FACES OF FAR : VALERI PETKOV
Today in the "Faces of FAR" column we are speaking with Valeri, who is a lawyer in Sofia
Interview date : the 30th of October 2022.
Interviewer - Hanna Velikova
Hanna - Hi, Valery! Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview with us. As you know, the "Faces of FAR" column aims to introduce our audience to our team members not just as excellent professionals but also as individuals. So once again, thank you so much for accepting the invitation.
Actually, you're a lawyer. A very desirable, privileged profession, but what does it mean to you?
Valeri - It's hard for me to say because as a child I never dreamed of being a lawyer. Rather, at some point it occurred to me that this was a profession that could allow me to do something useful not only for myself, but for people and society in general. I don't know if I was able to fulfil my career path in that way, but now at FAR I have the opportunity to get closer to that initial idea that led me to study law, and that makes me very happy and motivated to work.
Hanna - As far as I know you are a graduate of Sofia University - one of the most difficult universities to graduate from in our country. What were your student years like?
Valeri - I didn't have any particular problems during my studies. It even seems to me that the current students seem to be able to achieve a lot more while studying, as well as being a lot more ambitious and well-read. For them, the idea that being a lawyer is some very big achievement is not that significant anymore. Increasingly, they are trying not just to 'pass their exams' but to do internships and further training. Yes, we used to have that too, but it wasn't as widespread. It was more like, "I'm graduating from Law School, and this is the top for me." And now I think the bar has been raised much higher, which makes motivated people to be even better and to deepen their knowledge further. Even at FAR, you can see how many young colleagues come to our trainings and work and are interested.
Hanna - Being a lawyer and working in the field of refugee and migration law, you work directly with human fates. What is the most difficult for you and what, on the contrary, motivates you the most?
Valeri - I started doing this type of work recently. Before that I worked for 12 years at a law firm doing legal analysis, I was not in the advocacy area. This is something that's been happening to me now since this year, and I'm not that experienced.
Before that I had the opportunity to help colleagues on various cases, but it was more of a sporadic work.
I met Valeria through the international law competitions and she gave me the opportunity to work on some cases. But in terms of intensity, it doesn't compare to the work I have now.
The hardest part for me is being able to build some kind of mental resilience. I don't think so much about the outcome of cases because it doesn't depend on the lawyer alone and there are many injustices that can't be fought. Rather, I think people need to feel some kind of competent help, and you, if possible, being in the right place at the right time for them. From then on, what the outcome will be is not entirely in your power. I can see that people are not "left behind" at FAR, and as long as the person wants it, all options are explored to help them. It always impressed me how Valeria with her energy and optimism manages to keep things going.
Hanna - How did you decide to become a lawyer? Who/What influence/d your decision?
Valeri - I decided it almost at the end of high school. There are no lawyers in my family. I rather wanted to do some kind of humanitarian studies. I imagined "Law" as "Applied Philosophy" but it turned out to be a completely different thing. It was very difficult for me to adjust. I think my " attitude" was wrong. I imagined it as a kind of intellectual exercise: you study some subject matter (which is not very interesting at times), but you keep studying it and so you acquire some expertise. I realize now that I wasn't thinking about the practical application. I think the right attitude towards the profession is rather not to focus solely on the intellectual challenges, but to imagine it as a way of doing something good.
A lot of people at FAR say, "I became a lawyer because I love helping people and always wanted to do something useful." And I became a lawyer because I loved to read. In fact, I now realise that the right approach is, perhaps, another: to think that with this profession you could be useful in any situation. But I don't think it's a mass reception either, because not all people have the opportunity, the chance or the inclination to do legal work. That's not true for all legal professionals and lawyers.
However, in the last few months, since I have been working at FAR, this seems very important and I think this attitude is better.
Hanna - As far as I know, among other things, you're doing a PhD?
Valeri - Yes, I am a PhD student in Administrative Law and Procedure. I have a very strong desire, but I don't have as many opportunities to immerse myself in this field anymore (I hope to succeed though). I changed my job, I started involving myself with new things and I don't have much time left for the academic work.
Otherwise I like explaining things to people, explaining some concepts, I definitely enjoy teaching a lot. When I have to participate in conferences or explain some legal concept to students who I trained years ago for competitions, I always get great satisfaction.
Hanna - Anyway shall we go back a bit further? Your childhood: what was it like? And who was an authority figure for you?
Valeri - I always received a lot of support and love from my parents. I was not very sociable as a person. I didn't have big problems in my childhood, I got things right at school. Since then, there was nothing to suggest that I would go into law. I am a graduate of the Classical High School - NGDEC. I was very influenced by the people I met there, especially my history and philosophy teachers.
But I have also changed a lot because of my exposure to the law: as a way of thinking, a way of expressing myself, an approach to things. When I read something I wrote years ago, I can't recognize it as mine. I was definitely one way in high school, in terms of thinking and expression. And when you start doing law, you get used to expressing yourself more concretely, more clearly, you lose the flavor for abstract things, you sharpen your sense for detail, you become a little more precise in your speech. Anyway, the fact that we work with people gives you more social skills.
Hanna - How did you end up in the sea of "refugee and migration law"?
Valeri - I know Valeria through competitions, I've helped her over the years. In think in 2020, she involved me as a researcher in a project. This year when the war broke out, I told her I was available if there was anything I could assist with. She then suggested I enrol in the refugee law training and then invited me to be part of the team. The more time passes, the more the focus of my work shifts to the work FAR does. Things have been happening gradually, but I am still glad to have the opportunity to be part of FAR's team.
Hanna - You write poems. How and when did you discover that talent in yourself?
Valeri - Since when have I been writing, or since when have I been writing anything that I find worthwhile? I've been writing since I was little. For me it's an attempt at expressing myself. It's not some kind of reflection or pondering, but more of an emotional reaction, an attempt to work through some of your feelings and experiences.
Rather, my real writing (as I feel about it myself) started much later, maybe even after university. Because most of the things I wrote before, is not good enough. There's a big difference between the things you write as an adolescent, or as a child, and the things you write afterwards.
Hanna - Where do you draw inspiration from?
Valeri - I can't say now. I used to be able to say that the things I read provoke me and charge me. Now it's not like that anymore. Rather, what I'm trying to do with the things I write at the moment is to think and focus on one thing and try a different way of talking about an idea or feeling I have.
Hanna - Do you have a creed that drives you in this battle?
Valeri - I try to approach it with some kind of faith and hope that there is still some reserve of strength and meaning that will be revealed if the person is a little more patient. I'm trying to learn not to complain so much, and not to despair. I imagine it as a long distance run, when you can't afford to give up halfway through. After all, every day has its challenges and you have to find the strength to keep going for as long as you can. We shouldn't, perhaps, try to control things so much. You try to do the best you can, knowing that it's not all up to you.
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