How has the work of SUNY Buffalo Law School scholars changed the
rarefied intellectual world of legal scholarship?
For an appraisal, we turned to the eminent legal historians already in-house who compiled a list of 10 events and movements that have made a difference – in the Western New York legal community, but also increasingly, as the Law School has gained in regional, national and global reputation, in ways that reached far beyond Buffalo.
“Of necessity, the list excludes the past decade or so, in which much intellectual ferment has taken place but for which the judgment of history will have to wait,” says SUNY Distinguished Professor Guyora Binder. But it includes many developments that continue to resonate today.
At the time of the school’s founding in 1887, law was very much a craft that aspiring attorneys learned by apprenticing themselves to a practicing member of the bar. The system worked well enough for its time. But a handful of visionaries, seeing the limitations of law office training and acknowledging the presence of rigorous law schools in other cities, set out to change the landscape for legal education in Western New York. A dozen members of the bench and bar are credited as the founders of the Buffalo Law School—and among them, only three had themselves graduated from a law school. In a break with the tradition of the all-male bar, the Class of 1899 included two female graduates.
Shea, the Law School’s fifth dean, served from 1936 to 1939, amid the gathering storm of World War II. Shea hired a contemporary of his from Harvard Law School, Louis L. Jaffe, then added two more Harvard graduates, Mark DeWolfe Howe and David Riesman Jr. Some began calling the school “Little Harvard.” This nexus of faculty was familiar with the lessons learned from American Legal Realism – which recognized the sharp moral, political and social conflict that undergirded the creation and administration of the legal system – and the New Deal economics of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Law School continues that emphasis on understanding law in the context of its sociopolitical environment.
The James McCormick Mitchell Lecture is the signature lecture at SUNY Buffalo Law School. Endowed in 1950 by a major gift from Lavinia A. Mitchell in memory of her husband, Class of 1897, the lecture has been a forum for showcasing nationally important legal scholars and ideas in the Buffalo legal community. Speakers have included Irene Khan, C. Edwin Baker, Derrick Bell, Barry Cushman, Carol Gilligan, Elizabeth Holtzman, Stewart Macaulay, Catharine MacKinnon, Carrie Menkel-Meadow, Richard Posner and Clyde Summers, among many others.
For a complete list of lecturers, click here.
The student-edited Law Review published its first issue
in the 1950-51 academic year, assembled by five members of the
Class of ’51. It featured 18 student case notes and an
article by former Dean Louis L. Jaffe titled “Res Ipsa
Loquitur Vindicated.” Today the Law Review staff
publishes five issues each year, providing a forum for
significant scholarship and affording its student editors valuable
learning experiences in legal scholarship.
SUNY Buffalo Law School has a long history of excellence in tax
law, and the Albert R. Mugel National Tax Moot Court
Competition—named for the longtime Law School
professor—was one of the first specialized national moot
court competitions. Each year, law students from across the nation
come to Buffalo to present their written and oral arguments on
cutting-edge federal tax law issues in this prestigious
competition, now more than 30 years old, and one of the
cornerstones of the Law School’s rigorous tax law
The current emphasis on hands-on learning that produces
practice-ready attorneys has a long provenance at SUNY Buffalo Law
School, and a special place in that history belongs to the
school’s clinical program. One of the first education law
clinics in the nation found its home at the Law School, to be
followed by other innovative clinics that combined practical
education and service to the community. Some of the Law
School’s clinics have drawn national and international
recognition for their work on, for example, the problem of domestic
The Law and Society movement in legal scholarship studies the
place of law in social, political, economic and cultural life. Five
current or former faculty members have been president of the
international Law and Society Association, and three have served as
editor in chief of the Law & Society Review. The
movement is a key part of the Law School’s focus on
interdisciplinary scholarship that incorporates academic expertise
beyond black-letter law. More than half the faculty have earned
Ph.D.’s as well as J.D.’s
The Baldy Center for Law & Social Policy was created in 1972
with a generous endowment from the estate of Christopher Baldy, a
1910 graduate of the Law School. The Baldy Center is the Law
School’s premier vehicle for fostering interdisciplinary
scholarship on law, legal institutions and social policy, including
research, teaching and curriculum development. More than 150 UB
faculty members from numerous departments participate in Baldy
Center research, conferences, working groups and publications. The
Baldy Center also hosts distinguished scholars from around the
world as visitors, speakers and conference participants.
There’s a continuous tension among those who study legal
education over the pedagogical methods that make the best lawyers.
The so-called Buffalo Model—home-grown at the Law
School—has emerged as an innovative and highly effective
approach. The model, which began to take form in the mid-1970s
under the deanship of Thomas E. Headrick, moved the Law
School’s curriculum in directions that took advantage of the
multidisciplinary ethos of the school and focused on the increasing
complexities of law practice.
Theorists of the Critical Legal Studies method apply the methods
of semiotic deconstruction to law scholarship. The movement emerged
in the late 1970s and has spawned offshoots including critical race
theory. Buffalo became one of the first centers for CLS scholarship
outside of the two law schools with which this important movement
in legal thought was associated.