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Lawyer and professor of personal injury? Arvin Kolder does it, and it brings him much satisfaction

26 October 2021
Arvin Kolder
Arvin Kolder

As a lawyer, Arvin Kolder assists his clients in court regarding matters of personal injury. Once a week, however, he trades in his lawyer robes for those befitting a professor, so that he can hit the books with law students at the UG as Professor by special appointment of Personal Injury. Kolder loves his dual role: ‘I see myself doing this for many years.’ What is it like to fulfil that role? And how can his scientific research help him in practice?

Text: Thomas Vos, Communication UG / Photos: Henk Veenstra

Dressed sharply, with a fitted blue suit and head of curls, Arvin Kolder marches through the office at Kolder Vorsselman Laywers in Groningen-Zuid. The building barely stands out from the outside, but the law firm at the first floor is modern, and appears industrial. There is a big picture of a factory hall. Kolder: ‘Someone might pop in briefly to measure something. We are in the process of founding a teaching institute next to our work as lawyers, which will provide training courses to lawyers and other personal injury professionals. We will also offer free training courses to students, so they can get acquainted with the field.’

Only one in the Netherlands

Kolder has no shortage of ambition. When he was first made professor by special appointment in January 2020, he was the first Professor of Personal Injury (personal injury or damages resulting from death caused by another party) in the Netherlands. To this day, he remains the only one. The UG introduced the chair at the initiative of the Association of Lawyers of Personal Injury (LSA, Vereniging van Letselschade Advocaten), who aim to contribute to improving the handling of personal injuries. Kolder proved to be the most suitable candidate.

'Personal injury work really involves people and everyday events. Tripping over a pavement tile, getting hit by a car at a pedestrian crossing... The consequences can be very serious.'
'Personal injury work really involves people and everyday events. Tripping over a pavement tile, getting hit by a car at a pedestrian crossing... The consequences can be very serious.'

Football player

The path to becoming a professor and a lawyer was not always the obvious choice for Kolder. When he was younger, Kolder was a very promising football player, just like his brother Marnix, who later went professional: ‘We both studied and played football every single day. Eventually, you have to make a choice. We used to play against Sparta in Rotterdam, so we'd get home after the matches in the middle of the night. In the morning, I had to be in the lecture hall again. Eventually, that just became too much.’ Kolder chose to pursue his law programme: ‘It brought me the most satisfaction. And looking at where I am now, I am happy with my choice.’ In three years and 10 months, Kolder not only obtained his Bachelor’s degree, he also graduated with a cum laude distinction from the Master’s degree programme in Dutch Law. Kolder: ‘Alongside playing football, I ended up rushing through my studies. I never lived in a student room. Very boring, actually.’ As a student, he undertook an internship at Yspeert Lawyers in Groningen and at Houthoff law firm in Amsterdam, where he soon discovered that he wanted to become a lawyer.

Tripping over pavement tiles

Personal injury interested him even at this time. During his Master’s degree programme, he followed an elective course unit on this subject – a course unit he now coordinates himself. At that time, though, this course unit was taught by Fokko Oldenhuis (now honorary professor): ‘His lectures gripped me. Personal injury work really involves people and everyday events. Tripping over a pavement tile, getting hit by a car at a pedestrian crossing... The consequences can be very serious. Your future may change completely. Therefore, it is nice to be able to make a difference for these people.’

Doing a PhD

He wrote his thesis about employer liability. This sparked yet another flame: ‘I found conducting research to be very exciting.’ Kolder decided to become a PhD student as well as a lawyer. At a law firm in Emmen, specialized in personal injury cases, he was provided scope to work as a lawyer for four days so that he would have time for his PhD research, supervised by Mark Wissink and Fokko Oldenhuis. Kolder: ‘At the law firm, they saw the value of having someone around with a strongly academic perspective.’

Interaction

Currently, Kolder is a lawyer for four days per week and a professor for one. He supervises theses, gives lectures, organizes conferences, and more. According to Kolder, his dual role has its advantages: ‘Being a professor doesn’t bring about earth-shattering changes. In my role as a lawyer, I prefer not to mention that I am a professor. Would the title give more authority to my advice? People might look at things differently. However, at the end of the day, it is the content that matters.’ Moreover, Kolder’s academic position helps him to take a step back from practice and delve deeper into issues with other academics: ‘This provides me with tools that I can use during my work as a lawyer.’ And his work as a lawyer has advantages for his work as professor, too. Kolder: ‘Because of this, I know what is happening in practice and which issues would benefit from further research.’

'My academic position provides me with tools that I can use during my work as a lawyer.'
'My academic position provides me with tools that I can use during my work as a lawyer.'

Whiplash

For example, he is currently researching injury by whiplash, one of the most common types of personal injury. This injury can be caused by vehicle collisions from traffic from behind, for instance. The injury is hard to demonstrate medically, but the symptoms (including headaches and problems concentrating) can affect victims severely and for a long time. Kolder: ‘People can become incapacitated to work, without demonstrable injury.’ This creates difficult legal situations; are the symptoms credible? Were they caused by the specific accident? Kolder studies the way in which lawyers can handle these situations best. He has developed a step-by-step plan to legally assess whiplash cases.

Pattern as evidence

Kolder: ‘Just because a doctor cannot find anything wrong, does not mean that there is no legal issue. As long as the pattern of symptoms after an accident is consistent – for example, if you've gone to multiple doctors with neck problems – you can consider the story to be credible in this context. The pattern of symptoms can then be handed in as evidence.’ Additionally, in response to the requirement that these symptoms must be able to be related to the specific accident, Kolder published about this as well: ‘Looking at whiplash cases, you can see that the research is being taken into account in the courts. Through this, I hope to contribute to improving the handling of these types of difficult cases.’

Golden opportunity

As it stands, he would like to keep teaching, conducting research, and assisting people in court until he retires. Kolder: ‘Combining theory and practice has truly been a golden opportunity for me. Both fields reinforce each other, and I really enjoy that. In the coming years, I wish to continue doing this, so I can keep contributing to both worlds.’

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Arvin Kolder

Last modified:26 October 2021 10.30 a.m.
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