Competition lawyer working for International Justice Mission
This week we speak to Tineke Knigge who, until very recently, was a lawyer at Baker & McKenzie, and is now using her legal skills at the International Justice Mission ("IJM") in South Asia (we are not allowed to disclose the exact location for security reasons). She has gone from working in the City as an EC/Competition Lawyer to working on sex trafficking cases involving young girls in the Third World. How did she get here?
mtl: Hi, Tineke. So tell us how you got to where you are and what it’s like – start at the beginning.
Tineke: Ok. I’m originally from Holland but I studied Law with European Legal Studies at Durham University in the UK. I had always been interested in law and really enjoyed the four year course, which included a year studying in France.
I definitely wanted to qualify as a lawyer and I decided to do that in the UK because to go back and qualify in Holland would have meant doing another degree! I got a training contract at Baker & McKenzie in my final year at Durham and then went off to do the LPC at Nottingham.
My training contract was a good experience, based in the City but with 3 months in Amsterdam. In 2003 I qualified into Baker & McKenzie’s EC Competition & Trade department in London and in 2005 I got the opportunity to go out to the Brussels office. All was going very well.
mtl: So what made you decide to try something different?
Tineke: Going out to Brussels was great in that it allowed me to take a step back from my hectic London life. It cleared my head and I was able to ask myself what I really wanted to get out of my life.
I was enjoying being a competition lawyer but I really felt I wanted to do something that was about helping people who are being oppressed and abused – people who don’t have anyone else to help them. I wanted to be able to help change someone else’s life. I’m not saying that life in the City has no value, but you are helping big companies who are able to pay for the best lawyers, and you always feel that someone else would fill your shoes if you weren’t there.
My primary motivation has been my Christian faith and what it has to say about injustice. I believe that we have a responsibility to seek justice for those who are suffering abuse and oppression and I wanted to play my part.
And so I started looking into the possibility of joining an organisation as a volunteer. The position at IJM came up and it was just what I was looking for! A chance to use my legal skills in their legal team ‘on the ground’ and to add value to the work they do.
Baker & McKenzie were incredibly supportive about my decision. They have agreed to keep by job open until next year. It is very comforting knowing that I have the option to go back if I wish.
mtl: Indeed. But tell us more about the IJM and about your role.
Tineke: IJM is a human rights agency, based on Christian principles, that rescues victims of oppression and injustice in countries where the victims cannot turn to local authorities for relief. I am working with IJM as a legal volunteer in one of their offices in South Asia for one year. The office that I work in focuses on cases of forced sexual exploitation. This will usually mean young girls who are being held against their will for use in the sex trade.
Graduated from Durham University - Law with European Studies
LPC at Nottingham Law School
Commenced Training Contract at Baker & McKenzie
Qualified into EC/competition
Moved to Brussels office
Our office comprises of the legal team (of which I am a part), the investigations team and the aftercare team. The investigations team find out whether there are girls (particularly minors) being held against their will. We support them from a legal point of view and we also deal with the subsequent judicial process to get the girls put into protective aftercare homes (if it is not safe for them to go back to their family) and to take them through the trial process against the perpetrators. The aftercare team helps the girls find suitable aftercare homes where they can recover from the abuse. My colleagues have already been involved in several successful raids since I got here, in which a number of girls were rescued and the perpetrators arrested. So that is very exciting. The next challenge is to see these girls put into safe aftercare homes, and for the perpetrators to remain in custody and ultimately be convicted.
I have been to court a few times with my local colleagues, and have visited an aftercare home where I met a number of small teenage girls who IJM helped rescue from sex slavery. That was a very powerful experience. I have been to see some of the brothels in the area – they are horrific places.
Part of my work involves seeking an in-depth understanding of the legal issues that IJM faces in trying to obtain justice for victims of sexual exploitation. At the moment, the conviction rate for sex traffickers is depressingly low (only a small percentage of the cases that come to court lead to convictions). Our vision is that we will become experts on the law in this area, so that we can start to win cases and see perpetrators actually convicted. In the vast majority of the cases it is clear that the accused committed the criminal act, but they manage to get off on procedural technicalities. We want that to stop.
mtl: So something of a change from Brussels! It must be quite a challenge – have you been thrown in at the deep end?
Tineke: Well, I had a week’s training at IJM’s headquarters in Washington DC at the beginning of June. I was then able to spend about 1.5 weeks with my family in the Netherlands for a much needed break, which was wonderful. I flew out to South Asia at the end of June.
I had a fantastic time at IJM’s headquarters. It was really inspiring to meet all of IJM’s “head honchos”. The training programme was excellent and a lot of fun. It was also really great to meet the other international volunteers.
It certainly is very different from Brussels but I’ve settled in quickly. I have managed to find a wonderful flat not far from the office, which I am sharing with another female volunteer, so that is great. We are slowly getting the flat up and running. Thankfully, my local colleagues have been really good at helping me find furniture and household items. I am getting used to getting around, to the food, the culture, the language, the climate – but there is still a lot to learn. I managed to find a great church near home, and also a karate club, so that is brilliant. I have met some great people, both in and out of the IJM office, but am still getting to know them and building up relationships.
Since I arrived, there have been a number of safety threats, both natural (floods) and man-made (political unrest). Thankfully, I have so far managed to stay safe. All-in-all, it has been an incredible experience, with a steep learning curve.
mtl: How do you survive financially, as an unpaid volunteer?
Tineke: I have received sponsorship and funding from a number of individuals who support the work I’m doing on behalf of IJM. When I signed up to do it I spoke about it at my church in Brussels and at the Brussels Christian Leadership Forum, as well as telling colleagues at Bakers about it. People are incredibly generous when they realise the nature of the work we are carrying out.
Money is not really an issue for me. As long as I can eat and pay the bills, I’m ok. You really cannot buy the feeling of getting up in the morning genuinely excited about work, looking forward to the day, knowing that, while elements of it may be harrowing, it will also be extremely rewarding.
mtl: So what should lawyers do who are inspired by your story?
Tineke: There are lots of opportunities here at the IJM, for a start. They should have a look at the website: www.ijm.org. The Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship (www.lawcf.org) is another good place to look. Or they could try www.lawyerswithoutborders.org.
I think it’s a fantastic experience – I don’t think anyone would ever regret it.
mtl: Tineke, thank you very much for speaking to us and good luck at the IJM.
If you know any other lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives or who have a great work/life balance then please get in touch.
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