Young lawyer attends top US university thanks to grant

If all goes well, Ellen Caen (26) will board a plane to California next week. There she will study for a year at the prestigious University of Berkeley. The young lawyer specializing in digital law has received a grant from the Flemish government for this. The former Miss Belgium finalist is determined to grab every chance she gets with both hands. “Sometimes you have to prove yourself a little more as a woman.”

It was not exactly written in the stars that Ellen would go in the direction of the legal profession, but rather sports. After all, Ellen Caen from Bruges played tennis at a competitive level for years and was also very active in gymnastics and dance. In addition, her mother Annick Verhelle is a sports and salsa teacher, while her father Gino Caen is active as an assistant in KV Oostende after a period in the football clubs Anderlecht, AA Gent and Zulte Waregem. And her brother is a doctor in sports science. “In the beginning, I hesitated between sports and law. But a cycling accident at the age of fifteen that resulted in torn cruciate ligaments was ultimately the deciding factor in choosing rights,’ says Ellen. “I am now super happy with the path I have traveled.”

The Brugse who live in Ghent today are unusually versatile. In addition to her sporting talent, she also studied violin at the Conservatory for nine years and was also a lifeguard in Zeebrugge for five years. But since 2014, the focus has been on her studies. She then went to Ghent University to study law. Three years later, she earned a master’s degree and also took a semester in Miami. There she immersed herself in the so-calledcommon law, where legal decisions are made on the basis of previous similar rulings. This system is found in the United States and Great Britain, among others. “At that time, I had also written my thesis on migration law, where I did a comparative study between border policy in the USA and Europe. How do they differ and where can they learn from each other? I learned a lot from that period.”

Strong numbers

After her studies, Ellen started working for the law firm Eubelius. “I had already done a summer internship there before. Initially, my focus was on dispute resolution and litigation, but then I joined Eubelius’ digital team and focused more on digital law. Within that field, we handle all digitally related cases. Very fascinating topic, especially now that a lot of new European regulations are coming, from artificial intelligence to open data and digital services. Things that will become increasingly important in the future.”

“My field, digital law, will only gain more importance in the future.” © Joke Couvreur

Curious as she is, Ellen was determined to continue her education. “Because as a specialist in digital law, you also have to understand the technology perfectly in order to apply the law. At Berkeley, they have excellent training for this, combining the legal and the technical.”

Berkeley is not just another university. Many graduates have built impressive careers. Good for a total of 223 Olympic medals, 114 Nobel Prize candidates, 30 Pulitzer Prizes, 20 Oscar winners, 7 ministers, a large number of high-ranking politicians, 40 billionaires and presidents of Colombia, Mexico and Pakistan, among others. Not to mention famous entrepreneurs like Steve Wozniak of Apple.

Life on pause

Ellen was hoping to get her LLM in the US (cand.law., ed.) to achieve, she only had to swallow when she saw the cost. “The education would cost me 110,000 euros for one year. There was still the possibility of a scholarship, but even then I still lacked 60,000 euros. Two months later I saw on the website of the Flemish government that there was a draft decree for a new international scholarship program, Fayat.” After she submitted an application and went through the process, she was told in early June that she could go to the States. I am very grateful to the Flemish government. I had to fix it all quickly, which is not to be underestimated. You don’t just have to settle there – with a lot of paperwork involved – but your life has to be put on hold here. It takes getting used to. Also for my friend, who will continue to live and work in Ghent, but who comes to visit me.”

Next Friday Ellen goes to the USA, a few days later she is already in class. “There, they follow the Socrates method, where the students prepare the lesson and discuss it with each other during the lesson. I am also a member Women in Technical Law, a group of ambitious women who discuss interesting topics in digital law and organize activities about it. By participating in such activities, you can obtain a specialization certificate in addition to a classic diploma. It is quite prestigious. And in the end, I can still pass the bar exam to be able to work as a lawyer in the US as well. I’m not sure about that yet, because then you have to know American law by heart in two months. It is a serious challenge. (laughing) But I like that. I always look for the best in myself.”

Bias

So what? “I am someone who does not like to look too far into the future. I take it day by day. Working in a top office like Eubelius was and is a great honor and it has given me a lot of experience and confidence. As a lawyer, you also have to be sure.”

However, this was not always the case. “That confidence also increased when I took part in Miss West Flanders in 2017 and became second lady of honour. At Miss Belgium I learned to speak in front of an audience and to be even more sociable. I have good memories of that, partly because my good friend Romanie (Schotte, ed.) won.”

Ex-Miss Contender and Lawyer… it’s almost inevitable that Ellen will be confronted with prejudice. “Yes. But not in the office where I work. They are very respectful there. But some people sometimes look strange. Being social and spontaneous seems at odds with being intelligent. The legal profession can be a rough world. Sometimes you have to as a woman just prove yourself a bit more. But there’s still a lot of prejudice beyond that. On social media, I often get, uh… superficial messages. (laughing) Let them underestimate me. I know what I am worth.”

Even more West Flemish talents with a grant

The Fayat scholarship was launched in the spring. With this, the Flemish government wants to give promising students the opportunity to obtain an additional master’s degree at a top foreign institution. With this, they not only want to expand our expertise, but also put Flanders on the map. The government allocates 2 million euros for this, whereby 20 to 30 students can be supported per year. academic year. In addition to Ellen, there are two other people from West Flanders who were awarded a grant. Maxim Vandenberghe from Kortrijk is a PhD student at Ghent University, where he has obtained a master’s degree in political science. Jord Laporte from Bruges is studying business engineering at Ghent University and will soon be starting business school in Paris. (BVB)

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