmoud, 26 years old, I was born in Libya, but my parents are Egyptians and before I moved to the Netherlands I had my whole life in Egypt. I have many hobbies but can be limited to three categories; travelling and photographing; reading and writing; and Gym and boxing.

Currently I am enrolled in the Legal Research Master’s the “masters of the giants” so to say. Having been accepted in such a selective program can only be explained in light of my professional and academic history. Before I came to the Netherlands I had a sufficient amount of national and international academic achievements, extracurricular activities and work experience. I was known in my field.

Throughout each blog, my mission is to deliver to you some practical experience, of an international student’s life who studies law in Utrecht University. I will also reflect my social life here as well as the problems I encounter. This should help you creating your perspective about the city, the university and the Master's I am enrolled in.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Being a part of the LLM's Honours Programme

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!

Saturday, 13 May 2017

The Utrecht University Library

Hello everyone! After a little pause I’m glad to be back and share Utrecht experiences with you. Let’s say that my absence is justified because of the start of the fourth period of study here in UU, which for LLM students equals to writing their thesis. Therefore, not only me, but every other LLM student in any other discipline is now dedicating almost all of their time to such an important writing, with which one is expected to contribute to the academia and make a significant step forward in the debate that is discussed within the thesis itself. At first it might sound a huge entrepreneurship and maybe a little scary, but when you start your LLM studies you will definitely be surprised on how much you can learn and advance your skills in a small amount of time.

This brings me to the core message of this blog post. “Every top university has its own top library” and this is definitely what the Utrecht University Library is. I could not imagine writing, not only my thesis, but any paper that was required during my studies without the library’s resources and help. With two big and beautiful buildings, one located in the city centre and the other at the Uithof, the Utrecht University Library is always close to the students for any material that they might need.

I remember that one of the main pieces of advice that our professors used to give before the start of the thesis period was: use the collection of the library; it is indeed quite big, rich and it is going to be indispensable for finding the right materials to complete your research. And I cannot stress that enough. As of my own experience, I needed quite some amount of different books to buid up my research and almost all of them were available on the shelves. But don’t worry, if you cannot find a book in the shelf, check twice on the online catalogue and see if somebody else is using it. In this case, you can simply put an online request within the system, and the library staff will inform you when the book will be available for pick-up (you can also choose a favourable date!).

For sure that books are an important part of the University’s library, but its collection, especially for law students, becomes even more accessible when it includes a list of the most prominent journals (online or not), where you can find sometimes “life-saving” articles for your research. In that regard, also the “UBU-link” helps quite a lot. For the ones that aren’t familiar with the term, this is simply a tool that helps the students to find the full text of their online material, provided that the library is a subscriber to that website/journal that you are looking into (and trust me, most of the time it is).

However, the collection of such a vast number of materials is not the sole feature of the Utrecht University Library. Say, if you have troubles at concentrating at home, or if your roommates are being louder than usual, the library has plenty of study spots reserved for students. Circled by books, in a quiet environment and with a great lightning system, the library is definitely my favourite place to study. It is true that the building in the city centre can be quite busy sometimes, especially when its exam week, but you can always try going to the Uithof: the building is much bigger and it’s practically guaranteed that you will find a similar quiet and nice place to study.

To conclude, as a UU student, academically you will always have the support you need. The library offers a ton of choices and you simply need to be aware of them. Check as well with the service desks, the staff is super nice!