“Studying Law Does Not Mean Sanctifying It”

Deputy Dean for the past year, Sébastien Pimont is now officially taking over from Christophe Jamin as Dean of the Law School at the start of the September 2020 academic year. This succession, although prepared over a long period of time, is occurring during an unprecedented educational context. However, that doesn’t scare this university professor who sees an even greater opportunity to pursue continuous educational innovation, a trademark of the Law School. Interview.

You have been teaching at Sciences Po for many years. What is your professional and academic background?

Sébastien Pimont: I am a pure product of university law training! A jurist with an education in civil law, I study more particularly contract law, but I am also interested in philosophy of law and legal theory. I had already been teaching at the Sciences Po Undergraduate College when I joined the permanent faculty of the Law School in 2015. Today, I teach contract law, legal epistemology and an introductory law class for students. I also served as Director of the Law Department at Sciences Po as well as director of the Research Center at the Law School.

How do you become Dean of the Law School?

S.P.: You must be nominated by the President of Sciences Po (Frédéric Mion), after the proposal by a committee, as required in the bylaws of the School. Beyond these formalities - we are indeed in a school of jurists - you need to have the confidence of the permanent faculty. After my colleagues elected me, I was able to exercise the role of deputy dean alongside Christophe Jamin for a year, and thus gradually began to appreciate the implications of the role. The lockdown period, which confronted us with a variety of very concrete issues, also gave me the opportunity to immerse myself in the operational issues of the position.

What does the role of Dean consist of? What qualities are needed in order to be successful?

SP: The position requires constant dialogue with very different interlocutors, starting with professional circles - lawyers, NGOs, public institutions, private companies, associations - but also, within Sciences Po, with the president and general secretariat, the academic affairs team, and the other deans. A dean's door should always be open to students, with whom it is essential to establish a relationship based on listening and trust. There also has to be constant dialogue with the Law School teams who are continuously invested and all of the school's faculty, both permanent and temporary. The dean’s role is to know how to talk to all these people and work within an academic and intellectual project, which is particularly original at the Law School. We must stand behind this project, make it real, and know how to take it further.

How would you define the originality of this academic project?

S.P.: It is based on two important and basic statements. First, our mission is to train high-level lawyers able to adapt in a constantly changing environment. Second, our school welcomes students without requiring any legal prerequisites, and trains them to be jurists, in just two years. Our pedagogical model is based on interaction, dialogue, case solving, and solving concrete issues within small groups. This gives students the capacity to take initiative, a strategic ability which makes them stand out.

This kind of education gives a lot of importance to the practice of law, in particular thanks to our Clinic, which gives students an opportunity to deal with real world issues. A large majority of our students also take a gap year between the first and the second year, and they return transformed: they have seen the difference between law “in textbooks” and law “in real life”. Finally, the international aspect of our school, with 30% foreign students and nearly 25 visiting professors from abroad, helps prepare our students to work in a global context.

It was all a real gamble at the start. But it was necessary to back it, and today the results are evident in the remarkable professional integration of our graduates and their success in various legal competitions and exams.

What developments do you see emerging for the future?

S.P.: We face the same challenges as all other faculties and universities that teach law -- mainly the evolution of artificial intelligence, of predictive justice, and of pedagogy itself: what can we teach lawyers who will work in such a fast-changing environment? But this also raises a philosophical question about justice: is it something we can calculate? We must also deal with another pressing issue: the emergence of climate justice, which is becoming a crucial theme, especially for our students. Finally, I would like to go even further in supporting our graduates beyond their studies at Sciences Po by animating our alumni community.

What are your students' dreams when they arrive at the Law School?

S.P.: Some people clearly know what they want to do when they arrive: join a law firm, become a judge, etc. Others arrive with a thirst for justice in a world that mishandles it a bit. They want to learn to master the weapon of law to change the world. In any case, our mission is twofold. We must provide students with technical tools: teach them to speak the language of law, and use it strategically, depending on their professional needs. We must also teach them not to be fooled by this language. Law is not a technique or a blind, neutral instrument. The core of our program is a fundamental dialectic between the different elements of legality (or law): the idea is that technical elements should never obfuscate political elements...

So ‘law’ does not take a capital "L"... it seems you have a very similar point of view and intellectual proximity with Christophe Jamin, the founder of the school whom you are succeeding. What will you do with this legacy?

S.P.: I joined the Sciences Po Law School specifically for Christophe Jamin! I share his vision of the law; his ideas have nourished me intellectually. He's a great teacher: he gave me a certain idea of what it means to teach law today. With the Law School, he instilled many pedagogical innovations. He was highly inspired by what was being done in the United States, but which was of no interest in France at the time. The link between theory and practice in legal education was not obvious. His work means a lot to academics of my generation.

Episode of our web series "Prof" with Christophe Jamin (FR).

The start of the academic year promises to be unprecedented for two reasons: it will be your first as dean, and students will follow a new type of semester, with both online and physical classes. How are you going about it?

S.P.: I am looking forward to the start of the academic year with great enthusiasm! Thanks to our professors and teaching staff’s incredible energy and efforts, we will be able to offer a high quality education to all our students. We are transforming the constraints of this context into opportunities. Fortunately, we are used to innovating in pedagogy: the flipped classroom has been practiced for a long time already! The transition is therefore not a revolution. We have rethought all the mechanisms that will allow us to work closely with our students.

What's great about the Law School is the constant urge to reinvent itself. Beyond the manner of teaching, the crisis has triggered deep reflection in our research programmes; it is very stimulating. More than ever, it pushes us to strengthen the dialogue with other disciplines and other graduate schools. A jurist must not lock himself up in his ivory tower: we try to maintain a permanent critical tension, to desecrate the discourse of jurists. Openness to other social sciences, but also to the humanities, is essential to achieve this.

Interview by the Sciences Po Editorial Team


Sébastien Pimont is a university professor, Director of the Research Center of the Law School since 2018. He became deputy dean of the Law School in 2019, and will become full dean as of September 2020. He defended a thesis on The Economy of Contracts (dir. Jean Beauchard, P.U.A.M. 2004). Former dean of the law faculty at the Université de Savoie, he is the co-founder of the journal Jurisprudence-Revue critique and is also co-responsible for the column of general works at the Revue Trimestrielle de droit civil. His areas of interest are obligation law, philosophy of law as well as questions relating to the teaching of law. He recently published with V. Forray a book entitled Décrire le droit … et le transformer. (Describing the Law… and transforming it). Dalloz, coll. Legal Method, 2017. Read more (FR)

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