James W. Gresens ’73 is facing down his last class of UB School of Law students, rounding out a remarkable 30-year run of teaching New York Practice as an adjunct professor.
Gresens, a senior partner with the Buffalo law firm Duke Holzman Photiadis & Gresens, will continue his law practice, where he is a litigator specializing in business and construction matters. But after three decades of teaching third-year students how to pursue a civil case in New York State, he is leaving the classroom behind.
“I really appreciate all that Jim has done for the School of Law over the years,” says interim Dean James A. Gardner. “New York Practice is a crucial part of preparation for the bar exam and a legal career, and he must have taught the subject to thousands of students. His teaching has prepared our graduates well for what many of them do every day.”
Gresens says he began teaching in order to develop his own abilities. “I wanted to get some teaching and public speaking experience,” he says, “and I thought there would be no better way to do it than to talk to a group of people for three hours, 12 classes a semester, two semesters a year. I sort of used it as a learning lab for myself. I enjoyed the interaction with the students and enjoyed practicing those skills on them.”
By their 3L year, a lot of students are eager to get out of school and on with their job search. That makes for a challenging audience – a challenge compounded by what might seem a rather pedestrian subject. “New York Practice by its nature is thought to be very dull – a bunch of rules,” Gresens says. “My challenge was to try to make these rules interesting.”
That has meant everything from PowerPoint presentations to role-playing the part of the judge or the plaintiff’s lawyer. He also drew from his own experiences in practice: “Students always like the war stories. Most people learn best with some kind of a story.”
He even found ways to leaven the proceedings with humor. In the initial class, he says, sometimes he would begin his lecture in “the most boring possible monotone, then I would lie down on a desk in the front row and pretend I was going to sleep.” Just kidding, of course, and he’d pop right up.
If you think civil procedure is boring, he’d tell them, “that’s only if you look at it as a bunch of rules. When you’re actually using this in practice, you’ll find it the most exciting thing imaginable.”
And students’ end-of-semester comments reflected that enthusiasm. Among their evaluations: “I thought that procedure would be boring, but he made it come alive” and “This was the best course I took in law school!”