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Helge Dedek: Developing Skills

Helge Dedek

"Ultimately, I want to help equip my students to explain, justify and take responsibility for their decisions."

Helge Dedek has taught the first year transsystemic course on contractual obligations, the upper year advanced civil obligations course, a graduate-level seminar on legal traditions, and, in the most recent academic year, Roman Law. He has taught at the Faculty since arriving as a Boulton Fellow in 2006.

Helge has published on legal education, and has a particular interest in legal history and comparative law, Roman Law and the contribution of intellectual history to modern private law. Read more about his research interests in the Faculty's Focus Online.

What motivates you as a teacher? What do you want students to take away from your course?

While my field of interest is legal history, which sometimes takes me away from what are considered more pressing legal matters and processes, I also like teaching subjects that are not directly related to my historical research because it keeps me on my toes, if you will, in terms of staying in touch with what’s going on in the courts – in real life. I feel that teaching law allows me to pass on relevant knowledge to my students as I try to prepare them for the important task of being involved in decisions that affect other people’s lives: to help them learn the basics of the craft, to think logically, to "think like a lawyer."

As well, since law school is not a trade school, I want my students to gain a second-order perspective – such as a sociological or historical perspective – so that they have a chance to observe from the outside how the legal process works. Thus, particularly in my historical courses, we look at how changes in philosophy, ideology and politics have affected the law over the years and, conversely, how law has provided many cues to philosophers, theologians and politicians. This opens up some important issues that I want them to consider: How much is law as a system separated from society and how much is it embedded? Is law a tradition that is self-referential and self-sufficient, or rather a function of the economy or society’s power structures? Is law ever able to change its surroundings?

As a teacher in part of the classic law curriculum (I teach first-year Contracts, a rite of passage every law student must undergo), I obviously expose my students to certain areas of positive law so they can learn the rules and how to apply them. But at the same time I want them to develop essential legal skills like determining which interests are involved in each case and how to read between the lines of judicial decisions. This is an important aspect of my students’ legal education that I try to foster – a mindset that will enable them to master these matters themselves. Since the law changes every day, they will need to find an in-road into every problem they confront.

Ultimately, I want to help equip my students to explain, justify and take responsibility for their decisions. They have to learn that they can’t hide behind the law, and that law itself is no guarantee of justice.

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