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A Conversation with Law School Dean, Vincent Rougeau

Photo of Vince Rougeau
Vince Rougeau (Photo by Gary Gilbert)

By Melissa Beecher | Chronicle Staff

Published: Mar. 12, 2014

How do you describe the mission of Boston College Law School?

Our mission is to educate and form excellent lawyers who understand and care about their role in society, who are empowered to find their own passion within the law, and who contribute toward the greater good in whatever way they feel is most important. Because this requires true leadership skills, we place an emphasis on creative thinking and collaboration. Lawyers wield significant power, and that power must be balanced by a strong sense of responsibility and ethics.  Our graduates know that they have an obligation to use their education to improve the world in which we live.

How does BC Law go about fulfilling that mission?

The most important way we fulfill our mission is through the creation of a diverse and dynamic community of scholars and a supportive, student-focused learning environment.  

As a Jesuit, Catholic law school, we are concerned with cura personalis, or care for the individual. We teach with the whole person in mind. We give our students real-world skills that they can apply as soon as they graduate, and so we place an emphasis on experiential learning as well as traditional, substantive law courses. We carefully shape each year's entering class because we want a myriad of experiences and voices to be included in the law school community.  
Finding the best and brightest faculty in the world and bringing them to the law school is extremely important. We encourage cutting-edge scholarship while bringing innovative classroom and experiential components to the curriculum. Finally, as a top-ranked legal institution, we want to help lead the way in shaping the future of legal education. We ensure that we are responding to the swiftly evolving practice of law around the globe.

What are some of the school's immediate goals?

We are launching a new Center for Experiential Learning this fall that will bring our efforts in this area – such as our legal aid clinics, our trial advocacy program, and our externships – under one roof. We are creating a law firm within the law school that will handle topics such as immigration, housing, and juvenile justice. A section of the center will also be dedicated to criminal law, both defense and prosecution.  Through the center, the Law School for the first time will be providing legal services out of the Boston College Neighborhood Center on Washington Street in Brighton.

Additionally, we have recently launched our Global Practice Program, which includes our London Program, Semester-in-Practice Human Rights Program and a new Sorbonne JD/LLM Program, among others, and we are looking to expand on those in the months ahead.

In the long term, what major projects and priorities lie ahead for BC Law?

We are looking at changes to our curriculum to reflect how the legal market is evolving, and we are very focused on exploring new paths for our graduates to find jobs. The shift in the legal profession has caused some changes in the traditional large-firm model while alternative career paths are opening up in other areas such as business, finance, and non-profits. We want to help our students explore these paths and seize the new opportunities that are emerging for law graduates.   

What are some recent accomplishments you think characterize what the Law School is all about?

We completed an administrative reorganization that has integrated our services for students. Academic services, career services, and student affairs now work holistically in supporting students during their three years here. It has also allowed us to model a collaborative approach to legal preparation. Because of this, we have been able to implement innovative programming – for example, working with the Law Students Association, we started a year-long “boot camp” for first-year students to help develop the skills they will need as they look for employment upon graduation.  

I am also extremely proud of our faculty.  In addition to being internationally recognized scholars, they are superb teachers and mentors. This fall, we have three new chaired faculty starting: Cathleen Kaveny, Patricia McCoy and Natalya Shnitser. Professor Kaveny will hold a joint appointment with the Law School and the College of Arts and Sciences. This is Boston College’s first appointment across schools and is recognition of the growing interdisciplinary nature of higher education today.
Your article “Four Ways to Fix Law School” was published about a year ago. Has the landscape shifted or changed for new lawyers? How about for law schools?

We’re seeing a continued shift in the types of jobs available to new lawyers, with opportunities in international banking, non-profits and corporate areas in particular opening up. Law firms have outsourced some of the more traditional tasks new associates used to perform. They are looking for graduates who are prepared for the global aspect of the law and are more practice-ready from day one.

This impacts how law schools must think about teaching.  By reorganizing and expanding our experiential learning opportunities and our global practice options, we are responding to the needs of the market, while remaining cognizant of the long-term horizon and what we feel the next few decades will bring.

What's a surprising fact people may not know about BC Law?

We consistently place No. 1 in the number of our alumni who are considered "super lawyers" in New England, as well as No. 1 in the number of chairs and managing partners in Massachusetts large firms. I think this is a testament to our reputation in the local community and our focus on training leaders, as well as the strength of our alumni network, which is truly remarkable.

Plus, we have had more Olympic medalists enrolled here than any other school at Boston College.

Click here to read the next interview in the series: A Conversation with CSOM Dean, Andy Boynton