Few weeks ago, 20 law students took part on a week-long hands-on summer school to find out how is like to be a lawyer from one of the well-known Romanian law firms, ONV LAW. Business Review talked with Mihai Furtuna, one of the partners, to find out why they designed an intensive training program from scratch for students, taking into consideration that several other similar programs are available for them.
By Oana Vasiliu
Why a summer school for law students?
The idea of a summer school has come up when we were preparing the internship program for law students willing to work with us during the summer holiday. At the beginning, we decided to accept four students to the internship program for two months. Then, we started receiving applications, without any expectations settled. But due to the fact that we previously worked with ELSA and ASD (law students’ organisations) on some practical workshops in order to find out about students’ needs and curiosities upon this job they are preparing for, we started to receive many more applications that we could possibly imagine. So we stopped the application process at 85 because we wanted to see and interact with each applicant. We started the summer school program by asking the students about their needs and expectations, which we took into account during the development of this project. In fact, what we had in mind was that this program means sharing pillars and values of being a lawyer – creativity, integrity, the lawyer-client relationship and the meaning of team spirit and team work in a law firm – with those aiming to practice law. It’s something typically defined as the relationship between a master and an apprentice, which can be found in almost every job in the world. After seeing the first ten candidates, it was too difficult to decide who to temporary take into our team, so we created this summer school. And we were right, because most of the applicants were very smart, curious and really impressed us during the interview, although for some of them this was their first formal interview.
How did you come up with the program of the summer school?
It’s a fact that currently several law firms, as well as the universities, are organizing summer school for law students, but most of them have that classic format based on mock trials, where students become lawyers or judges for a few days and receive feedback on their “performance”. A trail is the climax of being a lawyer and it’s very important to be there and fight with arguments. But no one really talks about all the work behind that moment, how to prepare for the trial and no one tells you about how to handle the client and how to work with him or how to transform your relationship with others (including clients) into a happy – happy model from what usually is a win-win relationship. Also, as I mentioned before, we already held some workshops with students about some practical aspects of this profession, so it was a bit easier to create the program. For us, mentorship means sharing our own experience as well as others’ experience and that’s why the training days, beside the strictly legal part (the technical one), we had some special surprises, meaning that every day we invited special guests: one of our clients, Dorin Ivascu from Romanian Airport Services, two renowned lawyers, Adrian Vasiliu and Marian Nazat, a judge – especially for those who want to become magistrates and to add color and clearly illustrate the client service techniques we invited Dumitru Pavel, our hairdresser, who has practiced this job for over 50 years. The summer school is part of a larger concept and attitude that we have embraced and called SHARE & SHAPE. This embodies our beliefs, wishes and actions towards those with whom we interact daily. By constantly sharing, even the smallest things, attitudes, thoughts, good practices on human and professional dimensions, we will inevitably witness the transformations that, step by step, will bring models to light.
After meeting and working with these students, do you believe that the current legal education system is appropriate for the market’s needs?
I’ll answer with the name of a book written by Mihai Maci, “The anatomy of an imposture. A school unable to learn” (e.n.: in Romanian „Anatomia unei imposturi. O şcoală incapabilă să înveţe“), a perfect radiography of what is currently happening in the education system on every level. My answer is definitely no. It’s the same school I graduated 20 years ago and nothing changed, although we are living new different times. The professors are almost the same who are still preserving their seats in universities, using the same teaching methods which are not matching the needs of today’s market. Also, there is too much theory without any practical implications to facilitate learning. We asked the students to name the professors that they like most, and the majority of them nominated the same 2-3 persons who are legal practitioners that handle real law situations.
How about the differences between public and private law universities?
I don’t have a strong opinion about these differences because I graduated a private law school (e.n. The Romanian American University) almost 20 years ago and most of my professors came from the public law university and my feeling was that they paid the same attention to us as well as they did to their public students. At that time, the only differences were that I paid a tax and that, after graduation, people tend to have misconceptions about private universities alumni.
But are there differences between nationwide law schools? Do you feel like those coming from Cluj or Iasi are better prepared than Bucharest’s candidates?
There are not major differences in the university law program. You named three of the most important university centers of the country, those with tradition, but there are other universities worth mentioning. It is well known that each law school has a renowned professor in a certain domain who’s highly appreciated. Lately, Cluj Napoca has maintained a very high standard, closer to scientific research. But I would like to mention and congratulate Craiova’s law school, where a professor managed to challenge students to step outside the theory box and go more practical.
What advice would you give to a freshman student?
To be patient, to wait and to understand that one cannot figure if he made the right choice studying law until he finishes school and starts practicing law. They should also be curious, ask even “silly questions” in order to feed their curiosity and use any practice opportunity, no matter the legal profession.