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Iustina Nastasă - How lawyers are seen

Author: Iustina Năstasă

I decided to go to law school in the 11th grade, after a visit to a centre that dealt with the social reintegration of juvenile delinquents. I then spent the day with a group of primary school children who had been caught begging or stealing, but could not be punished because they were too young - the minimum age for criminal responsibility is 14, and the oldest were 10. We talked to them about the rules and their importance, and what happens when we don't follow them. They were smart and curious kids, very different from how I imagined criminals. They needed support and understanding, not punishment. We departed hugging each other.

This encounter stayed with me for a long time and made me realize that it is important for me that the job I will have, has a positive impact on those around me. A job that requires not only theoretical knowledge, but also empathy in order to be practiced.

The decision to study law was met with nothing but negative reactions. The headmistress always said that law graduates end up as salesmen at the newsagents, so I began to avoid talking about it at school. I used to tell the teachers when they asked us about the school we wanted to go to that I hadn't decided yet. My parents also agreed that it was an extremely bad idea for me to go to law school and hoped until the last minute that I would change my mind. They told me I had no chance without relationships and that I would starve to death. And more than that, that law is for the unscrupulous, who can't wait to take all the money from people for a few papers. Such a different view from the one that motivated me.

When I applied for law school, I had to apply for a technical study program (Automatik) also - maybe I'll come to my senses and get IT-specialist, like most of my peers. Unfortunately for my parents, they couldn't convince me. As soon as the law results lists were published, I let them know there was no going back.

I continued to deal with people's negative perceptions of lawyers even after I became a student, and later, a practitioner. I heard over and over again, both from people close to me and from people I barely knew, that lawyers take pleasure in people's problems and deliberately lengthen deadlines to artificially increase their fees, that judges and prosecutors are corrupt and sit around all day on huge salaries, that notaries are useless and legal advisers are poor secretaries. And anyway to be part of the system you have to come with money from home. It wasn't right in any way.

Sometimes I wonder why people's perception is so skewed. Maybe because when they have dealt with the judiciary they have been in difficult situations in their lives, maybe because of corruption cases or miscarriages of justice that appear in the press. Or maybe because we, as part of the system, often let the good parts go unnoticed. The fact that we chose these professions out of the belief that we can contribute to the achievement of justice.

I came here to tell you that I have been in the profession for 5 years now and no other field would suit me as well. Sure things aren't perfect, but they're not perfect anywhere. I didn't have to pay anyone to become a lawyer. Nor did I meet lawyers interested in winning at any cost. On the contrary.

I offered to help, every time, those around me who had a legal problem. Including when it meant searching through law treatises in the middle of the night after work. And I continued to have meetings with students to discuss the consequences of breaking the law. And when I was asked by Elena, the ninth-grader who had been holding her hand up all class, if it was true that you can't make it in law without connections and knowing the right people, I was happy to argue with her. I told her my story and assured her that the exams were on performance. I encouraged her to choose her path based on what she was passionate about, because that's all that really matters.

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