New Legal Skills Program Will Produce Practice-ready Attorneys

By Ilene Fleischmann

Release Date: October 2, 2009

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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo Law School is reinventing the way it prepares students for Day One of practicing law. By integrating innovative and practical legal skills immediately into the curriculum, graduates will be better equipped immediately after they graduate to file a brief, cross-examine a witness or make a special pleading.

As part of the new Legal Skills Program, students will be given a framework of courses and experiences that encompass critical skills for the professional field. Highlighted throughout the curriculum will be legal research and writing, litigation and non-litigation skills, and professional development.

UB Law School Dean Makau Mutua says the program will focus on skills "critical to the education of a well-trained, analytically sound and thoughtful lawyer." SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Charles Ewing has agreed to serve as vice dean for the Legal Skills Program. "He is widely respected by colleagues, peers around the country, judges and the bar," said Mutua. "He will bring enormous talents to bear on the organizational and instructional excellence that we expect of the Legal Skills Program."

Ewing says, "The idea is to integrate and coordinate these programs so we have better control over them and they offer a better learning experience for the students. Right now there is demand for lawyers coming out of law schools who are able to do things -- do research, write, have some litigation skills, some appellate advocacy skills -- right out of the gate. We've been doing all of this. It just hasn't been pulled together, coordinated and integrated."

Research and Writing will teach first-year students the basics of these vital skills, followed by advanced courses for upper-level students. Litigation Skills will review the basics in trial technique and procedure. Appellate Advocacy Skills comprises appellate-style moot courts and writing-based competitions, along with courses designed to teach the basics of brief-writing and appellate oral advocacy. The Non-Litigation Skills component deals with courses in negotiation, alternative dispute resolution, mediation and counseling, because not all law is about litigation. Professional Development will introduce students to the opportunities for growth in the profession and support from fellow law professionals.

According to Ewing, the most immediate changes to the program will be some new faces among the judges and attorneys teaching, including several new research and writing instructors. In addition, students will be offered more challenging case problems and a set of demonstrations by master trial lawyers to supplement classroom learning.

"A legal skills program is crucial to the success of any law school," says Ewing. "The business of law is requiring more skills from young lawyers, and the energy that we are putting into our program will help them to leave here ready to go to work right from the start."

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.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.