This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Olsen offers Senate update on law school

Dean cites service teaching through legal clinics as one of its primary strengths

Published: March 3, 2005

Contributing Editor

Law School Dean Nils Olsen doesn't yet know if current Erie County budget woes will cause a heavier workload for faculty and students at the Law School's various legal clinics throughout Western New York.

But it has increased interest in at least one law school class: the course on the City of Buffalo's fiscal crisis that Olsen teaches along with former UB president William R. Greiner and attorney James L. Magavern.

"So actually, our curriculum will benefit," he told the Faculty Senate at its meeting on Tuesday.

Olsen was on hand to give an update on the Law School, and cited its service teaching through its legal clinics as one of its primary strengths.

"This program is unique nationally, I think it's fair to say, because it concentrates on transactional representation of groups, as opposed to litigation, which is the normal model," he said. "It also concentrates on more complex representational issues than the traditional clinical program, which tends to be more of a legal services model."

Students who participate in the school's clinics are provisionally licensed to practice law and do so under faculty supervision in several areas, including:

  • Affordable housing. UB was the first law school nationally to develop an affordable housing clinical program, which, in the past 14 years "has been responsible for about $150 million in profit housing built in the Western New York area, so it makes an extraordinary contribution to the community. It's also a fantastic learning opportunity for our students because this is very complex representation, and very complex transactional representation," Olsen said. (See story in this issue for details about the Affordable Housing Clinic's latest projects.)

  • Economic development. UB also was the first law school to establish a community economic development fund, which provides transactional legal assistance with an emphasis on child care and welfare reform, as well as the creation of financial resources within impoverished communities.

  • Family violence. UB's Family Violence Clinic "goes far beyond representing individuals," according to Olsen, and also trains district attorney's office and social services employees "to work in an integrated fashion with a consistent approach to the problems of family violence."

  • Senior citizens. "Our elder law clinic has represented more than 19,000 individuals and obtained more than $12 million in benefits for its clients," Olsen said.

  • Securities law. Created in collaboration with New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, this clinic is operated with the School of Management to provide educational and representational services to small investors.

  • Educational law. The Law School established its Education Law Clinic in 1973, making it "one of the oldest of its kind in the country," Olsen said. The clinic has represented thousands of clients in disputes with school districts over obtaining appropriate educational services for disabled students.

  • Environmental law. The school's Environment and Development Clinic has served clients on a number of issues, "particularly the citing of hazardous-waste and solid-waste disposal facilities throughout the area and brown-fields development," Olsen said.

The dean also praised the school's focus on the interdisciplinary study of law, noting that five of the past presidents of the International Law and Society Association have come from UB, "by far the largest number of any law school" in the U.S.

The university hopes to add two new dual-degree programs within the next year: a dual law and urban planning degree, in conjunction with the School of Architecture and Planning, and a law and pharmacy doctoral degree with the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. The school currently offers opportunities to earn a juris doctorate degree along with master's degrees in business administration, social work, public health, library science and applied economics.

The school also is in the process of formulating and obtaining approval for a stand-alone doctoral degree in legal studies that would reside within the Law School but would involve substantial collaboration with the College of Arts and Sciences, Olsen said.

"If we ultimately pursue this and are successful with this, this would be one of four such degrees in the country," he added. Currently, the University of California-Berkeley, New York University and Washington University offer this degree.

Of the school's 57 full-time faculty members, 14 hold both doctoral and law degrees, while 15 hold master's degrees in other subjects, "so well over half of the faculty has a graduate degree in a discipline outside of law," Olsen said.

The school has "one of the better (faculty-to-student) ratios among law schools nationally"—13.5 to 1—and the number of courses offered has increased by 100 percent.

Along with an increased number of applicants to the school—about 1,800 in 2003—the "qualitative indicators have substantially improved"—the school is able to be more selective in its admissions, Olsen said.

"LSAT scores have gone up from 150 to 156 for a mean LSAT, and the mean GPA has gone up from about 3.07 to nearly 3.50," he said.

"We also place a premium on recruiting out-of-state students. The entering class of 2004 was comprised of students residing in 19 states and six countries, with about 19 percent of the class being from out of state and six percent international, or 24 percent altogether."