From Lund to Stockholm there is a 6 hour drive. From a novisch at Lund University to member of there is a Swedish parliament there is an even longer way to go. One person who is hoping to make both of these journeys is Louise Meijer. She started studying law at Lund University 9 years ago and is now on the ballot for Moderaterna to the Swedish riksdag in Skåne län. She is also the founder for Justititapriset which is a price for equality in the law sector won the 2017 award for jurist of the year. Without going into politics I had a chat with her last spring to learn what it takes to turn your ambition into something fruitful.
Hi, Louise! Tell me about your journey to where you are now.
I started as a law student in Lund and thought it was very fun to study, and at the same time as I studied I involved myself with Moderata Ungdomsförbundet. That was a choice of path because when you moved here you could either get involved with Studentlund and join a faculty or nation, or you could put your time into your political commitments which I decided to do instead. I almost regret that when I see all the buzz about the Malmö nation’s spring ball (laughter). So I gradually got more engaged in MUF and by the time I got my degree I was also the vice president in Sweden. Then I worked for a couple of years at Mannheimer Swartling, which is the biggest agency of business law in the Nordic countries. I did not find that very fun, since I have such a strong civic engagement, which was not the focus of that particular position. Instead I changed paths and worked at the local public prosecution office and then at the district court for a couple of years. That is kind of like doing an “at-tjänst” [medical internship, editor’s note] for a medical student, since you are working and studying at the same time. After that I started to work in Lund at a small legal agency involved in areas like migration law, family law, involuntary confinement law… This is what I am working with now, at the same time as continuing my political engagement, candidating for the parliament, but above all founding “Justitiapriset”, which has been very fun.
Tell me more about that!
We founded it in 2016. It all started with me following my facebook feed like you do everyday. Then I saw an acquaintance of mine who had founded an equality price in the communication sector. I thought that was an awesome idea, but didn’t really ponder on it for a long time. But in the law sector it is generally known that the agencies of business law have very few female owners. At the same time more women than men are studying law and more female legal associates that start working at the agencies of business law. So apparently something happens between graduating and starting to work and becoming part owner. This bothered me, because they all said that they were working with equality and that it was something good and sought-after at the same time as the sector was very unequal. The business sector is far from equal, but the agencies of business law are even worse. So during my time at the district court I thought that I should found a similar price for the law sector as well.
So the award for jurist of the year came in connection with that?
Yes. Or maybe as a consequence of that. That was crazy, I can still almost not believe it. Dagens Juridik, which is the biggest juridical newspaper in Sweden took in nominations for the public, chose 10 of those as final nominees and let the public vote for the winner.
Do you use a lot of public channels to market yourself?
Yes, I would say so, like my Instagram for example. But I feel like this was not as much of an award for me personally, but for the Justitia price. I think a lot of people – particularly young students and new entrants on the law labour market – feel like this is a large problem and saw it as a vote and initiative for equality which is what Justitiapriset is all about.
What has driven you personally to where you are now?
I have always thought that if you have a lot of opinions and ideas of how things should be, which I have (laughter) I think that you should try to make a change and have an impact instead of just having opinions. I am very determined and have like a 100 % degree of execution in the things that I do. That is a reason that I involved myself politically because I have opinions and beliefs that I want many others to think, because naturally I believe that my opinions are right. The same driving force was behind Justitiapriset. It bothered my that the sector is so unequal and it does not help to just complain but you kind of have to take that forward and this became a good way to make an effort for a change.
Do you see any other driving force behind your ambition? To be ambitious for ambitions sake, if let’s say you were working in a less socially engaged sector?
That is such a good question, but a tough one. Being ambitious for ambitions sake is what I thought I was. I have always performed well in school, for example. And there are a lot of people who come to Lund who have been the best students in their classes, continue to perform well at university and go out to work and are high performers there. But I also see a danger in the notion – which I think that many in our generation realize and don’t accept – of being good just to be good. Instead link your self-worth and your driving force to something that you actually want to accomplish. I feel like our generation is more bound by values than the ones before. I could be wrong, but I feel like you want to be proud of what you’re doing and the values of your work and workplace. You perform best at the tasks you find the most fun, and than could be in any sector, but I think our generation values less being ambitious for the sake of it and more being ambitious in order to accomplish good things. That does not have imply political means or means for equality, but to maybe make finance easier for private individuals or to make bank transactions and experiences better. The idea behind Avanza is user friendliness and of course there could be a driving force in competing with large banks, but it still amounts to a larger cause than to only be ambitious.
On the topic of fun, do you feel like you have sacrificed anything in order to accomplish what you have accomplished?
Partly (laughter). Last night I took a walk with my friend and said that if I could study again in Lund I would for sure have chosen to involve myself in a nation or faculty and just appreciate how great student life is. That has actually been a sacrifice, to not involve myself in the student life.
And later in life?
It has its price. Often when you see someone who is very successful it is easy to forget that it is at the expense of something else. Because otherwise it can seem that you can be perfect in all aspects of your life. And that ambition to be perfect at everything you do makes people, maybe particularly girls, more vulnerable to mental illness and puts them under a very negative pressure. That makes you burn out. There are a lot of students, more than before if I have understood it correctly, who get affected by mental illness, who have to take time off because of illness, who get burned out, and I think that lots of it is related to the aspiration of having a perfect life on all fronts. You should eat perfect, healthy food, you should exercise enough, you should be interested in having a nice home, you should do well in school, you should go to all the parties, you should have the most fun friends… In all parts of life you want a very good picture of yourself and I see that as a little dangerous. So I think that this has had its price. When it comes to studies it is at the expense of student life. When I was at the local public prosecution office I got graded and my grades would have been better had I not engaged myself with Moderata Ungdomsförbundet or Justitiapriset. I think you have to dare make that trade-off and accept that one thing has to suffer because you are prioritizing something else. That is something very important, also as a student, to say that maybe this semester I won’t get the highest grades or this semester I want to prioritize this instead, and to not have anxiety over that.
What are the traits that you think are vital in order to live your ambition to the fullest? Is that even something that everyone should strive for? What separates you from the people who did not win Justitiapriset for example?
Maybe I am just better at social media (laughter) I don’t know. When it comes to a competition like this it is of course important to be able to attract lots of people to vote for oneself for a specific reason. In my case it was very clear why you should vote for me: if you think that equality in the law sector is important. But if everyone should strive to be the very best at what they’re doing, I don’t know. Maybe not, but I also think it is important to focus not only on the things that society values the most. It might sound cheesy, but to be good at being a good friend who is always listening, for example. It could be about an entirely different set of values, you could be the best at a sport, at something creative, at being a friend. All people have different qualities and different capacities of being good at one thing or another and the important thing I think is to be proud of what you are good at, no matter what you do.
At LundaEkonomerna there are a lot of people who are very career focused. What do you think is needed in order to succeed on that front?
When I first started with my law studies I saw myself as this person who after graduating would start working at a business law agency, work these 80 hour weeks, would have a lot of chargeable hours, that was the coolest and career oriented thing you could do. I can imagine that similar structures hold true for business students. I do not know if it is specifically investment banks, but the large agencies of business law are similar to investment banks. But after 6 months I quit Mannheimer Swartling, because I found it boring and it came as a kind of shock, like “isn’t this me? Is this not what I think is fun?”. That was what I previously thought and how I identified myself. I think that you as a student should not be scared to try to crawl outside of your comfort zone and not fixate yourself on what employers other people find cool. Instead try to find out what you think is fun, and in that aspect student life offers a lot of commitments and things you can do in order to find your thing. Do you think it is fun to market events? To edit newspapers? To write? To do revision at a nation? What is the fun thing to do? Take the most important thing that you have done in your student life and try to find a job similar to that. I think that is the most important thing in order to succeed with your career in the long run. We are expected to work for a long time, we’re not entirely sure when we will finish working, if the pension limit is raised before we reach that age. We have to last a whole working life, therefore I think it is so important to do something you find fun. To search for that kind of employment I see as the key.
If you could talk to yourself as a young student, what would be your tips?
That would definitely be to go to the inspirational lectures that maybe did not interest me that much. I think that that would have given me a broader width of jobs to seek after graduating. Broaden your horizons.
Very soon you hope to be elected to the Swedish riksdag. Is the motivation to apply for the parliament different from your motivation in law related pursuits?
Well, as a lawyer you can always argue for your cause, or rather for your client’s cause. That is a lot of fun, and it suits me very well, but sometimes things are unattainable because the law stipulates something. And as a lawyer you cannot change that, no matter how good you are at debating or how good of a lawyer you are. Instead it is the politicians in the parliament who do that. That takes it to a different level, so to say, to be able to really influence jurisdiction at the core. That seems fun, because that’s what I want to do.
Do you see any downsides in not being able to be politically neutral?
Yes, I think so. That also becomes part of your personal brand, of course, and that is nowadays more than ever very polarizing. Just the fact that you are politically active and a member of a political party can create a distance to a lot of people. That distance is, if you have the ambition to not be polarizing like I have, not desirable. So yes, it has its drawbacks to be labeled as a political debater, in one direction or the other. But there are fewer and fewer people who join a political party at the same time as there is a large political interest among young people which maybe does not substantialize itself in paying a fee to a party or youth association. There the parties must find new forms of political involvement which does not entail membership in a party and the young people interested in politics should try out joining a political party and try to make a change that way. I think that at the law program and also maybe the business and economics program there should be more political debates. Everybody do not have to agree with each other, but I do not think that has to create a distance. I think there should be more room for debates, both between young people, but also between all people in society, that is held on a reasonable level. Where you can disagree but also grab a cup of coffee afterwards. Disagreeing does not have to be such a big deal.
Is that something you feel like you live by?
I would say so. I have a lot of apolitical friends who I do not discuss politics with. Some of whom will maybe not even vote for me (laughter). And they do not have to of course. Then of course I try to convince as many as possible of what I believe, but it does not have to be a big deal to disagree. You can be friends anyway.
If you will manage your way to Riksdagen, what will be the biggest challenge?
Sometimes things can go very slowly. The heavy legislation process is pretty tedious. Since I have bad patience I think that can be a challenge. I want lots of things to happen in a short amount of time, but in the Riksdag it is kind of the reverse.
With that said, thank you so much, Louise! All the luck to you in the election and all your future endeavours.