Dean Limelight: Boston College Law School’s Vincent Rougeau


Boston College Vincent RougeauWhen Vincent Rougeau became dean of Boston College Law School in 2011 it was, perhaps, the capstone testament to his commitment to Catholic social teaching and the law.

Rougeau has served his entire academic career at Roman Catholic-affiliated law schools, starting with Loyola University of Chicago in 1991 and moving in 1998 to the University of Notre Dame, where for several years he was associate dean for student affairs and a member of the appointments committee.

More telling is the content of that service. Over the years Rougeau has become an acknowledged expert on Catholic social thought and the role of morality, community and religious values in lawmaking and public policy. Community stands high in his pantheon of values. Rougeau, who holds a B.A. from Brown University and a J.D. from Harvard, co-founded a “Just Communities” effort that explores the challenge of religious witness in the public life of pluralistic societies. His published works often zero in on the interplay of religion and public life. Writing about banking regulation, another area of interest, he has focused on protecting the community’s most vulnerable members and how the law can check predatory behavior among financial institutions and in the marketplace.

For students at BC Law, he has said the community commitment is both boon and obligation. “We want our graduates to understand what it really means to be a professional and a productive member of society,” Rougeau said in an interview. At the same time, he said, “We want to help students understand who they are and what they want from their careers, to find their passion within the law and their place in society.” They won’t be alone in that quest. Faculty, career services, alumni, he said, “We’re all on that road of exploration with them.”

LAWDRAGON: What drew you into the field of legal academia?

VINCENT ROUGEAU: My parents always encouraged critical thinking, and so from a young age I was interested in the kind of intellectual debate one finds in academia. My undergraduate years at Brown played another important role in my development. The school was very good at allowing students to explore their areas of interest and define their own paths, which is something more commonplace these days, but was fairly unique at the time. I studied in France for a year, which increased my interest in international work and helped begin to shape my later scholarly efforts in global migration and legal cosmopolitanism.

I knew I wanted to study law fairly early on; my father was a lawyer and he was very involved in the civil rights movement as well. So I saw firsthand the struggle for justice and equality and how the law played a role in that. After Harvard, I practiced law for several years in Washington, D.C., but I was always drawn toward academia, and when an opportunity presented itself at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, I took it.

LD: What distinguishes your institution from other law schools?

VR: We have a very clear understanding of justice, which springs from our roots as a Jesuit institution; it’s something woven into our very core. The ethical practice of law—what it really means to be a professional and a productive member of society—is very important to us as well. And I think we are particularly focused on the shaping of the whole person. At BC Law, we want to help students understand who they are and what they want from their careers, to find their passion within the law and their place in society.

LD: Are there new initiatives or programs to highlight in that regard?

VR: We announced the creation in the fall of a Center for Experiential Learning that will bring together our clinical, externship and trial advocacy programs under one roof here at the law school. This sort of real-world training is very important to us, which is why we are expanding our Semester in Practice program and adding more flexible externship offerings to help give students more options. It is our goal that all of our students experience at least one form of experiential learning before they graduate.

We’ve also recently announced the formation of our Global Practice Program, which combines our flagship London Program, our Semester in Practice Human Rights placements and a new J.D./LL.M. program with the Sorbonne in Paris, and we’ll be adding to that in the coming years. We are very focused on a global approach to the law and on helping students find opportunities internationally.

LD: Semester in Practice – is that simply another name for an externship?

VR: SIP is a specific type of externship where students work 24 or 32 hours a week at a placement and attend a weekly seminar that examines their experiences through readings, discussion and student presentations. Students keep a weekly journal. The program, we believe, is unique in the breadth and flexibility of its offerings, from nonprofits to businesses to law firms, and its locations, from local placements to specific programs in D.C. to international human rights organizations. Students can also design their own SIP, subject to approval.

LD: You started a boot camp so that first years master the skills needed to find jobs. What skills are those and how do you teach them? 

VR: Our Career Services Office developed the 1L Boot Camp series in collaboration with 2nd- and 3rd-year BC Law students. The idea is to offer first-year students critical advice on how to succeed in a competitive employment market. Having just gone through the process themselves, upper-class students run sessions with the 1Ls that offer the “real deal” on how to transition from being a student to being a professional.

We then host a networking event that brings alumni from different areas of practice to the law school to assist with honing networking skills, polishing resumes and conducting mock interviews. Although not mandatory, the vast majority of 1Ls participate and the program has received rave reviews.

LD: You’ve spoken before about the need to guide the school through structural changes in the economy, legal education and the legal profession. Could you elaborate? 

VR: We live in challenging times for law schools and the legal profession, but it is also a time of tremendous opportunity. As the practice of law changes, becomes more global, and as the traditional firm model evolves, we need to rethink legal education and how we are serving our students and the profession. My job is to help lead Boston College Law through these changes while keeping the core of what makes us special intact and alive.

I think we are uniquely positioned to succeed, with our already very strong experiential learning programs, our focus on ethics and our growing international law faculty. We also want to help lead the discussion on what the next 50 years of legal education should look like, and we’re doing that by expanding experiential learning and global programs, hiring new faculty and rethinking our leadership structure.

We’ve taken a more holistic approach to student services, for example, by integrating formerly separate offices under one associate dean. We created new leadership positions such as an Associate Dean for External Relations, Diversity and Inclusion. We’re also doing things like reducing class sizes and considering ways to make law school more affordable.

LD: How has the size reduction affected the kind or quality of student entering BC Law? 

VR: When I became dean three years ago, the trends in student applications to law school were very clear. Working with the university, I established a plan to “right-size” the law school as a response to this change and to changes in the employment market.

By next year, total J.D. enrollment at BC Law will have been reduced by close to 100 students. This has allowed us to continue to bring in highly talented students and to maintain the academic and intellectual rigor of our program of legal education. We take very seriously our commitment to a holistic approach to the intellectual and professional development of our students, and our smaller size has enhanced our ability to focus on our students as individuals.

LD: Won’t hiring faculty put pressure on your budget?

VR: One reason we have been able to continue hiring new faculty is because of the extraordinary generosity of our alumni, who have endowed a number of new faculty positions for the law school over the last several years. Their commitment to BC Law has allowed us to enhance important academic areas in high demand, such as business law, at both the junior and senior faculty levels, and has enabled us to control the need for greater tuition revenue.

We recently introduced our Dean’s Scholars program, which provides selected students with full-tuition scholarships for all three years of law school. Our loan repayment and forgiveness program was permanently endowed in 2011 in the name of Francis X. Bellotti, the former Massachusetts Attorney General and founder of Arbella Insurance. Again, these efforts have been made possible through the donations of generous alumni.

We also increased our financial aid budget by more than 25 percent since 2009.

BC Law has been recognized repeatedly in national surveys for offering exceptional value for money, and we are committed to being careful stewards of our students’ tuition dollars and to helping them maintain manageable levels of debt.

LD: Are you seeing trends in the jobs your students take after graduation?

VR: While the majority of our students still take a more traditional track post-graduation of heading to law firm, government or public interest opportunities, more students are beginning to explore opportunities at the intersection of law, regulations and technology. We all know that compliance-related work is on the rise and our students are working in that field as lawyers, regulators and analysts.  But there are other unique approaches to partnering with clients that offer solutions in this area.

For example, in 2013, BC Law partnered with Legal OnRamp to create a pilot program at the school where recent graduates join collaborative teams to help large institutions better manage the complex nature of the regulations and contracts that affect their work. Labeled a “design approach to law,” we believe this non-conventional approach to legal services will be an area of great growth and opportunity.

Another area that offers fresh opportunities is in in-house legal departments themselves. We have begun working with various in-house counsel who want to hire our students directly out of law school, rather than following the more traditional path of waiting until junior lawyers gain a few years of experience at a law firm. We established a pilot program with PTC that places two of our recent graduates in-house as “resident attorneys,” where they have an amazing opportunity to find out what it’s like to work for an in-house corporate legal department.

Traditionally these corporations have either hired a law firm to do this kind of work or hired more experienced attorneys, but this is a way for new graduates to learn on the job while providing the business with reasonably priced talent they can shape to their own needs. It really launches our graduates, gives them the experience that so many jobs require. It is our hope that they will be well positioned to go anywhere they want — or perhaps choose to remain at the company — after the program is complete.

These are just a couple of specific examples of new paths our students are exploring. And, make no mistake: We’re on that road of exploration with them. Whether working with faculty, career services counselors or our strong alumni network, all of us at BC are helping students take more time to understand the new opportunities available to them and help them determine where they fit, what type of area they want to focus on and the environment in which they want to work. Ultimately, what matters to us is that they find the path that will lead them to a satisfying career.

LD: What do you do outside the school when you’re not being dean?

VR: I love to travel; I love to eat, probably too much. I love wine, love the outdoors, hiking and canoeing. My wife (Dr. Robin L. Kornegay-Rougeau, a pediatrician) and I are very passionate about the arts. All of our children are involved in theater and music, so I spend a lot of time with my family at plays, gigs, concerts and jam sessions. (And I don’t like peanut butter.)

Contact Margot Slade at (646) 722-2624 or