(Un)common Law

By the SMU Social Media Team

For someone who believes in relating the study of law back to the realities of life, Associate Professor Goh Yihan certainly doesn’t fit the cliche of a wizened didact, hardened by years of practice and academia.

At just 35, the Dean-designate of Singapore Management University’s School of Law will be the youngest to ever hold the post. And it is perhaps this relatively narrow age gap between Professor Goh and his students that contributes to his ability to connect with the cohort, and communicate how the theories of law can be applied to the real world.

“Students are the heart of what we do here at SMU’s School of Law, and so I will make it a point to reach out to students and hear their concerns and aspirations,” says Professor Goh, who plans to hold regular meetings with students and participate in student activities.


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“Indeed, that is why I have committed myself to teach even after becoming Dean.” Besides enabling them to ace their syllabus, Professor Goh believes in helping students understand that their actions will one day have “real-life consequences for very real people”. To do this, he relates his experiences drawn from his previous stint in the Legal Service, as well as legal practice. During his tenure as a Justices’ Law Clerk and Assistant Registrar at the Supreme Court of Singapore, he learned first-hand the practical impact of the law by assisting and observing judges in their cases.

“The law is not to be studied in a vacuum, but is to be related to the realities of practice and society,” says Professor Goh.

“That is what I try to include in my teaching. I aim always to make students recognise the practical importance of the academic material they study, and how they can apply that in the future as lawyers.”

However, it could be an uphill task communicating such lessons through traditional lectures and tutorials to young students, when many of them have yet to enter the work force and are unable to relate. Instead, he embraces creativity and interaction in his teaching to encourage active learning and engagement—and avoid the occurrence of classroom snoozing, for both professor and pupil.

“In my classes, there are no wrong or ‘silly’ questions,” reveals Professor Goh. “I believe in creating a safe and conducive learning environment for my students, so that they feel free to explore the boundaries of knowledge and truly learn. Ultimately, I am conscious that everyone has a different learning style, and I make it an effort to cater to each and every student, and listen to everyone.”


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And the legal expert has certainly managed to refine his methods, with an approach to teaching that has clinched him six awards in his eight-year career—among them the SMU School of Law Most Outstanding Teacher Award, which he won last year. He incorporates videos and real-life examples, such as the latest cases heard in the courts, into his lessons to keep them relatable, and to help students better understand legal concepts.

Beyond interacting with students, Professor Goh, who is also the youngest recipient of the Singapore Academy of Law’s Singapore Law Merit Award, plans to embark on a “bold and progressive curriculum review”.

“It is vitally important that our curriculum at SMU not only prepares our students for practice today, but also for practice tomorrow,” says the Dean-designate. “The future of the legal profession promises to offer multiple new opportunities to students, and we need to anticipate and provide those opportunities to our students. There is much to be excited about.”


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