Helena Lamed: Fostering connections

Helena Lamed

"... the weirder the case, the better ... a weird case can be a very effective starting point ..."

Me Helena Lamed, who retired at the end of May 2017, was director of the Faculty's legal methodology program. In that role, she teaches the first year methodology course on legal research and writing and the second year course on legal ethics and advocacy. She also offered a course on literary and linguistic approaches to law.

In addition to her formal teaching (starting at McGill in 2003) Me Lamed has also worked coordinating McGill's large (and very successful!) competitive moot programs.

What do you want your students to take away from your courses and how do you make your teaching meaningful for them?

First and foremost, in all of my courses, I try to get my students to make connections.

The study of law can be rather abstract – where they learn theory and how rules are applied in fixed situations – so to address that, in a way, I really want students to learn how to make connections among all their courses. An effective way to do that is through writing. I want them to see that while the taxonomy of law may be somewhat rigid, they can still apply what they learn in contracts, for example, to other areas. I also encourage them to make connections between what they read about the law and study in the rules, and real life.

To that end, we look at law as one way to impose order on what I call “the mess of human endeavour,” so I teach that they need to understand human endeavour when they are working on legal issues. To help anchor us in the world, I like to take a unique or strange case that will be instructive for us to examine because through it, students will have a better sense of their own place on the spectrum of human endeavour. In fact, the weirder the case the better because a weird case can be a very effective starting point for discussions and for exploring the methodology of law.

At the class level, I try to build into my lectures a lot of student participation. Some might think that this would detract from the syllabus, especially given that I teach some rather large classes, but it actually enriches my teaching (and I do finish everything that I set out to accomplish!).

Most importantly, by encouraging participation, I can foster meaningful connections among the students. That helps students see important connections between the law and other elements in our society. In the end, I want them to make those connections – which is the relationship side of law – regardless of whether they are employing the law to help their client win a case, to make a deal with another lawyer, or to meet any other professional challenge.