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uni'alumni 2016

PORTRAIT Alumni Network uni'alumni 2016 “A World Opened Up before Me” The jurist Bettina Limperg is President of the German Federal Court of Justice There can be no absolute truth when people are fighting out a battle in court. After all, life is not a mathematical equation in which “right” is neatly separat- ed from “wrong.” But a judge has to make a decision. There’s no place for “I don’t know” or “That’s a difficult question,” says Bettina Limperg. “There are rules that make the decision easier to make, but nobody can take away your responsibility.” The jurist does not idealize her profession, and this is precisely where her passion and devotion show through: Bettina Limpert is a judge out of personal conviction – and in 2014 she was appointed President of the German Federal Court of Justice. She knows the system of courts forwards and backwards, having pronounced sen- tences at the county court, the state court, and the higher regional court level. Posters and Prattle Circles Limperg knew she wanted to become a judge from early on. When she was 16 she joined an extracurricular legal studies group at her school in Wuppertal. A judge from the state court debated civil and criminal law cases with the students and familiarized them with German law. “I saw a whole new world open up before me,” remembers Limperg. In 1979, when she matriculated in a law degree program, she began to study this newly discovered cosmos in more detail. It was by chance that she ended up in Freiburg: The “Central Office for the Allocation of Study Places,” which was responsible for university admissions at the time, decided where she would be admitted. “But I learned to appreciate Southern Germany quickly,” she says. She used her free time to explore the Black Forest by foot or bicycle, and she also took advantage of lectures from the Studium Generale program. “That’s the great thing about a university town: You see a poster in the morning and are sitting at the lecture that evening.” Limperg was interested in history, politics, and philosophy – she also wanted to get to know law’s neighboring fields. “A couple of friends and I founded a philosophy of law prattle circle.” The group was more serious than the name suggests: “We met regularly, read philosophy of law writings, and discussed core questions of jurisprudence.” Limperg accepted her first position as a judge when she was 29 years old. As a young woman, she found herself having to fight for her “standing in the courtroom” on one or the other occasion. Today she advocates setting up mentoring programs for young colleagues to intro- duce them to aspects of their profession that don’t receive much attention during law studies. “At the university one doesn’t learn how to deal with top dogs or unre- liable witnesses.” When Limperg decided 20 years ago to start not only a career but also a family, her superiors reacted with astonishment: “Are you sure that’s what you want? Won’t it be bad for the children?” She had to explain herself constantly, remembers the 55-year-old. “Even today we are unfortunately far from living in a world where combining work and family is a perfectly natural thing for women to do.” Maintaining Legal Certainty The jurist did not want to pursue a career as an attorney. She appreciates the independence she enjoys as a judge – no clients to give her false information; no pressure to constantly expand her client base. Neither was Limperg inter- ested in a career in academia. She was interested in applying her knowledge, not brooding over theories: “I want to be a part of the system that maintains legal stability and legal certainty.” At the Federal Court of Justice she pronounces every sentence together with four other judges, but that doesn’t mean she has less responsibility: “We have less cases to deal with, but we have to make decisions of fundamental significance.” Rimma Gerenstein At the start of her career, Bettina Limperg had to fight for her standing in the court- room. Today she advocates assigning experienced mentors to young colleagues to teach them about aspects that don’t receive much attention during law studies. Photo: Anja Koehler 14