Statement of Teaching Philosophy:
Dean Gouvin's teaching philosophy:
"I believe students come to law school expecting to enter the legal profession. They do not, in general, plan to become law professors. I try to keep that in mind as I design my courses. I strive to provide the balance between theory and practice necessary to give my students a truly professional education. When I think about professional education, the ideal that I have in mind is the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. I spent my sabbatical there in 1998-1999 and was impressed by the way the school melded the conceptual and the practical. The Kennedy School is by no means a vocational school, but it is an institution that does not lose sight of the fact that it is educating students to take their place in the public arena. It prepares students to play a role in the real world, to make changes to that world, and to respond to changes in that world by helping students create useful mental models of how the world works -- models that are informed by theory, of course, but which are grounded in experience.
Law schools would do well to emulate that approach. That is not to say that law schools should be glorified CLE programs. Far from it. Lawyers need a theoretical foundation in order to understand the law and the lawyer's role in it. They need to know where the law came from and where it might go next. They need a conceptual framework to assess whether a given change in the law makes sense or is misguided. Without a view of the legal forest lawyers will certainly get lost in the trees. Indeed, I often tell my students that there are few things more practical than a good theory.
That being said, however, law schools should not lose sight of the fact that they are preparing students to enter the legal profession. A student who is conversant in, say, economics and law, but who cannot draft a contract has not received a professional education. The student may have received a wonderful graduate-school type education, as the intersection of law and economics is a fascinating area to explore, but it would not be a professional education without the additional piece of knowing what lawyers can do with that knowledge.
In some law schools professors either don't know or don't care enough about the subjects they teach to provide that last dimension of showing how theory plays out in the real world. Luckily, I do know of what I speak. I know the challenges and rewards of being a business lawyer. I practiced law for five years before entering the professorial ranks. I have run the Small Business Clinic. I am actively involved in the ABA. I serve on small business advisory boards at a local business incubator. I run the Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship.
In addition, I actually care about the courses I teach. Indeed, I think the subjects I teach are the most interesting and important subjects in the curriculum. I find the business law material to be fascinating in part because there are so many interesting stories behind the cases. I love those stories, like the clash of wills between the Dodge brothers and Henry Ford, or the strained relationship between Mssrs. Meinhard and Salmon, or the labor strife between the fishermen and the cannery owners in the Alaska Packers case. I share these stories with my students to spark their interest in the cases as fascinating slices of life. I want them to see that business law is first and foremost about relationships. The relationships are set in the context of business transactions, but they are relationships nevertheless.
Because I care about my subjects and think they are important, I want my students to learn these subjects. I know that it will not be obvious to my students just how interesting and important these subjects are. One of my goals is to get them to see that point. To do so, I try to make the material accessible at the outset and then proceed to develop an appreciation for the more sophisticated points.
The first part of the formula – accessibility – is crucial. If the students do not feel invited into the discussion at the beginning they will not be part of the more sophisticated analysis that comes later. In corporate and commercial law courses many bright students lack the business context necessary to feel truly comfortable with the material. I take pains to give the students a primer in business principles as they learn the legal material. I have found that students are much more likely to build a sophisticated mental model of corporate or commercial law if they have some understanding of the economics of the underlying transactions.
The second part -- appreciation -- requires that students use the material in a sophisticated way to gain expertise. While at the outset I deliberately break down the jargon into digestible bites, I also expect students to do something with that information. I expect them to construct a model of the law using the cases, statutes, and concepts as building blocks. I believe that students need a theoretical framework in order to build their mental model. With a sound theoretical underpinning (often law and economics serves this role for me) students can make sense of new information as it arrives and put it into place in an overall understanding of the course. Theory allows students to appreciate topics beyond the basics. My scholarship allows me to bring theory into the classroom to illuminate those nuanced points.
I do not believe, however, that a good theory is enough. I strive to provide real world context in my courses and to raise ethical issues for the class to address. Almost all my classes use problems as instructional materials. Beyond the in class problems, for the past several years I have been developing a testing technique based on the case file concept. I prepare a document package for the class that simulates the kind of file they will encounter in law practice. I hand it out to the class during the term with time for the students to digest the material and ask questions about it. Then, on the last day of class I give the students additional facts and issues to address in the take-home examination they must prepare. To learn more about this testing method, click here.
While I try to bring the experience of practicing law into my large classrooms by using role playing exercises and have taught courses that are based on simulated client representation, I have found that there is no substitute for live client contact when it comes to professional education. I developed the Small Business Clinic at Western New England University School of Law to provide my business law students with the kind of clinical experience that we have been providing to litigation-oriented law students for a long time. The clinic is one of the cornerstone programs of the Western New England University Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. In addition to serving clients in the community, the Small Business Clinic often provides legal services to the businesses in the incubators located at the Scibelli Enterprise Center.
As a capstone experience for a law student about to finish law school the clinic is a great way to synthesize the learning with the practice."
Dean Gouvin was interviewed a few years ago about his approach to teaching. To view that interview, click here.