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Ambitious plans unveiled for UB Law School’s Advocacy Institute

By ILENE FLEISCHMANN

Published May 18, 2015

A longtime UB Law School professor who has spent a lot of time in courtrooms throughout the nation is unveiling ambitious plans for the school’s Advocacy Institute, which helps students and legal practitioners develop essential skills in litigation and advocacy.

SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Charles Patrick Ewing, who helped found the Advocacy Institute, has been named its permanent director and hopes the institute will become an important resource for honing such skills as trial and appellate advocacy, settlement negotiations and managing clients. Even for those whose practice does not include litigation, he says, the institute’s programs will make for better lawyering.

Terrence M. Connors, a prominent trial lawyer and a founding member of the Connors and Vilardo law firm, is working closely with Ewing as chair of the Advocacy Institute Advisory Board to develop, enhance and expand the program.

The Advocacy Institute encompasses three key areas of legal training offered through UB Law School: trial advocacy, appellate advocacy and alternative dispute resolution.

The trial advocacy component includes the Law School’s trial technique courses, in which students learn comprehensive strategies for how to conduct trials, as well as more narrowly focused skills courses on topics such as how to pick a jury or how to cross-examine a witness. This component also includes the UB Law School-sponsored Buffalo-Niagara Mock Trial Competition, held each November, and student trial teams that take part in trial competitions nationwide.

Most of the UB Law School’s trial-related courses are taught by practicing attorneys and judges who teach as adjunct faculty. Ewing envisions strengthening the training they receive by, for example, sending them to conferences and bringing in experts to help these practitioners become more effective teachers of trial advocacy skills.

The Advocacy Institute also may sponsor continuing education opportunities to continue to build bridges between the UB Law School and the legal community. And because students uniformly report that their trial team experiences are richly rewarding, the hope is to create and fund more such teams and make sure they get the highest-quality coaching possible.

Within the Advocacy Institute, Thomas P. Franczyk, an Erie County Court judge, and Christopher J. O’Brien of the Buffalo-based O’Brien Firm are adjunct faculty members and co-directors of trial advocacy.

In appellate advocacy, the Advocacy Institute encompasses two nationwide competitions run by the UB Law — the Herbert J. Wechsler National Criminal Moot Court Competition and the Albert R. Mugel National Moot Court Tax Competition — as well as the intramural Charles S. Desmond Moot Court Competition.

Ewing is looking to involve more students in these learning opportunities and to link the Desmond competition more closely with Legal Analysis, Writing and Research, the foundational three-semester skills program for first- and second-year law students. He also hopes to get more of the school’s full-time faculty involved with these moot court programs, particularly as coaches and mentors for students competing in regional, national and international moot court competitions.

Professor George Kannar oversees the Law School’s appellate advocacy programs.

In the increasingly important area of alternative dispute resolution, the Advocacy Institute comprises the school’s courses in mediation and arbitration, as well as UB Law School teams that compete in national mediation competitions and an annual in-house mediation competition.

This segment of the Advocacy Institute is under the direction Steven R. Sugarman, ’85, an attorney and mediator with Pusatier, Sherman, Abbott & Sugarman in Kenmore, New York. Plans are to broaden the focus of alternative dispute resolution to include settlement negotiation, a vital skill, Ewing notes, since the vast majority of legal actions are settled before trial.

In addition to these existing components, Ewing also envisions an innocence project as part of the Advocacy Institute. In this initiative, students, under faculty supervision, would examine the cases of prisoners who claim that they were wrongfully convicted.

“The idea is to serve as an aid to the criminal justice system,” he says, “in helping to exonerate people who are wrongfully convicted, and as a training vehicle for students.”

Students would examine transcripts, motions and prior decisions in a case and, in the process, learn how a case progresses from accusation to indictment to trial to conviction to post-conviction remedies and appeals. If a claim of wrongful conviction has merit and proceeds to litigation, Ewing says students may even end up helping to litigate such cases.

Other law schools that have established innocence projects have found huge demand, Ewing says, and the time and money it takes to investigate these cases will be a limiting factor. As a result, he says the UB Law School’s project likely would be limited to non-DNA exonerations and to cases where the crime occurred, and the prisoner is incarcerated, in Western New York.

The pace and scope of an expanded Advocacy Institute depends on securing the resources, in both time and donations, from UB Law School alumni and friends across the country.