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Mies Westerveld, professor of Social Insurance law and professor by special appointment of Legal Aid will be leaving the UvA on 22 November 2019, following an academic career spanning over two decades. She developed an interest in social welfare during her time working at a legal aid centre (as a student, and subsequently full-time employee) and later career as a pro bono lawyer. 'You get to make a real difference in the day-to-day practice.'

Mies Westerveld
Mies Westerveld

Mies Westerveld's UvA career started in 1997, when she took up a position as associate professor of Social Security Law. We were still at the Rokin at the time. They were looking for a lecturer who could teach students about the real-world legal practice as well as the theoretical side.

Before starting her academic career, Mies Westerveld had spent years working at a legal aid centre and practising as a pro bono lawyer. 'I was mainly interested in labour law and social security legislation. There was a lot of debate about the Invalidity Insurance Act at the time, and I noticed that many people were dealing with regulations and decisions they didn't really understand. I felt it was my mission to support them in that process.'

The issue of social welfare has since been the common thread in Westerveld's work. She obtained her doctorate in 1994 following a thesis on old age and survivor's pensions within the framework of the social security system. She has since published on a wide range of topics, including the role of care in the social security system, reintegration, public versus private employee insurance schemes, the trends towards contractualisation of social security and youth employment schemes, and - more recently - social protection for workers without employment contracts. 

Westerveld: 'When it comes to research subjects, I've always followed my instincts. What are the most important issues of today? What sort of problems are people dealing with? I always felt those were interesting starting points for research. For example, my inaugural lecture - entitled 'the stepchild of labour law' discussed the legal position of self-employed contractors. 

The day-to-day legal practice also plays a key role in Westerveld's teaching. 'I try to teach students that lawyers can make a real difference by clearly explaining information. Social welfare involves so many regulations, and people often get crushed in the gears by the bureaucratic system. What's more, that system isn't always fair. Those are important skills for future lawyers.' 

Legal aid

In 2007, she was invited to take up a position as professor by special appointment of Legal aid, a chair funded by the Legal Aid Board. Westerveld: 'as chair holder on behalf of the organisation, I see it as my mission to make the general public, politicians and law students aware of the importance of affordable, high-quality mediation services, legal aid and legal assistance.

She also started a political career several years later, serving in the Senate on behalf of the PvdA Labour party from 2003 to 2011. Westerveld took up a second chair as professor of Social security law in 2011, marking the end of her time in the Senate. 

Access to legal aid

As a part of her farewell ceremony on 22 November, Westerveld will be organising a symposium on an issue close to her social-democratic heart: the future of accessible legal aid, especially for those with limited means. 'We're examining the issue from a positive, visionary perspective. How will the accessibility of legal aid develop in future? What role could pro bono lawyers play in this process? What about artificial intelligence? Can we expect to see rulings published online soon? A debate with Netherlands Institute for Social Research director Kim Putters will serve to place these issues in a broader social context.'

Time out

Having enjoyed an eventful academic and political career, Mies Westerveld now plans to 'retire from everything'. Both chairs will cease to exist, and no new successors will be appointed. 'I made a very conscious decision to stop working, and I see the coming period as a useful time-out. Too many people around me just keep going no matter what. My retirement offers a great opportunity to find new meaning in the last part of my life.' 

About Mies Westerveld

Mies Westerveld studied Law at Erasmus University Rotterdam, spent two years working at a legal aid centre during her time as a student, and worked as a pro bono lawyer for the next ten years before obtaining her doctorate at Utrecht University in 1994. She was appointed associate professor at the UvA, where she later went on to become a professor. Westveld held two chairs over the course of her career: Legal Aid and Social Insurance Law. Mies Westerveld was also politically active from 2003 to 2011 and became a member of the Senate on behalf of the PvdA party following the 2003 Senate elections.