There’s no doubt that the Bundeskanzler Stipendiaten und Stipendiatinnen are a talented group of people that I hold dear to my heart, but the foundation’s annual meeting revealed the true extent of the Alexander von Humboldt network. Researchers from literally every corner of the world and their families gathered in Berlin to celebrate knowledge, and it was truly fantastic.

The key note speaker, Nobel Laureate and Humboldtian Serge Haroche, discussed the seemingly tenuous but very real connection between “blue sky” (theoretical) research and technology. Although his talk was extremely scientific and his actual work in quantum physics far exceeds my scientific understanding and makes me feel a bit undeserving of the Humboldian title, I could relate to his message.  Like “blue sky” scientific researchers, legal researchers are often working on issues that appear to have no practical use.  In my research, I am confronted with challenges that involve changing healthcare culture, societal thinking, and deeply imbedded legal processes; in other words, much of what I discuss and propose involves the hardest thing of all – changing people’s minds.

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Photo Credit: Humboldt-Stiftung/ David Ausserhofer

Changing the way people think doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time, a lot of time, and often the people who ignite ideas for change never witness its occurrence. Serge Haroche thanked the foundation for providing its researchers with time, for trusting that seemingly impractical studies will lead one day to change, and I echo that gratitude.

At their core, lawyers are thinkers, but in today’s legal market, they are very rarely given the time or space to think (you can’t bill for thinking – what specific piece of paper will you have to prove it when the auditors come around?). Why do we insist on separating the thinkers from the doers in the legal profession?

Like the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, I propose that the legal profession give practicing attorneys more space and time to do what compelled them to study law in the first place – create and imagine solutions for a better world. I propose that legal academics make room on their pedestals for practicing legal minds, to welcome them back into the world of theoretical legal thinking. I propose that clients recognize the value of attorneys that do more than meet reporting deadlines, file pleadings, and make fiery arguments. I propose that employers reward practitioners who strive to push the edges of legal thinking through research and scholarship. I propose that practitioners give themselves a break from the constant conflict of being a practicing attorney to reenergize their minds and re-inspire their work. I guess what I’m proposing that we change the way we think about legal thinking. Maybe this will help alleviate the levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and addiction in the legal profession. Just maybe.

Now that I’ve gotten all that off my chest, here are some photos from the Annual Meeting, during which we were welcomed by President Steinmeier for a reception at Bellevue Schloss.


And last, but never least, I have to mention my husband’s amazing portrait of Alexander von Humboldt commissioned by the BUKAS.

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Photo Credit: Humboldt-Stiftung/ David Ausserhofer

My fellow BUKA, Carolina Nunes, and her husband, Walter Weingaertner, always capture the most lovely images of our BUKA adventures. You can view their images from the annual meeting here.