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2nd Edition of MUA Awards Recognises Best Final Projects and Showcases New Talent

Members of the class of 2021 of Esade’s Master in Legal Practice (MUA) who received a grade of “excellent” on their final project had the opportunity to participate in the 2ndedition of the Esade Alumni MUA Awards. The MUA Awards are the result of a joint proposal by the Esade Alumni Young Commission and the Executive Board of the Esade Alumni Law Club. Their purpose is to showcase the talent of recent graduates and foster networking and knowledge throughout the community.

In the words of Esade Alumni President Patricia Valentí (MBA ‘02 / Promociona ‘17), these awards for recent graduates are intended to showcase exceptional work that would otherwise remain in the academic sphere, thereby “bringing talent out of the classroom and bringing it to the attention of the entire alumni community”.

Projects were pre-selected for the competition by the MUA programme management before being voted on by the board of the Esade Alumni Law Club, the members of the Esade Alumni Young Commission with a background in law, and the Esade Alumni management team, who studied the practical viability, innovation, originality and social impact of the various projects.

At the awards ceremony, Patricia Valentí underscored the forward-looking nature and originality of the selected projects. “Artificial intelligence, street art and universal access to justice are topics that grapple with new technologies and the challenges they pose, while also promoting values that will lead us to a fairer and more egalitarian society,” she declared. “It is about building, participating, being generous and sharing talent, because at Esade Alumni we believe in a better world and we need people like you.”

The winners

Josu Andoni Eguiluz (MUA 21): Proposed Regulation on Artificial Intelligence: A Critical Analysis Focusing on Fundamental Rights and Algorithmic Biases

-How did the idea for your final project come about?
I have always been fascinated by the impact of technology on human beings and society as a whole. Every day, I ask myself how new technologies affect, condition and even change us. This reflection, together with my desire to do my part, from a legal and philosophical perspective, to protect our fundamental rights – even those that do not yet exist, such as the privacy of our thoughts – led me to focus my attention on the regulation of artificial intelligence (AI) systems. Regulation in this sphere will define Europe’s position in the face of invasive technologies, such as mass biometric identification in public spaces and social scoring.
-What problems did you detect with regard to AI regulation?
Generally speaking, I discovered the complexity of coherently regulating a subject as broad as AI. Not only do we have to propose rules for technologies that do not yet exist, but we also have to take into account sector-specific regulations already in force, such as those pertaining to the processing of personal data as well as the defective-product liability directive.
Moreover, any obligations imposed on suppliers deploying AI systems must also be weighed against other rights, such as the freedom to do business, intellectual property rights and trade secrets. The obligations and measures required must be necessary, appropriate and proportionate to facilitate and encourage innovation and progress in the European market.
-What conclusions can you share with other alumni?
First: the total eradication of algorithmic bias and unfair automated decisions is a pipe dream. However, the possibility of challenging and fighting decisions made by the AI systems to which we are subjected is and must be a real and effective possibility within the reach of every citizen. It might be interesting to harmonise individual rights in a single regulation in order to make it possible to exercise them peacefully and easily.
Second: sufficient transparency must materialise in the form of a “right to the explainability” of decisions made by AI systems. Access to code and other instructions without meaningful information about the reasons and the datasets that had the greatest influence on a final decision leads to defencelessness in the person subjected to such an AI system. Therefore, the information must include both technical and rationally accessible explanations, so that any citizen can form an opinion and act accordingly.
Third: algorithms do not create society’s structural problems (discrimination, inequality, misinformation, polarisation, etc.), but they do amplify them. However, decisions made by AI can have consequences and impacts on a large scale, potentially causing serious social and individual harm.
Finally, in lieu of a conclusion, let me offer an open reflection: before implementing an AI system, we should ask ourselves whether or not it is really necessary. For example, is it really necessary to implement a facial recognition system at a gym? Not everything that is technically possible is humanly necessary.
-What did you learn from this project?
It amazes me to think how human beings are capable of creating everything they imagine in advance. What a century ago was a challenging daydream in the minds of just a few – connecting the world and people at the click of a button in the same virtual space – is now history.
In my view, our role as jurists is to bring security and comfort to the rights and freedoms of all parties involved. My final reflection is that fundamental rights do not negotiate with AI systems.
-How do you feel about the fact that Esade Alumni has given you an award for your research? What does the alumni network mean to you?
It is a recognition of all the effort behind this work, which many colleagues and professionals have taken part in by holding conversations, offering critiques and providing advice. And I could never forget all the authors from whom I have drawn for this study: I have learned, reflected and been inspired by all of them. Finally, for me it is also an award that values creation and the pursuit of knowledge.
I believe that the alumni network has enormous potential in that it can bring different generations of great professionals into contact with one another. Above all, if you manage to establish values and projects with a positive social impact, many minds and resources at the service of these objectives can really change society and the lives of many people for the better.
-Where do you see yourself in the medium term?
I see myself studying and training on a daily basis, very close to academia. I would love to be able to combine my daily practice in the office with academic pursuits.
I see myself with many more doubts and questions than I have today, but also with more personal and professional resources and tools to solve problems and find answers.
I am passionate about what the future has in store for us, and I don’t want to miss it! We have so much to learn!

Paula González (MUA 21): Street art and its protection as works of intellectual property comparative study – United States and Spain

-How did the idea for your final project come about? Why did you become interested in the legality of street art?
Street Art and its Protection as Works of Intellectual Property stems from my deep interest in the art world and my questioning of it. What form of contemporary art has been the least subject to legal debate and, at the same time, the most vulnerable to exploitation by third parties for commercial purposes? One form clearly stands out: authorised and unauthorised works of street art. Seeing the works of artists such as Banksy being exhibited around the world without the artist’s knowledge or consent, I decided that this was both a relevant and innovative topic that was worth investigating. So, drawing on a more extensive literature in this area in California and New York, I embarked on a comparative analysis that I found fascinating.
-What conclusions can you share with other alumni?
First and foremost, I note that there are certain limitations caused by the current legal framework that excludes works of street art from the protection they deserve as intellectual property, thereby nullifying the rights of the artists. I refer to these limitations as the institutionalisation, decontextualisation and commercial appropriation of street art. I believe that the main conclusion of my work is that we must strike a balance between avoiding these practices and maintaining the subversive essence of street art. Street art is essentially anti-system; associating it with capitalist scenarios for the benefit of others – that is, not the artists themselves – is an unethical evolution of this type of art. At the end of the day, street art can be both art and vandalism; in fact, it is art because of its vandalistic nature.
-What are your suggestions for improving the system?
For those who don’t know, the fact that an author has used an authorised medium to produce a piece of artwork does not prevent it from being considered a work of intellectual property. However, because works of street art are usually expressed on media that belong to someone else and are displayed on public thoroughfares, the interests of the author converge with those of third parties. This is complicated by the fact that certain unauthorised uses of works of street art could be covered by limits or exceptions envisaged in the law. Moreover, because these cases are usually resolved through settlements with infringers, there is very little case law in either the United States or Spain, which considerably reduces legal certainty in this area.
I would like to highlight the idea underlying the suggestions I set out in my paper: the importance of examining the factual allegations in cases where a third party uses a work of street art without the author’s consent. You have to consider elements such as the nature of the work, its prominence, its purpose, the intention of the infringer and the harm that the use in question could cause to the author.
-What did you learn from this project?
Time. Although it is paradoxical, since during the completion of the TFM it may seem that the clock is against you, sometimes you have to remember that you are dedicating that time to a small craft creation that is yours and yours alone.I was free to explore whatever angle I liked and invest a considerable amount of time in questions I wanted to see answered about a topic of interest to me. If not for the opportunity to do a project like this, perhaps those questions would have stayed with me, in my mind, unanswered.
-How do you feel about the fact that Esade Alumni has given you an award for your research? What does the alumni network mean to you?
Delving into a project like this involves many hours of work and moments of uncertainty. While you are writing it, you can’t know how it will turn out, but you are confident that someone else will find your work interesting. I really enjoyed the whole process because I was passionate about the topic. Seeing that alumni – important, prominent people in our profession – consider my work to be original, innovative and deserving of this recognition is a great personal achievement for me. Therefore, becoming a part of this network of professionals also crystallises the notion that, having surmounted this part of my academic career, I am closer and closer every day to becoming the professional I want to be.
-What are your professional goals? Where do you see yourself in the medium term?
My intention is to continue specialising in the world of art, music and film, in terms of both intellectual property and the disciplines themselves, as well as the new technologies that are having an impact on them. I am currently working at Cuatrecasas, while at the same time working on my analog photography, painting, and attending music events and film shoots. My intention is to direct my professional future in such a way that I can continue to help other artists navigate the formalities of their work and integrate emerging technologies such as NFTs. I don’t rule anything out, but I still have a lot to learn and discover. Everything remains to be seen!

Marta Oliver (GBD 20 / MUA 21): ἰσονομία – Does Equal Access to Justice Exist in Spain?

-How did the idea for your final project come about and what work methodology did you follow?
I wanted to find out what happens in cases where a person needs legal advice or representation, but cannot afford to hire a private lawyer. Specifically, I wanted to find out whether resources are a determining factor in differences among client profiles when accessing the legal system (including the public assistance system, the receipt of subsidies, procedural representation in court, daily legal guidance, etc.). My ultimate goal was to understand the law from a more social perspective, and in particular to explore what role lawyers can play in order to make society more balanced.
My work methodology was basically divided into a more theoretical part and a purely practical part. The theoretical part consisted in defining the term justice to include aspects of law that go beyond the procedural, on the grounds that good advice prior to the judicial phase can perhaps prevent lawsuits, as well as analysing the legal regulation of access to justice, which in Spain is guaranteed through the free legal assistance programme, and using data from Metroscopia in 2019 and 2020 to measure its impact. The more practical part of the project was based on interviews with Sonia Lacalle Álvarez (head of the Social Legal Advice Department of Cáritas Barcelona) and Rocío Torres Herrera (assigned for several years to the free legal assistance programme and pro bono counsel to Casal dels Infants), in addition to practical experience two mornings a week for two months at the La Mina branch of Casal dels Infants.
-What problems did you detect in terms of access to justice in Spain?
Unfortunately, I found that there are currently differences in access to justice. The problem is that many people facing difficulties are unable to access the benefits that the system can offer. Also, the lack of pre-trial advice often makes their situation worse because they end up in court proceedings, which are always more difficult to manage and can take much longer. In this procedural phase, the free legal assistance programme has limitations, such as a lack of resources to guarantee excellent quality of service, a lack of outreach that prevents many citizens from knowing that they have the right to free legal representation, the small number of lawyers assigned to the service, etc.
-What conclusions can you share with other alumni?
Many people are excluded from the legal system in Spain, and this exacerbates social inequalities. These inequalities are significantly reduced by the role of third-sector entities, such as Casal dels Infants and Cáritas, which perform essential legal advisory services for people who lack resources. Legal professionals can also have an impact by promoting initiatives that operate in tandem with the legal work of public administrations and third-sector entities, such as the pro bono services of private law firms and university legal clinics, which allow lawyers assisted by law students to provide free legal advice. A great deal of work can be done by universities like Esade, since collaboration with third-sector organisations and the provision of guidance to vulnerable people can help tomorrow’s professionals to gain experience and be trained not only academically, but also in a human and engaged manner.
-What did you learn from this project? What was it like to work alongside your tutor?
This project has allowed me to carry out an exhaustive analysis of the legal situation in Spain, to delve deeper into the operation of the free legal assistance programme, to learn about the specific needs of users at risk of social exclusion, and to get an up-close look at a social reality different from the one I encounter in my day-to-day work, especially with regard to the special risks faced by migrants arriving from other parts of the world.
-How do you feel about the fact that Esade Alumni has given you an award for your research? What does the alumni network mean to you?
I am deeply grateful for this recognition. After many months of work, I am heartened to see that other people are also interested in this topic of study and it is good to see an issue that I consider very important receiving this sort of visibility. I hope that this visibility can also serve to highlight the work of third-sector entities and show how far we have to go in ensuring access to justice – an area in which universities can play an important role. The alumni network is a very positive mechanism for supporting each other as professionals, for keeping in contact with Esade, where I spent several wonderful years, and for promoting legal and social training initiatives that can enrich us as well as external groups.
-What advice would you give to students who are now finishing their studies?
I would tell them to take advantage of all the opportunities and experiences offered to them by Esade, because this is a wonderful stage. They should also bear in mind that learning does not end at graduation, so they should constantly refresh their knowledge and training. Furthermore, they should explore in order to discover what they really like. Try everything out, because it is very important to enjoy the work you do. Finally, they should help to create a fair, empathetic, generous and honest professional world so that law can have a real impact society and put an end to inequalities.

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