Graduate Interview: Johan Hulshof, International Exchange Program 2002

What was it like to be one of the first exchange students at Bucerius? Has the Law School changed a lot since then? Alumnus Johan Hulshof (Netherlands) on Bucerius then and now.

Johan Hulshof during the International Alumni Reunion in Hamburg in September 2015

When he started his law degree at the European Law School in Maastricht, an international exchange wasn’t part of the plan. But the chance to check out Germany’s first, brand new private law school seemed too good to miss. 15 years later, Johan Hulshof is a successful in-house lawyer and family man. Time to reminisce and see where his career has taken him since his time at Bucerius Law School.

You were one of the first 67 exchange students to attend Bucerius Law School. What made you decide to attend such a young and new university?

Well, I wasn’t in fact planning to go on an exchange at all because I had already decided that I was going to go abroad for my Master’s degree. But when I joined a friend for an info session and heard about Bucerius Law School, I changed my mind. The school appealed to me because it was a new initiative and the high-profile founding members like Professor Hein Kötz, one of the world’s leading scholars in the field of comparative law, gave it a lot of credibility. Also, in contrast to many legal professionals, I’m not really risk-averse. (laughs)

And was it worth the risk?

Definitely – great professors, a beautiful campus in a wonderful city and talented classmates from top universities – what more could you ask for? Studying with such a diverse group of students from different legal systems really opened my eyes to the importance of recognizing and appreciating the differences between legal cultures. Especially because everything was so small-scale; it really felt like one big international family you could learn from.

I also managed to improve my German a lot. I had specifically asked to be housed with German students and I told my roommate, she was only allowed to speak German with me. It worked, too. She even taught me to understand Schwäbisch, a local dialect, which came in handy when my car broke down near Stuttgart a couple years later.

What was it like to come back for the 15 Year Alumni Reunion?

Actually, I have attended several reunions. I like to keep in touch and it’s always great to be back in Hamburg. This time I actually brought my wife and two children with me. We stayed with my friend Lana, who I met during the exchange and who is now married to a Bucerius graduate with three kids of her own. The little ones really hit it off even though they didn’t speak each other’s language, and when we had to say goodbye, there were big tears. I guess that’s the Law School Family Spirit for you.

Has the school changed a lot since you studied here?

Well, back then there was no Auditorium, and we had to go for lunch in a café in Planten un Blomen because the campus cafeteria was still under construction… Of course the school has grown a lot over the past 15 years: our class consisted of 67 exchange students, a number which has almost doubled since then. Nevertheless, I do think the school has kept its nice familiar feel.

So where has you professional life taken you after your brief spell at Bucerius?

I finished my Dutch law degree and enrolled in the European Master in Law and Economics, a joint European program through which I was able to study in Bologna, Gent and Vienna – all in one short year.

After writing my Master’s thesis on pharmaceutical registration procedures, I got a job as Legal Affairs Officer at a European pharmaceutical branch association in Brussels. So, if one of the European members has a local issue with a registration case, I was flown in for specialist support.

It was quite a challenging job for someone fresh out of university and definitely a quick lesson on the various legal cultures in Europe. It also reminded me how important it is to take the local legal culture into account and to stay flexible. If you do that, you may still win the legal argument, even though your case may not look perfect on paper.

Then, after a couple of years I decided to go back to the Netherlands and complete my qualification as a Dutch lawyer, so I worked in a private practice for a couple of years in order to get admitted to the Bar. During that time I started to specialize in IP law because I wanted to return to the science and technology sector.

And did your plan work out?

It sure did. I am currently Director IP & Legal at NXP Semiconductors, a leading semiconductor company. Most of my colleagues are engineers or patent attorneys, so you have to be really IP-savvy in order to keep up. But I like the challenge. I am amongst others responsible for all R&D contracting work within NXP and I head the company’s anti-counterfeiting team. We are always looking for opportunities to make smart use of intellectual property rights so that our businesses can generate additional benefits. It’s a really diverse job, which never gets boring. It will get even more interesting after the upcoming merger with Freescale Semiconductor, the former semiconductor division of Motorola. That is going to double the size of the company and make us even more international.

Annika Tangena