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UB Law 'bridge' courses develop real-world skills

Robert Russell

Buffalo City Court judge Robert T. Russell teaches a UB Law School "bridge" course that provides insight into the workings of Housing Court.

By ILENE FLEISCHMANN

Published February 21, 2013

UB Law School students are honing their practice skills and going deep in specific legal specialties by taking part in the school’s unique “bridge term” courses.

The four-week courses, held from start to finish each January, afford students the opportunity to develop practice-ready skills while at the same time gaining expertise in one or more practice areas. Most bridge-term courses are taught by legal practitioners serving as adjunct instructors who bring real-world experience to every class.

Charles Patrick Ewing, professor and vice dean for academic affairs, says the bridge courses are a key part of the Law School’s renewed commitment to graduating new lawyers ready to practice on day one.

“As part of the Law School’s enhanced efforts to provide state-of-the-art skills training to all students and to prepare them to be practice-ready upon graduation, we have increased the level of skills training available in our bridge semester,” Ewing says.

“These courses are taught by highly experienced practitioners, as well as members of the full-time faculty. For example, during the most recent bridge term, we offered courses on jury selection, managing a law practice, commercial litigation, alternative dispute resolution, discovery strategy, financial institutions, post-conviction remedies, death penalty practice, taking and defending depositions, and examining and cross-examining expert witnesses. We also offered courses on practice issues in family law, tax, personal injury, Social Security disability and intellectual property cases.”

The Law School offers dozens of bridge courses each year. Here is just a sampling:

  • A course taught by Hon. Robert T. Russell, a Buffalo City Court judge, provides insight into the workings of Housing Court, including the laws governing housing and health code violations, property nuisance laws, the “Bawdy House Statute” and demolitions.
  • The post-conviction restrictions imposed on sex offenders, popularly known as Megan’s Laws, are the topic of a course taught by Gary Muldoon, JD ’76. The course, which looks at the costs and effectiveness of efforts to reduce recidivism by such offenders, featured as a guest speaker Hon. Eugene F. Pigott Jr., JD ’73, a justice of New York State’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.
  • Steven Weiss, ’91 teaches “Law Firm as a Business,” a course that provides students with some of the practical business skills they need to succeed in the private practice of law. Notably, the course discusses ways new lawyers can create a successful niche practice in the increasingly competitive legal market.
  • Case studies of actual IP cases—involving the movies “Backdraft” and “Shakespeare in Love,” and the Ice Cube song “Gangstas Make the World Go Round”—form the basis for a course in intellectual property litigation taught by Kenneth W. Africano, JD ’85. Students in the course review pleadings, expert reports and other evidence, and work hands-on to analyze the cases.
  • “Choosing the Right Jury” is the title of a skills course taught by Stuart Austin, JD ’93. “Defense attorneys who once relied on their instincts are now realizing that a poorly picked jury is more harmful to their case than a murder weapon with fingerprints,” Austin says. Through role-playing and experiential learning, students gain practical experience in the voir dire process and understand the psychology behind picking a jury.
  • Hon. E. Jeannette Ogden, JD ’83, an Erie County Family Court judge, teaches “Mental Illness and the Criminal Justice System.” The course, which focuses on Article 730 of the Criminal Procedure Law, helps students understand the special burden courts face when the accused has a mental disease.