40 kids, one lawyer
I have given many lectures in the past 12 years, in front of management boards and on stage for large crowds. And I can tell you that a group of 40 kids, aged 8-12 years, is definitely one of the ‘toughest’ crowds you can have as a speaker. But if you succeed in grabbing their attention, and keep them entertained for 45 minutes, then that is also the most rewarding experience. But what actually happens when children meet a lawyer? I was about to find out, when I gave a guest lecture at the Weekend Academy in Amsterdam.
Dreaming about the future
Weekend Academy offers programmes to talented children between the ages of 8-16 years. Thousands of children have already been helped with study skills, workshops and sports activities. One of the most important aspects is to let children think and dream about their future, by inviting guest speakers to talk about their profession.
Back to school
I walk into the school building, and I am feeling a bit nervous. It feels like going back to school. I see the children playing games on their mobile phones. These are very different times, when I was their age I was still playing with dolls.
Then I suddenly stand in front of 40 children; 20 more than initially planned. I prepared some slides and two cases, but I decided last-minute to take a different approach, to adjust to a large group. I just talked about myself, my journey and being a lawyer.
While I tell my story, many hands are raised. The children had so many questions, that it felt like I was being interrogated in court. “How many people do you help on a day? How much does a lawyer earn? Do you earn millions? Do you like having your own company? What did you want to be when you were young? How old are you? Until what age do you want to do this work?” Ultimately, they seemed satisfied with my answers, although I had to disappoint them that I do not earn millions.
It did not surprise me that for the children (and often for adults), lawyers are people who defend criminals, and judges are the ones who decide on the punishment. I asked them if they could name a few other fields of law, besides criminal law. Eventually, the children discovered many other areas of law, such as with contracts, business, employment, tax, IT, intellectual property, human rights, and privacy. I was impressed by how much the children already knew, and how easily they can absorb new information.
Children can also be very confronting.
For instance, I told them that I wanted to be a judge when I was young. One girl said: “I always thought that judges are very old.” Another girl asks me how old I am. I told her my age. She said: “My mother is also 35 years old.” Time to change the subject. So we talked a bit more about my areas of law, and that I work as an independent lawyer at Tommy Hilfiger. I described the difference between an employee and an independent lawyer, as well as the different types of lawyers: all ‘juristen’ studied law, but (mostly) only ‘advocaten’ can go to court.
When the ‘interrogation’ was over, my final question was how many children would like to be a lawyer one day. I counted about 10 hands. When the children left, some kids came up to me to shake my hand or give me a high-five. That was the sign that my mission was completed.