Forever Connected: On the importance of Alumni work

Most students at Bucerius Law School stay closely connected to the university even after they graduate. Why is that? Why is it important?

Education & Study |

Studying at Bucerius Law School is not mere legal training that ends with a Bachelor of Laws degree and the First State Examination. It is a phase of life in a community in which learning and research, shared experiences and, last but not least, celebrations take place. Or, as Ruben Rehr, a member since 2014 and the current president of the association, puts it: where memories are made.

It is also these shared experiences and memories that bind the students to their university in a special way – and that extends well beyond the duration of their studies. For most graduates, it is therefore only natural that they would join the Bucerius Alumni Association after the state examination. “For me, that was the next logical step,” says Ruben Rehr.

Their strong emotional bond with Bucerius Law School makes the association attractive for students and, conversely, the alumni for the university. The graduates convey the ideas and values ​​of Bucerius Law School to the outside world, but also come back on to campus as advisors. Over the years, a network of almost 2,000 alumni has emerged who still feel connected to their university and continue to shape it with their commitment long after they have finished their studies.


Where does the idea of an alumni association come from?

The idea of ​​alumni work originates from Anglo-American countries. It has a long tradition there: in the United States, graduates of Williams College in Williamsburg founded the first alumni association as early as 1821. In Germany, the tradition is not so longstanding.

However, here too universities have long recognized that everyone benefits from contact with alumni: the alumni, the students, as well as the university. Around 300 universities are organized in the umbrella organization, of which Bucerius Law School is also a member. They all maintain relationships with their graduates and involve them in the further development of their institutions.

Alumni work has a positive impact on the university

The requirements for maintaining such relations are quite different at the various universities. The alumni associations of private institutions are often better equipped financially. Public universities, which have many departments, tend to have a harder time. Studying at such institutions is often more impersonal overall, and a student’s emotional attachment to his or her university is therefore not as strong. “But in the meantime everyone has understood that alumni work has a positive effect on them,” says Dr. Annette Bärwinkel, who heads alumni relations at Bucerius Law School and is a member of the board of the umbrella organization

According to Bärwinkel, a broad network of alumni increases the visibility of the university in the region. And when competing for students, according to Bärwinkel, the later professional success of the graduates and their personal recommendations are the best advertising. In addition, every university has to plan its future development. It is also important to keep in touch with former students. “We need to know where her education has taken her, and how the legal market is developing,” says Bärwinkel. “This is important for the future viability of Bucerius Law School.”


What exactly is the graduate fair?

The alumni are sponsors of the university – financially, but above all ideally. They are also the mentors of the students and support them when they begin their careers. The students learn from the experience of the alumni and have them by their side as advisors, or even future employers.

At Bucerius Law School, most students therefore join Alumni e.V. immediately after completing their bachelor’s degrees. From this point on, they can benefit from the network even before starting their careers. Together with the association, Annette Bärwinkel organizes the annual graduate fair, where students, alumni and sponsors meet.

It's a crucial platform. There, the alumni meet young colleagues whose qualifications they can trust. Equally importantly, the students get to know future colleagues. Of course, all students can visit the fair. Anyone who is already a member of Alumni e.V. can also conduct job interviews with employers directly at the fair. Some organize their entire traineeship that afternoon.

In addition to the training fair, there are also other offerings: the career newsletter, for example, which Annette Bärwinkel sends to alumni every week, and in which she provides information about job offers and the careers of previous graduates.

Founding of the university video studio

However, the practical benefit is just one aspect of why most alumni of Bucerius Law School take it for granted that they will remain part of the university even after they graduate. “We also want to ensure good training for the future,” says club president Ruben Rehr. “The next generations should also get what we got.”

The club sees itself as a driving force, says Rehr. The Alumni e.V. has created an important impetus for digital teaching, for example. For its 10th anniversary, the association donated a video studio to the university. The studio is at first glance a financial investment in technical infrastructure. In fact, however, it stands for much more: the idea was to promote e-learning and to develop new digital learning formats. The Bucerius Law School is now well-positioned to offer blended learning to its students.

There is a dedicated department for this: the Learning Innovation Lab. Also headed by an alumnus, the lab co-ordinates and produces the production of legal videos. A series of 36 videos on the law of civil procedure was created in the university’s own video studio. The “video series for the lecture” shows all exam-relevant content in the field of civil law procedures and can be viewed by the exam candidates at any time – a project that is unique in Germany.


Prizes for supporting teaching and research

In order to promote the quality of teaching and research, the association also regularly awards prizes to outstanding professors and young scientists. The association also organizes events such as the “How does that work?” series, in which alumni pass on their knowledge about their studies, exams, doctorates, and, of course, starting their careers. The association also organizes the alumni dinner once a year – for many graduates an event that they look forward to long in advance.

The class of 2000 established the alumni association

But the alumni don’t just give something back to the university. They also benefit from their membership in the Alumni e.V. network. Anyone who joins the association after graduating becomes part of a network that can accompany them throughout their lives. That was the idea when the company was founded, which was promoted in particular by Sebastian Naber. He was part of the first intake of students at Bucerius Law School and one of the first graduates. He experienced his student days as very intense, he says.

After graduating, he didn’t want to lose contact with his fellow students. That’s why he co-founded the Alumni e.V. network. Now a lawyer, he is still active in the association. Sebastian Naber appreciates the professional exchange between former graduates. He co-heads the labor law specialist group and says: “You won’t find such a top-class forum anywhere else.”


Alumni share their stories over pretzels and wine

Laura Schmidt is also in the labor law specialist group. She began her studies in 2009 and completed her state examination in 2014. Immediately afterwards, she joined the Bucerius Alumni e.V. association. When she talks about her time as a student, you can clearly see the emotional bond she still has with the university. Schmidt also emphasizes that the association is a driver of innovation, especially with regard to the reform of legal training. An employment law attorney today, she also appreciates the strong bond she has with the other graduates.

For more than two years she has presented the podcast “Pretzels & Wine” for the alumni association. The idea for ​​the podcast came from Constantin Glaesner, who produced it together with Sven Störmann. The podcast is about alumni who have taken an unusual path professionally.

The response to it has been great – precisely because of the listeners’ personal connection to the university. Laura Schmidt is convinced of that. “Studying at Bucerius Law School is very personal, as everyone knows each other,” she says. “And that's why the interest in each other and in the stories of graduates lasts long after graduation.”


Where are things going? Bucerius 2030 – shaping the future with courage

The alumni of Bucerius Law School would like to continue providing momentum for the law school going forward. The association is represented in the university committees, as well as in the Senate and the Board of Trustees. It meets regularly with the university management. According to President Ruben Rehr, the association intends to support the expansion of Bucerius Law School in the form of the construction of the new building on campus in the coming months.

In order to help shape the strategic development of the university, he recently published the position paper “Bucerius 2030 – and Shaping the future with courage”. For more than a year, graduates have sat together in four working groups and drafted various perspectives on how the university should develop for future students.

In autumn 2021, the association adopted the paper at a closed conference. It contains, for example, demands for a more diverse student body, for a strengthening of the Bucerius LLB, and for other innovations in teaching and research. That should also be an impetus for development, says Rehr. With their various perspectives on the development issue, the alumni would like to initiate a debate about the future of Bucerius Law School, and thereby actively help to shape it.


Elke Spanner, Florian Helwich