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Peter Smits

Peter Smits studied Dutch Law and graduated in 1986. He finished his dissertation in 1996 on Article 6 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Ten years ago he initiated the 'ING Advocaten', ING's internal law firm.

"Tilburg Law School was small but worked very hard on excellent research and education. That attitude has obviously paid off."


 Why did you choose Tilburg University for your studies?

Traditionally, at that time, if you chose Law, you chose one of the traditional universities like Leiden University. My father studied Law at Leiden University, but lectured at Tilburg University (he unfortunately passed away when I was 10). We lived in Breda. I had many interests when I was about 17, sports, music (even thought about attending the conservatorium) and I had the feeling that by studying in Tilburg, I could do more extra-curricular activities. The first 6 months of my studies were awful. I did not understand a thing, I found the concepts very difficult and I thought to myself “this is never going to work”. I am glad I chose Tilburg. At that time, we called it the “Calimero” effect (remember the little cartoon-bird?). Tilburg Law School was small but worked very hard on excellent research and education. That attitude has obviously paid off.

"I have always kept in touch with Jan Vranken, we share a passion for the “written word”."


Who was your favorite professor, and why?

My favorite professor was Professor Jan Vranken. I worked for the department as an assistant, and he asked me to look into the “Willems”-arrest from 1965. I looked into it and kept on discovering really interesting articles. So I decided to do my PhD on it. It was a little sad that a few months into my PhD, I discovered that someone else had already studied this subject. I discontinued it and started a job at Law firm Houben in Breda. I have always kept in touch with Jan Vranken, we share a passion for the “written word”.


Could you share an anecdote from your time at University?

As I said, the first year of my studies was hard for me. I failed miserably at criminal law, the subject my father used to teach. Since he had passed away, I could not consult him, I missed that. So I went up in the attic to see if there were any books to help me out, and I found his books, notes and exams. Finally I started to understand all the difficult law-concepts. A year later I passed the exam very successfully. I think that in some way, my father did help me out.

"Having finished my PhD, I was at a crossroad. Stay at the university or go back to being an attorney?"


What career-path did you follow?

I started my career at Houben, a Law firm in Breda. I followed a really steep learning curve, being 24 and having to help crying mothers through a divorce, or talk to young offenders.

After a few years, I wanted to see more of the world. I applied for an international scholarship, and was accepted as the only Dutch candidate into a German program. My fellow students came from all over the world and we stayed in various German towns. An unforgettable international experience that opened my eyes.

I then felt ready for the long haul and decided on a PhD on Article 6 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which indicates that people have a right to a fair trial.

Having finished my PhD, I was at a crossroad. Stay at the university or go back to being an attorney? Quite unexpected I became a legal counsel at ING, and despite having no knowledge of the financial world, it appealed to me.

ING paid outside firms big money for all kinds of litigation and legal work. I pitched to the corporate staff that part of the workload could easily be done by in-house lawyers. I started “ING Advocaten” in 2002. It was hard work at first, we had to fight for internal clients and we had to build up a reputation. Now, 10 years later, we have several partners and lots of work. Saving ING a ton in fees, I’m sure.


What are your ambitions for the future?

In 2004, publishing firm Kluwer contacted me for a second edition of my PhD-book. It was widely used, but had started to become outdated. The second edition was published in 2008 and I still continue to write articles and I am involved in academic work. This combination of business and academics is very appealing to me, but there is definitely one thing that would be the crown on my career that’s the judiciary. I am looking at the options.


What role did Tilburg University play in your life, and how did it influence your career?

At various stages I talked to my favorite professor Vranken and that helped me make my career- choices, like selecting the topic for my PhD.

"I am very impressed by the ambition and scale of the Microjustice Project and can’t wait to see it in practice."


Does Tilburg University currently play a role in your life?

It definitely does now. When I received a brochure in the mail about the Annual Fund for Tilburg Law School, my eye caught the word “Microjustice”. I was impressed with the fact that TISCO Institute has the ambition to make law accessible on an international scale. Even in the Netherlands, accessibility to law remains an issue, with legal fees and all. Now TISCO comes up with an ambition to make law accessible in a number of developing countries. I was really intrigued and had several conversations with the people working on this project (Corry van Zeeland en Jin Ho Verdonschot). I offered them to pitch this project to the ING Charity Fund, ING 'écht©goed doen' and in that way raise some money. Together with the University we worked on a proposal and the project was approved by the steering committee of 'écht©goed doen. Then I had to campaign at ING, and we were voted the number 4 charity-cause by my ING colleagues we raised EUR 50.000 for Microjustice in Kibera, Kenia. I am travelling* there in March 2012 to see for myself what is happening to the funds. I am very impressed by the ambition and scale of the Microjustice Project and can’t wait to see it in practice.


* Meanwhile, Peter Smits, along with Jin Ho Verdonschot and Robert Porter, has been to Kenya. With his own eyes he saw what the project Microjustice means for the population.