Alumni of the month: Harald Blaauw
When Harald started his law studies at UiB, he already had a fairly good idea of the path and career he wanted to pursue: take the NYC Bar Exam and practice as lawyer on Manhattan.
- When my studies at UiB commenced, I already had a fairly good idea of the career I wanted to pursue, and subconsciously, it was likely my father, who had taken a similar path, who inspired me in that pursuit. My plan was to use the fundaments of my military service and the legal education from UiB as a stepping-stone, to be admitted into one of the best law schools in the United States, and from there take the Bar Exam for the State of New York and practice as lawyer on Manhattan. That was my childhood dream, Harald Blaauw tells us while musingly sitting in his office located in Oslo.
Surely, it seems strange to devise such an elaborate plan at such an early age, but I was fortunate enough to live that design.
- Some years later that dream came to fruition when I joined a US law firm located at 101 Park Avenue, right across from Grand Central Station on Manhattan. When the financial crisis yet a few years later swept over Manhattan though, I had to make another life decision: work with insolvencies and restructuring, towards which much of the transactional practice in New York by then had shifted, or move back to Norway and continue practicing M&A in my home country. You see, my original plan encompassed Manhattan in a rather long-term perspective, but thanks to or because of the crisis, all depending on viewpoint, the tides had turned and the winds now favored a far quicker return to the shores of Norway than anticipated.
- You have successfully completed higher education studies in both Norway and US. Which aspects of the American education system should Norway adopt, if any.
- I am a great supporter of the fundamental framework of higher education in the US, and in many but certainly not all aspects, I find it superior to the Norwegian model. In particular, I think the college system, with four years undergraduate studies at the university level, is far better than our gymnasium (upper secondary school), after which the typical program at a graduate school is three years. Law school, for instance, is three years in the US, and I sincerely believe the Norwegian legal education, counting five years, could be shorted down to the same.
Another feature I like very much, and which certainly could be implemented in Norway with minimal efforts, is the "Socratic method" of teaching, where you instead of long and sometimes tedious lectures engage the students in cooperative and argumentative dialogues, during which the asking and answering of questions stimulate critical thinking.
- What part of your studies has contributed the most to the professional you are today?
- I would probably say that my Norwegian education at UiB laid the foundation upon which my American studies were founded, and that these studies, having come later in time, have influenced me more professionally than my Norwegian ones. That being said, since my work is much more practical than academic or theoretical, I will argue the case that continuous "self-studies" after stepping into the real world have shaped me professionally more than anything from the school days. Irrespective of this reflection though, I wouldn’t have been able to learn and create the methodology to undertake self-studies without the foundations acquired at UiB, albeit, as mentioned, I think this platform could have been built in a shorter time than five years.
- Thanks to your studies in American Law & Legal Systems at UiB, what is your take on the ongoing impeachment proceeding against the current US president?
- The impeachment process is difficult to understand even for the American public at large. It goes back to an era gone by, when things were less complex and the impeachment institute was more of a safety valve to get rid of presidents that were despotic rather than criminal.
Then the impeachment process evolved to ensure that also presidents have to answer to common law. With the current impeachment proceedings, we are in a situation where the President has a full legal team inside and outside the White House, diligently using every availability and ambiguity in the impeachment framework to limit the normal discovery process, and that, in a sense, is a serious democratic problem. Hopefully though, and based on an otherwise sturdy system, this will be a short-term problem until the President's term is up and he, at least to a greater extent, becomes subject to, and must abide by, the rules applying to all other citizens. From a legal point of view, if the President was not subject to the impeachment process, it is likely, based on my limited insight in this process, that he could be indicted for federal offences akin corruption and abuse of power.
When I first heard about this impeachment process, I thought it was a good signal to the country, but unfortunately, the legal system is slow and can easily be affected by people with strong interests.
- In a fast-changing economy, what should students do to set themselves up for a career of success?
- I believe that it is imperative to know where you come from in order to understand where you are, and where you are going. If we understand how things have developed and have retrospect, and things do have a tendency to be clearer in hindsight, that can help us to foresee where the world is heading and what is likely to be the challenges facing us tomorrow. For instance, without a slight understanding of some old and general principles of mathematics and physics, for example Euclid's common notions, or the first and second law of thermodynamics, we are as humans prone to continue our discriminatory and illogical separation of equals, and Elon Musk and yourself will forever scratch your heads and come up wanting in the efforts of engineering a perpetual motion machine. Understanding the past is not worth much without actively seeking out and being attentive to new developments and technologies though. In my profession, for instance, I wouldn’t trust a corporate lawyer that cannot swiftly and easily maneuver all the basic software from the Office Package. You have to be open to explore new technologies, be curious and perhaps a bit adventurous, and understand how those can affect how we conduct our lives and affairs. There are so many new technologies out there, some of which are just junk, whereas others truly are "life-hacks" and might very well shape the future we will be living in.
- What do you think will be the three main industries of the future?
- Technology in general, applied to any means of production and infrastructural development. Health care, biology and everything pharmaceutical will continue to be exceedingly important, especially given the socioeconomic growth and increase in life expectancy rates in the global perspective. In addition, students in Norway should be on a very good path if they look to the enhancement of existing, traditional industries, such as fisheries and agriculture, how to maximize production while preserving sustainability and our beautiful nature, and gaining a comprehensive understanding of the fundamental processes related to the production of goods. All these elements are interrelated with technology and innovation.
- Your book "M&A En praktisk innføring" just became available. Why type of reader did you have in mind when you started writing the book and why should this person read it?
- Initially, I thought the book would be most useful for senior students or recent graduates within the fields of law, finance, economics and private and governmental governance. As the writing process ensued, and certainly after publication, I have learned that also mid- and senior level practitioners have found the book very accommodating and useful, which came as a delightful surprise. The book, which asserts focus on the understanding of central concepts, terminology and methodology, and which makes frequent use of examples and illustrations, does not only provide the reader with insight to enhance his or her present expertise, whatever that may be, but it establishes a solid platform from which the reader may further hone his or her skills if so desired. Ever so succinctly with respect to the latter, the book admits everyone to the same level and starting place, and from thereon out, it is up everyone to continue on basis of individual needs and interests.
- If you were given the possibility to choose just one book to bring with you on a desert island, which one would bring along?
- Papillon, by Henri Charrière. One of my old-time favorites, and possibly a good inspiration as how to escape the desert island.