When it’s okay to tackle legal problems using Google, and when you should call in an expert

Growing up in a family of lawyers, Katarina Maisnerova always knew she would go into the law. But after years of professional arguing as an executor, she decided teaching was her real vocation. Here she describes her ‘fairy tale’ life teaching, and why it's important to understand how the law touches everything we do…

You’re a qualified lawyer, as well as a university lecturer. How did that come about?

Yes, I’m an attorney, specialising mainly in business law. Most of my career, before I had my children, I worked as an executor. Being an executor is a very specialised practise, but unfortunately there’s a lot of negativity — everyone you meet is stressed, and all day long you’re arguing with someone. So I decided I needed to do something new, and I got into teaching! Teaching students is the opposite of being an executor — you enter a room full of optimistic young people, and there is no conflict, the sun shines, people laugh… I’m making it sound like a fairy tale — of course, there are some stressful moments, but compared to my former career… let’s say that I have found something I really enjoy in teaching!

So do you also still practise as an attorney?

I do. I never stopped. But I have small kids who are just entering kindergarten — three boys, who are 5, 4 and 2 years old,  so I’m not able to frequently go to court. I therefore focus on writing contracts, contacting clients, those kinds of activities, as they allow me more flexibility. 

What classes do you teach?

On the English programme I teach Law for Managers — it’s a second year programme. And I also teach the same in Czech, as well as some others — Labour Laws, and Law and Business.

Why do business students need to study law?

Well, how useful it is depends on how it is taught. Several universities offer “law for non-lawyers” courses, or similar, but I think they’re useless. In one semester you teach a reduced version of a 1000-page book on legal theory, and it’s just impossible to turn it into anything useful for the students. So I try to do it differently, by trying to show students that the law is in every part of their lives — they go into the supermarket and buy something, that is legally relevant behaviour, they get married, that is also legally relevant behaviour. I want my students to understand what they should expect from the law in their professional and personal lives — and, crucially, which situations they can handle themselves with some Googling, and when they should ask for professional help. This is my mission – to inform them. 

How is this term going so far?

I’m excited that we have perfect equipment. Most of my students are online, and I’m not an expert in using new technologies, but both the technology and the support are brilliant, so it’s great to not have to worry about that. 

Are you involved in anything else at NEWTON?

I’m also the Guarantor of the LLM programme (Master of Laws) at NEWTON. 

What’s the most interesting thing you’re working on at the moment?

I think the most interesting thing is personalising the course. Every semester is different from this point of view. This year we have people from different countries, and with different professional backgrounds and career ambitions, and we can talk about the role of the law in these specific areas – and in this way, we still go through all of the information that’s on the syllabus, but it’s relevant and interesting for the students. And I also try to make it fun – for example, when we had to go through international law, I set a task where they found a new, lonely island and they had to explain what they would need to do to be understood and respected by the rest of the world. 

Are you doing any research at the moment?

I am in the last year of my PhD studies, and my research is related to my career as an executor. It’s about comparing executional costs — so, nothing interesting for normal people! I’ve been working on it for ages, so I’m a bit sick of it – I can’t wait to be finished so that I can start something new that I’m more interested in right now.