Prof. Louis Visscher

It is not about getting the right answers, but about asking the right questions.
Professor of Law & Economics

Law or economics?

In high school, I faced the choice of studying law or economics, and I chose economics. After my brother convinced me to go to university - I wanted to do the Economic-Legal direction of the HEAO (School for higher education in economics and management) in Arnhem because then I could continue to live at home- in the eighties there was only one place where you wanted to go: Rotterdam! In my second year of economics, I took the elective course ‘political law’ with Prof. Wim Couwenberg. Because of his inspiring lectures, I decided to study law (in addition to economics). What I mainly remember about Prof. Couwenberg is that he was an enthusiastic teacher who entered the dialogue and discussion with us, and who listened to what we had to say. Sometimes he even let us convince him, which was very different from the detached and massive lectures in which an economics teacher exercised a mathematical model and in which there was no room for interaction.

Inspired by law

I still remember the first sentence by Prof. René Foqué during my first law lecture: “Ladies and gentlemen, law is learning a new language”. I was immediately captivated and felt at home in law school. Prof. Foqué showed me that law is alive and is shaped by people. He held duo lectures with sociologist Prof. Anton Zijderveld, and during those lectures they entered into a debate. They showed live that you can have different opinions about the same subject, and that the perspective from which you study law is essential. I also learned a lot from Prof. Jan van Dunné. First, he showed that humour is very important in lectures, but he also taught us that you can have your own opinion. Maybe I learned from these four inspirers together that university is not primarily about finding the right answers, but about asking the right questions. Subsequently, you can discuss the answers and learn from that. I hope that I can convey that openness to my students.

Eventually, I finished both law and economics, but law suited me better. I became a mentor at Erasmus School of Law during my studies, and I had a really good time there. With a small group of motivated and driven students, we gave mentor groups to first-year law students. We had close contact with many lecturers and felt part of the faculty. Many mentors attended tutorials and lectures together, and we were very active. I do not know if the teachers always liked that, but we certainly did! When I became a second-year mentor, I met a lovely new mentor during the introductory dinner with the new first-year mentors. The pleasure turned out to be completely mutual, we are together for 28 years already. I could not have wished for a better study time!

First job

Just before my graduation, the head of the mentor program asked if I wanted to become a PhD student and write a dissertation on ‘a game-theoretical analysis of Dutch wrongful act law’. I gladly accepted the offer. I already knew many people in the department, and now I would become one of the teachers who took care of the mentoring assignments and mentor briefings. I found the first period very tiring. Apparently, a work rhythm was quite different from a study rhythm! In addition to my doctoral research, I soon started doing other activities, such as coordinating the Joint Programme in Economics and Law and teaching in the European Master in Law and Economics (EMLE). This brought a lot of variety to my work.

Growing

During my PhD position, I already had many teaching and management tasks, so the next step to Assistant Professor was not so big. A few years after defending my dissertation, I became an Associate Professor and a few years later an endowed professor. Since 1 December 2020 I am full professor. Each new step offered new interesting opportunities. For example, I am (vice) director of the Rotterdam Institute of Law and Economics (RILE), coordinating program leader of the Liability and Insurance research program of the Ius Commune Research School, I have been on various WODC (Dutch Research and Documentation Centre) supervisory committees, fifteen PhD students completed their thesis under my supervision and I have been director of the EMLE program since December 2018. There is a potential risk here for a career at the university: because you are driven and have a passion for your profession, you take on more and more assignments and because you like most things, you do not even realize it. I am therefore not surprised that many academics indicate they experience a high workload.

Smart money calculation tool

I find research in the field of pain and suffering damages fascinating. In several publications, I argue that insights from health economics can help in better assessing pain and suffering damages for personal injuries. Together with a colleague from Erasmus School of Health Policy & Management, I am also developing a calculation tool that compares the quality of life of people with injury to that of similar people without injury, and that expresses the lost quality of life in money. I hope that such a tool meets the need to assess pain and suffering damages for personal injuries in a more objective and verifiable way than is currently the case.

Serving leadership

As (vice) director of RILE and director of EMLE, I try to lead cooperatively. Not primarily directive, but more through ‘serving leadership’, so finding out what is needed and trying to organize it. This supportive, collaborative role suits me better than singlehandedly setting the terms and it is nice to see that this attitude is usually appreciated. I am happy with the good ratings I receive from students and I hope that in ten years' time I will still be teaching with the same passion. As coordinator of the Joint programme in  Economics and Law, I think it is great to meet pre-university students for the first time, to see them develop over a number of years, and to finally see them at the closing ceremony organized by In Duplo as a graduated economist and lawyer. If some then also do EMLE and even EDLE (European Doctorate in Law and Economics), the party is complete!

Ambition

I hope that in the future, I will be able to devote more time to teaching and research and that Law and Economics has become even more important to Erasmus School of Law than it already is. I always hope to encounter new exciting topics that I can analyse from a legal economic perspective.

  • Most beautiful memory?

    Too many to mention, but the meeting with my wife and the birth of my three children are high on the list!

    What is your hobby?

    Geocaching (Google it), playing guitar, watching beautiful films and series, reading.

    What is your favourite book?

    The Age of Wonder (Richard Holmes), Sapiens (Yuval Noah Harari), lots of Stephen King.

    What is your favourite movie?

    Star Wars IV, V and VI, Back to the Future I and III, Raiders of the Lost Ark and many others.

    What is your favourite food?

    Macaroni from the oven the way my wife makes it.

    What is your favourite travel destination?Switzerland.
    What did you want to be in the past?Truck driver.
    How would others describe you in three words?

    Friendly, committed, reliable (I hope).

    What is your favourite quote?I am not a big fan of inspiring quotes, but I like this one from Erasmus: “A constant element of enjoyment must be mingled with our studies, so that we think of learning as a game rather than a form of drudgery, for no activity can be continued for long if it does not to some extent afford pleasure to the participant..”
    Do you have tips for students?

    Keep asking about the "why" of things, for example why law is the way it is, and whether that is the right way to achieve what we want to achieve with it.