ABOWI interviews Danish international lawyer Thomas Refning Poulsen about cross border cooperation, challenges in the globalized legal world and the value of practical work during law studies.
In today’s interview ABOWI virtually visits its northern neighbour Denmark. With only one national border towards Germany, Denmark is surrounded by the Baltic sea. Kingdom Denmark is the southernmost of the Scandinavian countries and is known for its flat sandy coastline, as one of the pioneers of renewable energy generation and the happiness of Denmark’s 5,8 Million population. The danish lifestyle of Hygge is world-famous and is grounded in one of the lowest crime rates and a secure welfare state principle. The ABOWI Project, short for Across Borders with Information, originated in Berlin as an interview series with 197 international lawyers from 197 countries of the world, delves into questions of globalization and what we can learn from one another. As a law student myself, I want to learn about the daily experiences from international lawyers and their advice in the increasingly international legal industry. Thomas Refning Poulsen is the founder of the Refning law firm, based in Herning and deals with cross-border cases on a large range.
Josefine Antonia Schulte: Please briefly introduce yourself in terms of name, age, origin and how long you have been practicing the legal profession?
Thomas Refning Poulsen: My name is Thomas Refning Poulsen. I am 52 years old. I have been practicing law since 1997.I started my own law firm in 2002.
Josefine Antonia Schulte: What made you decide to become a lawyer in the first place, or does your home country perhaps have something to do with it?
Thomas Refning Poulsen: In Denmark, a legal education can lead to many different types of jobs, both as an employee and as a self-employed person. This has always appealed to me. In addition to this, I like working with complicated sets of rules and finding solutions that my clients can translate into value in their companies or as individuals. I do not think my country or origin has anything to do with this.
Josefine Antonia Schulte: What is your main focus in law?
Thomas Refning Poulsen: I always fight for the right result for my clients. I think that justice and fairness are the cornerstones when working with law. If you ask about what kind of cases I work with, you can find them here: http://refning.dk/en/
Josefine Antonia Schulte: What is the social recognition of a legal career? (e.g., in Germany, social recognition is quite high, especially for people who have no contact with lawyers. There is certainly a stereotype of the superior and rich lawyer).
Thomas Refning Poulsen: In Denmark, there are still many who have prejudices about lawyers, we earn a lot, are arrogant and superior. As for the first, it is correct that lawyers in Denmark belong to the group with the highest income. As for the second, these prejudices are often some people have if they have not previously been in contact with a lawyer. When it comes to credibility, a 2019 study shows that lawyers are in place # 18 (https://www.altinget.dk/artikel/politikere-er-helt-i-bund-se-listen-over-hvilke-faggrupper-der-scorer-hoejst-paa-trovaerdighed). This is not impressive, but we are better placed than bankers. I am aware that titles play a different role in Germany. I could imagine that lawyers’ credibility is also ranked higher than in Germany than in Denmark.
Josefine Antonia Schulte: What challenges do you face as a lawyer every day?
Thomas Refning Poulsen: One of the things most common challenges for lawyers is deadlines. Deadlines for bringing a case to court, deadlines for appealing, etc. etc. If you have many cases, it is always a pressure, even if you plan your time carefully. This often means really long working days. Another challenge is the constant changes in legislation. Today, politicians have a desire to regulate almost every aspect of society. This constant regulation and changes in existing regulation is a huge challenge for us who work with legislation in practice. I can say that my colleagues from the courts and prosecutors office (when it comes to criminal cases) also feel the same.
Josefine Antonia Schulte: You are a local lawyer, but at the same time you live in a globalized world. But how do you work with lawyers and clients outside the country?
Thomas Refning Poulsen: I am often contacted by foreign lawyers who want advice in connection with their clients’ business with Danish companies etc. I also have various partners abroad, for example in Germany, Poland, UK and Norway. I like this collaboration and I think we lawyers have a good collegial relationship with great helpfulness. I myself also have many foreign clients. These are typically people who want to buy property in Denmark in connection with settling here. They are of many different nationalities also from outside the EU. I have clients from Ukraine, Turkey and Uzbekistan, so even though I am a local lawyer, I am very much a participant in a globalized world. Understanding of other countries’ cultures and customs are essential if you want to be successful with clients from abroad.
Josefine Antonia Schulte: How internationally well are the lawyers in your country linguistically positioned?
Thomas Refning Poulsen: Since Denmark is a small country and Danish is a small language, most Danes are well-founded linguistically. This also applies to my profession. English and German are languages you would expect to be spoken in most law firms
Josefine Antonia Schulte: In your experience, how high is the demand for international cases and clients?
Thomas Refning Poulsen: Demand is high and rising. Trade between countries is increasing and citizens’ mobility is also increasing (obviously not at the moment due to the pandemic). The scope of international clients and cases is growing and becoming more attractive.
Josefine Antonia Schulte: What kind of legal advice is in high demand from your international clients?
Thomas Refning Poulsen: Purchase of property, lawsuits about non-payment for goods or services, preparation of contracts and interpretation of contracts, establishment of a company or a branch in Denmark.
Josefine Antonia Schulte: How do you estimate the global market in the future, in Germany you will have to specialize in a certain field of law at some point during your studies, do you think a specialization in international law makes sense?
Thomas Refning Poulsen: 20-30 years ago, for many lawyers, specialization was not necessary. Today it is a necessity. As I have mentioned before, there is a political desire for more and more regulation and more frequent changes in existing regulation. If you as a lawyer are to have a chance to keep up with this development, specialization is a necessity. As far as international law is concerned, it is an area in constant growth, therefore a specialization within this makes good sense. A lawyer who has detailed knowledge of e.g., conventions and international law, the EU’s internal market and its regulation will therefore have a strong position.
Josefine Antonia Schulte: From your experience in your professional life, how useful is the decision to pursue a career in law? Would you choose it again?
Thomas Refning Poulsen: Yes, I believe so. I have other interests, but I like working with complex issues and solutions for my clients. For me, being self-employed is also important. I like to decide for myself and what cases I deal with. The responsibility and financial risk of being self-employed I am willing to take. Whether you want your own law firm or partnership or employment in a law firm, I am sure there is an exciting job for all lawyers.
Josefine Antonia Schulte: What advice would you give to law students or prospective students?
Thomas Refning Poulsen: To law students or for future law students I would give this advice:
- No matter how exciting you think or believe law is, there will be times during your study where it is hard and unmanageable. This applies to all educations and especially to the academic ones. Recognize that there may be periods when motivation is lacking and try to focus on solutions instead of obstacles. Get your motivation back by thinking about what your education might lead to.
- During the education, students try to get in touch with “real life”. Maybe you can volunteer for an organization or a legal aid (Rechtsberatung) or maybe you can work a few hours a week as a student assistant in a law firm. In Denmark, such jobs are in high demand, therefore there are many applications and inquiries about this, but I still believe that one should apply for all such jobs. Working in law practice is a good motivation to continue your studies. It also provides better job opportunities when you have finished your studies and you may also find out which areas you want to work with.
Josefine Antonia Schulte: From your perspective, what needs to be done to bring lawyers from around the world together or is this process not necessary?
Thomas Refning Poulsen: To be honest, I have not researched what options or forums that currently exist. I would think that it could be an idea to build an online platform or community that could connect lawyers internationally. It is possible that such already exist, but I am not aware of it.
I thank my interview partner Thomas Refning Poulsen for taking his time for the interview, sharing his experience and giving valuable advice.
Especially interesting I found that the stereotype of lawyers seems to be similar on a global scale. The importance of keeping deadlines is major and is one of the main principles of actually working as a lawyer. Interestingly that in comparison to Poulsen’s experience other lawyers have been struggling with the inflexibility of the bureaucratic system and an extremity of the withdrawal periods. The changing regulations require lifelong learning and continuing education, which in Poulsen’s experience is rising as well. In addition, he agrees with my former interview partners that the specializing in international law is a good choice due to the globalization and increase of cross-border cases, businesses and collaborations.
I also think that the possibility of being self-employed is a very attractive attribution of the lawyers profession. Thomas Refning Poulsens encouraging words towards law students such as myself are very appreciated and I believe that focusing on what you can accomplish with a law degree is a great option to stay motivated. His advice of getting practical experience in form of an internship or a student job is highly valuable for any law student to ease the specialization choice and to stay motivated.
stud. iur. Josefine Antonia Schulte
Across Borders With Information – ABOWI, an interview series by Josefine Schulte law student from Berlin in Germany. Questions and Answers: A journey around the world revealing differences and prejudices. What moves the lawyers of this earth, Josefine Schulte asks herself from Azerbaijan to Cyprus.