Ms. Negruțiu has been a Criminal Procedure Law Teaching Assistant at ‘Babeș-Bolyai’ University in Cluj-Napoca (hereinafter, BBU) since 2015 and was recently admitted to the National Institute of Magistracy (hereinafter, the NIM), soon to become a prosecutor. Her educational background is quite diverse, having completed her Bachelor of Laws in 2014 and her Master in Criminal Science and Forensics in 2015, both at the same University she has been teaching at, BBU.
While studying at BBU, she graduated from the University of Salzburg’s Summer School, focused on the main characteristics of European Private Law, and also attended a Summer University of Continental Law at the Pantheon-Assas University in Paris. To top it all, Ms. Negruțiu is a former Lawyr.it member, a debate enthusiast, was a member of the Constitutional Law and Human Rights Studies Association (Asociația de Studii în Dreptul constituțional și drepturile omului) and was also an Adult Leader for the National Organisation of Romanian Scouts.
Lawyr.it: First of all, congratulations on being admitted to the NIM. Given your various activities, it is obvious that you are really passionate about the field of law, especially about criminal law and criminal procedure. Could you tell us what you enjoy the most about it?
I.N.: The reason why I chose to study law, in general, was that I felt it was the best scenario in which my studies could be directly applied towards helping others. I was mostly right – as a student, I felt most of the things I learned were both interesting and of concern to others. Issues such as: how to challenge a fine, what are your rights as an employee, what can you do if you get robbed – these are just a few of the questions a typical student is asked by friends and acquaintances during his/her studies. As a legal professional you get to solve these problems and by that you help others.
The passion for criminal law and criminal procedure law was the result of more factors. I had a certain gut feeling that this is my calling, however this was greatly enhanced by the passion my mother and her father had for the profession of prosecutor and which seems to have been passed on, as well as the extraordinary professors in faculty (both criminal law and criminal procedure law).
Lawyr.it: Since you have transitioned relatively quickly from being a student to a young teacher, how hard was it to cross that bridge and how would you describe the relationships with your students?
I.N.: The transition was indeed relatively quick and quite unexpected, I must say. A university career was not something I was aiming for as a law student. However, following intensive research on a topic that was underdeveloped in legal literature, which turned into a thesis coordinated by professor Gheorghiță Mateuț, I was offered the opportunity of teaching criminal procedure while studying for my Masters’ degree.
While teaching in itself was not something entirely new to me, teaching law was inherently different from anything I had done before and posed two main challenges. Firstly, I had to master criminal procedure law at a significantly more in depth level in order to be able to answer all questions posed by my students.
This was particularly challenging, as students at BBU are generally very well-prepared, curious, and intelligent, and would always find interesting problems for us to tackle. Secondly, the seminars were meant to be fun to participate in, but also serious enough for students not to neglect their part in the learning process, and that was a balance not easily struck.
Looking back, I must say that teaching was by far my greatest experience so far and I hope I will be able to resume it after graduating from the NIM.
Lawyr.it: Now that you have been through such different academic and professional stages (student, teacher, and practitioner), what would you change about the legal educational system, in order to build a better-prepared generation of young law practitioners?
I.N.: Before answering the question, there is a clarification I have to make. While it is true that I have been both a student and a teaching assistant, I have not become a practitioner yet. In order to become a judge or a prosecutor, one must graduate from the NIM, which means that I am currently in the learning process rather than in a position where I can call myself a practitioner.
As to the question, there is this idea that there must be radical change in the educational system, which has been around for a while now. This constant change led to some instability – it is somewhat confusing for both teachers and students for things to be changing rapidly and significantly, without any predictability. I would say that what the educational system needs is some adjustment rather than radical change. Law schools are in a position where they must provide students with knowledge delivered in the best way and, at the same time, make sure that students are also accustomed to certain assessment methods used in professional admission exams (bar exam, the NIM, notary exam and so on). Of course, an ample discussion could be carried out regarding such assessment methods, however in the current status quo I believe the need to adapt to the currently existing methods somewhat limits the teachers’ leeway in changing their approach to teaching.
However, at least some, if not most professors at BBU, have already made some adjustments in order to better prepare students for professional life. I can think of two telling examples. For instance, as a student, one part of the exam which focused on the European Convention of Human Rights was drafting an application to the court. The other example is that of criminal procedure law seminars which, in the second semester, require students to draft certain documents which are used in a criminal trial.
I believe that this kind of adjustments, in which theory is intertwined with practical aspects, and a better use of technology as a learning instrument, are the key to a better educational system.
Lawyr.it: You have a wide background, having studied in different environments and different cultures. How important do you think it is for a student or a young lawyer to expand his/her knowledge by getting acquainted with different types of legal perspectives?
I.N.: I do not think I can stress enough the importance of going the extra mile – and I mean that quite literally. Learning more than what is it strictly needed for a student to pass an exam in university or the professional exams is what makes the future practitioner better in his/her job.
There are two major benefits that one gains from participating in an international university programme. The first one that comes to mind is gaining knowledge – finding out that the same problem has multiple possible outcomes depending on the law system and the applicable law. Reflecting on the reasons at the core of such differences gives you a better overall view and a clearer perspective. The other, and probably more important one, is meeting people from all over the world, who come from very different cultural backgrounds. Not only does this make you more tolerant to different views of the world (which, more often than not, translates into different and sometimes even opposite regulations), but will also connect you with professionals who can offer you support in your research endeavours and also help you make new friends.
Lawyr.it: A follow-up to the previous question: since you were and are active in many different organisations and involved in so many projects, do you feel that students can benefit from being participants in these types of extracurricular activities and why? Tell us your secret, how can a student juggle law school, while also being involved in different organisations?
I.N.: Law school offers you the proper instruments to answer the question of `what to do?`, while the right extracurricular activities will help you find the answer to the question of `how to do it?`.
There is only so much that school can do to prepare us for the profession, but there are plenty of activities to complement the knowledge gained in university and develop the necessary skills and abilities. A student has quite a lot of possibilities, ranging from internships, moot court competitions, different non-profit organisations, debating championships, and so on. Most of these activities involve team work, which I believe is crucial even for those who do not follow a profession which requires team work abilities. All future professions involve quite a lot of interaction with people, so students must learn how to understand others, make compromises in order to better achieve a common goal, and express themselves in the best way.
Lawyr.it: Since you have a mixed educational background, as in your Master of Laws in on Criminal Science and Forensics, but you also studied European Private Law, do you feel this has made you a better practitioner, with a strong general knowledge, or do you think students should focus on just one field of law and stick with it?
I.N.: In order to have a better understanding of law, I believe students (but also working professionals) have to study both public and private law thoroughly. That is not to say one should not specialise in a certain field of law, but without losing sight of the bigger picture. That is even more stringent as most problems practitioners face involve more than one field of law, so in order to tackle them correctly, they must have this broader view and possess knowledge regarding all law fields involved.
Lawyr.it: We are nearing the end, so we must ask you, what can you tell us about your experience as a Lawyr.it member, what it meant for you and if it had any impact on your career?
I.N.: I joined the Lawyr.it team right after the first issue was published. Not only were the founders my close friends from faculty, so that there was a certain appeal to a group activity, but I also thought that Lawyr.it had great potential. To my knowledge, there was not a single fully student-powered law journal in Romania and there was an acute need for information – not only legal articles, but also information regarding internship opportunities and summer schools.
I was also incredibly excited to create and coordinate the Lawyr.it Dictionary team, which had a difficult job – to provide readers with accurate definitions and a right translation of legal terms. There were very few such dictionaries, most of which did not take the difference between legal systems into account when providing the corresponding term and none of which listed references to relevant legislation or legal articles.
Lawyr.it offered me not only a meaningful way to spend my past time, but also team work experience and some exposure. Clearly, the experience was a plus on my résumé, but I believe that the time spent working for the magazine was time very well spent – I was constantly improving my legal English, editing skills, and learning about other legal systems (while proof-reading and documenting for the Dictionary). Last, but definitely not least, as the Lawyr.it team expanded, I met new people and gained some new friends.
Lawyr.it: And finally, our trademark question: if you have to give one piece of advice to law students and young professionals, what would you recommend them?
I.N.: Stay connected – not only to changes in the legislation or new trends in legal reasoning, but to each other! Law is such a vast branch of knowledge that it is impossible for a single person to master it all. So you need others to fill in the gap and offer you support to deal with every situation, the best way possible.
This interview was originally published in issue 5.1 of the magazine, which can be accessed here.