A chat with Dean Abramovsky

Published December 13, 2018

Aviva Abramovsky.

Aviva Abramovsky

As part of a new series of interviews with UB’s deans, UBNow sat down with Aviva Abramovsky, dean of the School of Law, to learn more about the school’s strategic priorities, new programs and recent successes. 

What have been your strategic priorities since being named dean of the law school in 2017?

I came to UB School of Law because of its interdisciplinary strengths, the strong reputation of its faculty and its exceptional programming. My priorities have been building upon those strengths with a specific focus on four critical areas:

First, maintaining our standards of academic excellence by providing our students with the highest level of training possible. That requires adapting our approach to legal education to ensure that our graduates are prepared to take their place in a rapidly changing profession.

Expanding access to legal education. As the State of New York’s law school, we have an obligation to open up pathways to a law degree to underrepresented and non-traditional students with the talent and the desire to succeed in law school.

Teaching our students to be world citizens. We have the expertise among our faculty to provide a global perspective in the classroom, and to encourage our students to collaborate at a global level. We must provide as many opportunities as possible to facilitate those collaborations.

Finally, access to justice is at the heart of everything we do. We have a long history of providing pro bono service and teaching our students to view the world with compassion, knowing that regardless of where they ultimately choose to work, they have a moral responsibility, as lawyers and as leaders, to use their skills and knowledge to ensure justice and to give back. I am committed to carrying that forward.

You’ve been very active visiting law school alums, judges and employers around the state over the past several months. Sounds exhausting. What are you hoping to accomplish?

Our alumni and the legal community as a whole are active participants in the education of our students — they teach classes, mentor our students and help our new graduates find jobs. They are invested in our success. Moreover, they are witnesses to current changes in the profession. Their knowledge and guidance is crucial in shaping our vision for legal education, and they are key to helping us achieve that vision.

You’ve described a growing momentum within UB School of Law after a period of immense challenges for law schools nationwide and significant changes to the legal practice. What are the signs and sources of this momentum?

The practice of law is being transformed in response to technology and the globalization of the economy. At the same time, there has been a significant decline across the nation in the number of students interested in earning law degrees. As a result, all law schools have had to adjust and respond in order to offer an education that will attract and prepare the next generation of lawyers.

The opportunities, however, are enormous. As the complexity of society increases, so does the need for legal expertise to deal with those complexities.  Technology is fundamentally changing our lives. New issues related to free speech, privacy and data collection require specialized legal expertise to help define and interpret the rules related to these issues.

This is an exciting time for legal education. The law is evolving right in front of us, and we must evolve with it. That kind of challenge ultimately leads to greater collaboration across campus and with community partners, and more specialized and innovative programs.

You recently launched a Center for the Advancement of Sport. What is the center’s focus?

Our new Center for the Advancement of Sport is a major interdisciplinary initiative that draws on some of UB’s greatest strengths: the work of faculty in law, education, social work, management, engineering and computer science, as well as our Department of Athletics. It focuses on three major areas: educational programming, collaborative research and policy initiatives. The ultimate goal is to attract high-quality students and student athletes to the university, and give those students opportunities to get a foothold in policy, research or through externship opportunities in local and even national athletic organizations.

The law school has been very active in Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Maria. What is the nature of the school’s involvement and what has been the impact?

Shortly after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, we established the Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic. Ten of our law students prepared for several weeks through classroom instruction, and then traveled to the island last January to provide legal and humanitarian assistance. In the few days that they were there, the students helped over 80 residents file aid applications with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or appeal FEMA’s denial of aid. They also formed humanitarian brigades that delivered solar lamps and supplies to more than 800 families in isolated areas.

Building on the success of that trip, a smaller group returned in July to work on long-term resiliency issues, such as reliable access to food, energy and information. Given my background in insurance law, I joined our students on that trip to meet with Puerto Rico’s commissioner of insurance and several other leaders in the insurance industry to identify their long-term needs. Those discussions have opened the door to an ongoing collaboration.

In February, I’ll return to the island to participate in a conference of insurance stakeholders hosted by the University of Puerto Rico. Our students will also return to continue their research and policy work. In the process, they are learning how to apply their legal skills to real-world disaster situations, and how to use their knowledge and experience to help create solutions. It’s an experience they will carry with them throughout the rest of their careers.

What are the law school’s philanthropic goals under UB’s Boldly Buffalo campaign?

Our goal is to build on the success of our recent $30 Million Campaign for UB Law — all of which counts in the Boldly Buffalo Campaign — and increase that total to $37.5 million. Private support is critical to keeping the cost of law school within reach of promising students, attracting exceptional faculty and funding new programs. I am so thankful to all of our alumni and friends who have and continue to provide this much-needed support.

We are also very excited to announce our new summer fellowship initiative for first-year law students, which ensures our students are positioned for career success. This initiative is designed to address a challenge many of our first-year law students face: making a tough choice between taking an unpaid, law position that offers invaluable experience or taking a non-legal, paid position over the summer. The 1L Summer Fellowship initiative provides a stipend so that our students can take that unpaid law position that will give them a jump-start in their legal careers, and we are committed to raising enough financial support to make sure that every one of our students has that opportunity.

With Athletics Director Mark Alnutt, you’re serving as co-chair of UB’s faculty staff fundraising campaign. Why is it important for faculty and staff to give to the university?

Faculty and staff at UB believe in the importance of public education. We witness its impact every day. We see how it transforms the lives of our students. Supporting the university through the campaign demonstrates our commitment to the students we serve and our belief in the power of education.