I begin with a confession. I knew nothing about the Anglo-Dutch Legal Exchange prior to a tweet put out by the Young Bar Committee inviting applications. To say I am glad I instinctively applied is an understatement.
I adore Europe but had never been to the Netherlands, I am a lawyer of under seven years’ practice, I love meeting new people and practitioners, and I enjoy beer. What a perfect opportunity! I applied with enthusiasm, believing the Exchange could be possibly be a small mechanism to rekindle legal and international relationships and maybe learn a thing or two on the way.
What I learned was extraordinary. The Exchange had been going for decades, producing lasting commercial and social relationships between our jurisdictions. Our hosts, young Dutch lawyers from all disciplines, took care of us impeccably and with growing confidence. By the end of the trip we (well, mostly me) were becoming the butt of their jokes. There is no better indicator of friendship.
Our visits to the International Court of Justice, Maritime Court and Netherlands Commercial Court were fascinating, filled with information provided by enthusiastic Judges and practitioners. We were delightfully welcomed by large Dutch firms BarentsKrans, Ten Holter Noordam, De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek, and Loyens and Loeff, who provided us with legal chat, laughs, and good food and drink. We discussed all manner of things: the difference in jurisdictions, the effect of Brexit, the necessity of international cooperation, the inherent bluntness of the Dutch use of English, none of which I will ever forget.
But this wasn’t just about making new connections and friends abroad. It was also about encouraging new relationships at home. The select group of other barristers that had been successful applicants were naturally like-minded, understandably sceptical (as all lawyers are) about who they were travelling with but, without exception, oozed class. We all got on like a house on fire. We all agreed we felt like we had known each other for years.
We trawled the streets of The Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam, absorbed in the culture, the friendliness and skill of avoiding bicycles. We were treated to a fascinating tour of the Rijksmuseum, learning about the genius of Rembrandt and Vermeer whilst witnessing the delight of our hosts as we were paraded in front of the Dutch spoils of war, taken from the British. We failed in our attempts to recover them for the Crown.
As I sat on the Eurostar back home, feet throbbing from all the walking, I couldn’t help but thank not only the organisers, Stuart, the two Mikes - Polak and Harwood, and our Dutch colleagues, but myself, for having the wherewithal to apply in the first place. It was a trip I hadn’t planned; I had no idea what would entail and had no prior knowledge of, but one I will have fond memories of forever.
My only regret is that I had not been on this Exchange before. To those future young lawyers: use this exchange to make connections, network, make friends and learn. There is something immensely satisfying when one has fun whilst learning and there is no better way to do it than the Anglo-Dutch Exchange.
We often find ourselves struggling in this job and wondering why we bother. This Exchange revitalised me and reminded me why I do what I do. It’s not just about the law, it is about engagement, learning and, above all, people. This exchange reminded me of that, and I would thoroughly recommend others to experience the same.
Thomas E Sherrington is a barrister at St John’s Buildings.