Law students to build skills through new Advocacy Institute

Letro Courtroom

Published June 19, 2014

An ambitious initiative of SUNY Buffalo Law School will help students and legal practitioners develop their skills in the critical task of advocating for their clients.

“The skills that we teach in our advocacy courses are skills that benefit all lawyers, whether they intend to do trial or appellate practice or not.”
Charles P. Ewing, Vice Dean for Academic Affairs
SUNY Buffalo Law School

The Advocacy Institute, to be funded by the Law School, the University and private donors, will build on SUNY Buffalo Law’s recent success in the moot court and trial advocacy programs that give students real-world experience in trial and appellate advocacy. Plans for the institute envision an expansion and further strengthening of those programs; new courses on advocacy topics; training for faculty in the best ways to teach these skills; and continuing education opportunities for members of the local bar.

“Among our alumni are some of the best trial lawyers in the country,” says SUNY Buffalo Law Dean Makau Mutua. “They are committed to the idea and are giving generously of their time and treasure to help us launch this Institute, which is a major step forward for the Law School.”

One goal, says Vice Dean for Academic Affairs Charles P. Ewing, is to raise Buffalo Law’s profile as one of the nation’s top law schools for advocacy training.

“In our national reputation for advocacy training, we have come so far in such a short time that it’s not too ambitious to think we can be one of the top schools in the country,” Ewing says. “The skills that we teach in our advocacy courses are skills that benefit all lawyers, whether they intend to do trial or appellate practice or not. Our students learn to think and speak on their feet; they learn to be in an adversarial situation and how to handle it with grace. It’s a great experience.”

SUNY Buffalo Law currently runs three national moot court competitions – the Buffalo Niagara Mock Trial Competition, one of the largest in the nation; 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. Teams of SUNY Buffalo Law students also travel nationally to other trial technique competitions.

Another major aim of the institute, Ewing says, is to train faculty members – both full-time professors and the practitioners who serve as adjunct professors – to be more effective teachers of advocacy skills. “Our hope,” he says, “is to bring in nationally known trial and appellate advocacy attorneys and instructors to teach our faculty to be better instructors.

Another goal is to send members of our faculty to programs around the country to improve their advocacy and teaching skills.”

The first instance of such faculty training will come April 5, when two of the best-known advocacy professors in the nation – Charles Rose of Stetson University Law School and Zelda Harris of Loyola Law School – will work with students, faculty and moot court coaches, offering critiques and teaching tools.

Under the auspices of the Advocacy Institute, the school also expects to upgrade its technological capabilities, upgrading its Francis J. Letro Courtroom with state-of-the-art technology and equipping selected classrooms for easy conversion to mock courtrooms. 

An advisory board of prominent attorneys, judges and legal scholars will help guide the mission of the institute.