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Alumna Charlotte Vrendenbarg: ‘I get energy from students’

Charlotte Vrendenbarg is Assistant Professor intellectual property rights (IP) at Leiden University. She was recently sworn in as deputy judge at the District Court of The Hague, exactly 30 years after her mother was installed as a judge in Breda. ‘Following in her footsteps was not a goal in itself, but when I was approached about the position I didn’t hesitate for one moment’.

What did you study? Did Leiden meet your expectations?

‘I studied Dutch Law and specialised in Business Law. Leiden exceeded my expectations. I mainly invested in friendships that are still very close today. Studying … came second place.’

What kind of student were you?

'I barely scraped by – taking the wrong law book to exams, only just passing the exam and then quickly forgetting what I’d learned. It sometimes drove my parents to despair. But I thought I was also developing very valuable skills at my student union and at home with 28 girlfriends. I still do, by the way. Only in the final phase of my degree, when I could specialise, did I really start to like studying.'

How has your career gone till now?

'Like many (Leiden) law students, I started out in the legal profession. After working for more than two years on the Zuidas, I left for a niche firm in the heart of Amsterdam. I enjoyed having individuals as clients: artists, entrepreneurs, even a top model. I became involved in the art restitution practice and found it fascinating. The litigation practice was dynamic; days often went very differently than planned. I had a good time, but did feel I was expendable. I often realised that I was just one of thousands of lawyers in the Netherlands. When I spotted a rare vacancy for a PHD candidate in intellectual property rights I knew I had to apply. I’m still really glad I made the switch. It’s said that doing PhD research is a privilege, and I’ve certainly found that to be true.’

You were sworn in as a deputy judge in the year that your mother had been a judge for 30 years. Was it always your goal to follow in her footsteps?

‘Our careers are similar; my mother was also a lawyer for many years. She made the switch to the judiciary. That’s where we differ: as a lawyer and incidentally also in our characters. I find her very pragmatic, she thinks I’m (at times too) theoretical. Then she reads what I’m working on and asks if I can’t be more specific.’

‘That I became a deputy judge 30 years after her installation fills us both with pride, but it was not a goal in itself. No doubt nature & nurture were doing their work when I was approached by The Hague District Court: I didn’t hesitate for one moment. I have since been involved in a number of cases and I love being back in practice.’

Both you and your mother have intensive jobs as well as three children. How do you combine that?

‘We both get energy and satisfaction from our work. We’re good at letting go. Things look pretty tidy at home, but don’t open any cupboards! Sometimes it's hectic, with young children (aged 10, 8 and 3) things don't always go according to plan. I can get quite stressed and tired at times, but also know that I need a healthy dose of pressure to perform well.'

‘I think our strength is also that we work efficiently and fulfil our roles with a certain level-headedness. The domestic hustle and bustle means that there is simply no room to worry about work-related issues for long, and vice versa. In the process, we’re supported by our husbands – also lawyers – and we both have three very sweet and easy-going children', Charlotte laughs. 'Though my mother (71) is still active, she jokes to me that she’s glad she chose a sedentary profession.’

How do you see your future in law? What do you still hope to achieve?

‘What I enjoy most is conducting research and writing: getting to the bottom of a complex issue and then writing a clear, readable piece about it. That’s what I want to keep doing. Whether the result is a book, article, court document or judgment – there’s nothing more satisfying than starting with a bank sheet of paper and finishing with a good piece of text. Giving lectures and presentations comes a close second. I get energy from students and good discussions.’

‘In terms of content, I want to continue with my research in the field of Sustainability & IP. In doing so, I hope to contribute to (necessary) sustainability in IP practice.’

What would you like to pass on to our current students?

‘Be critical (in a healthy way) of who becomes your employer and the work you do. Are you using your talents, does your job give you fulfilment? Does it contribute to a more sustainable, fairer and more social world? If not, don’t be afraid to take a different path. The world’s your oyster.’

‘Finally: enjoy your time as a student, don’t stress too much. Walk your own path and take it from me that even if you don’t get an overrated cum laude degree, you’ll be fine!’

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