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Building a Bridge to Practice: UB Offers January Bridge Courses

By Ilene Fleischmann

Release Date: January 7, 2012

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- January is the season for one of University at Buffalo Law School's most distinctive traditions: the intensive learning experiences known as bridge courses.

Ranging from one to three credits, students can choose from among 39 courses offered from start to finish in January, with some taking as many as three bridge courses this session. Some seize the opportunity to explore an area of the law that intrigues them; others pile on the credits to lighten their course load during the coming spring semester. In every case, though, the experience broadens students' legal horizons and imparts some of the essential skills of legal practice.

"I don't know of any other school that does what we do, which is to open a distinct space in the curriculum that serves as a showcase for our adjunct faculty, our judges and our practitioners," says SUNY Distinguished Professor James A. Gardner, vice dean for academic affairs. "Other schools have adjunct-taught courses, and often those courses are skills-oriented or highly focused as ours are. But the idea of having a dedicated portion of the year devoted to this is unique to us."

In keeping with the UB Law School's emphasis on imparting practical legal skills, many of the bridge-term courses address those skills directly, such as learning how to choose a jury or how to take a deposition. "But all of them are skills courses in the sense that they provide a close and focused and practice-oriented look at a very narrow area of law," Gardner says. "That's distinct from the normal classroom experience. Even a focused course in law school tends to be a survey course. This is sort of an apprentice's-eye view of what practice is like."

Most bridge courses at UB Law School are taught by alumni and other practitioners – attorneys, judges and government officials among them – supplemented by UB Law School faculty. Often, teaching a bridge course is a chance for alumni to reconnect with the school and share with law students some of their hard-won expertise in their area of specialization.

The courses include opportunities for clinical experience and judicial clerkships in Social Security disability law and habeas corpus law, and such emerging practice areas as Alternative Dispute Resolution and sexual harassment mediation.

Among the highlights of the bridge-term courses:

* A course on Buffalo's financial control board looks at "the amenability of economic and fiscal problems such as those of the city to resolution by subordination of democratic politics to control by a board of appointed experts." The course examines the basis in the state Constitution for establishing the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority, whose chair is former UB Law School Dean R. Nils Olsen, and looks at the political context in which the board was created. It's taught by James Magavern '59 and Richard Tobe '74, who was recently appointed deputy Erie County executive.

* Longtime City Court judge Robert T. Russell's bridge-term course looks at Housing Court and its relationship with Housing and Landlord-Tenant Court. The course explores housing and health code violations, property nuisance laws, the "Bawdy House Statute," the doctrine of the "Warranty of Habitability," demolitions and other issues.

* Students in a course taught by Helen Drew '88, Professional Sports Contract Negotiation & Arbitration, get hands-on experience in the legal and practical skills necessary to negotiate and arbitrate a professional sports employment contract. The class will be divided into two-person teams representing management and players, and each team will research, prepare and actively negotiate and arbitrate a professional athlete's contract.

* A bridge-term course in bankruptcy practice covers issues in consumer bankruptcy, a useful offering because most UB Law School courses address corporate, rather than consumer, bankruptcy. Taught by Morris L. Horwitz '74, the course follows the handling of a consumer bankruptcy from client intake, through the analysis of assets and liabilities, choice of chapter (7 or 13), preparation of the petition and schedules, electronic filing, court proceedings and post-petition challenges.

Since its founding in 1887, the University at Buffalo Law School – the State University of New York system's only law school – has established an excellent reputation and is widely regarded as a leader in legal education. Its cutting-edge curriculum provides both a strong theoretical foundation and the practical tools graduates need to succeed in a competitive marketplace, wherever they choose to practice. A special emphasis on interdisciplinary studies, public service and opportunities for hands-on clinical education makes UB Law unique among the nation's premier public law schools.