Geneviève Saumier: Building Confidence

Geneviève Saumier

"I want them to resist the easy temptation that every problem in our society can or should be solved by law."

Geneviève Saumier teaches the first year course in civil obligations and the upper year course in consumer law. Since she arrived at McGill in 1996, she has also taught in the area of her original research interest: private international law.

Geneviève teaches in both English and French, and she stresses the educational opportunities for students of learning in a bilingual faculty where they can take classes in a second language.

Read more about Geneviève in a recent Focus online research profile.

What do you want students to take away from your courses?

I take different approaches depending on where my students are in their studies. For example, I want my first-year Civil Law Liability students to understand that they can make the transition into law school without feeling like it’s a major change. So, in the first term, I like to go slowly – we do less reading than they might expect – and I encourage them to think about legal problems as attached to everyday life, to help them bridge the gap to their new educational experience.

At the same time, I want them to resist the easy temptation that every problem in our society can or should be solved by law. While that may seem counterintuitive – especially in a law classroom! – I like to demystify the subject, encourage skepticism and discuss civil law liability as just one possible response to injury or suffering.

For upper-level students, on the other hand, in my Private International Law course, I want them to be aware of the importance of the international dimension of legal relations so that when they are working on a legal problem they instinctively ask themselves: "Are there international implications to this?" A big part of this is getting them to be aware of their own limitations. So, we focus on developing strong analytic skills to help them approach problems in many different jurisdictions. At the end, I want them to feel confident that they will know where to go for answers, not just by doing legal research in an area that they aren’t experts in but, for example, by calling a foreign lawyer

When teaching the Consumer Law course, I want my students to think about the social implications of different consumer choices and the political dimensions of law, so we look at major regulatory issues such as how much paternalism do we want versus how much consumer empowerment. I also want them to look at this subject from their perspective of being consumers themselves. So, through theory and policy readings, as well as hands-on work like group projects and visits to small claims court, I want them to consider whether consumers need to be protected more or whether they need to modify their behaviour more, and ultimately what that means for our society.