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PhD juggles law and two kids

At work, she examines the dense rhetoric of legal argument. At home, she takes care of her two kids

Suddenly, after a year-and-a-half, Slovenian PhD student Urska Sadl has found out that you can open the top doors of a huge, white, built-in cupboard in her office at the Faculty of Law in Copenhagen.

»How can I ever fill these shelves?,« she asks apologetically, as this reporter looks on with mock disapproval at her two rows of books in the middle.

»I was thinking of storing our own stuff in it,« she laughs, referring to the stuff of her family and two kids.

Legacy books

Now, as she stands up on the chair and peers into the newly discovered shelves, she discovers rows upon rows of economics textbooks.

»All this cupboard space is my legacy from the previous owner,« she laughs.

Urska Sadl is researching how the European Court of Justice justifies its decisions. As I come in, she is preparing a Master’s course she will be teaching this semester in comparative law: ‘Courts in context’.

Got bored

In one sense, being at the office now is like taking a break: Her workload during her maternity break would leave most of us struggling for breath.

»I was getting bored because I didn’t speak any Danish. I couldn’t take part in any of the activities that mothers with children take part in here,« she explains.

So she started taking Danish classes.

Relaxed in class

»Taking Danish was the high point of my maternity leave. The little one slept well during the night and during afternoon naps. So my husband came home, and I could take off to class twice a week. I had my homework done, my notes reviewed.«

»My classmates, exhausted from their own jobs, made fun of me. They said: ‘Here she is with all the time on her hands.’«

»But I found it relaxing to be in Danish class for four hours, with people talking, not screaming, and with nobody needing a diaper change.«

See related article about how for Urska, Danish class was a break from changing diapers here.

Fascination – aversion

Urska’s choice of PhD subject was originally inspired by something that irritated her.

Working as a court clerk and a lawyer linguist at higher courts in Slovenia and at the European Court of Justice, she developed an aversion to the deliberately obscure rhetoric of judges’ opinions and decisions.

At first she was fascinated by the question of how the judges came to and wrote their opinion: What is a valid – what is a persuasive argument? Why is this a justified decision?

»But then I came back to Slovenia to work as a court clerk at the constitutional court, and this is where the spell broke,« Urska says. »I was given a list of formulas to put in. ‘We write like that, and you have to accept it’, they said.«

»But this is phoney! You are not answering the parties! You are just repeating some abstract Leitsätze, leading sentences, reminding them like a teacher does to pupils in class!«, she exclaims.

»I became increasingly irritated by how applicants lives were put into three paragraphs that actually say nothing«.

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