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Innovative Curriculum

Whether you chose to pursue a career in public service or private practice, the Law School provides a hands-on, practice-oriented curriculum that combines a strong theoretical foundation with practical skills, giving graduates the tools needed to succeed in a competitive international marketplace.

Our Jessup Moot Court winners, (front row) Andrew M. Dean ’14, John D. Land ’14, Stephanie L. Forman ’15, Henry A. Zomerfeld ’14, Jessica L. Noto ’14, (back row) coaches Kevin J. Espinosa ’09 and Michael J. Hecker ’09.

Gaining an edge in the courtroom

It’s the most visible specialized legal practice: the litigator working the courtroom, cross-examining a witness or delivering a powerful closing argument. It’s a demanding, high-pressure position, but one that practitioners say can be immensely rewarding.

The University at Buffalo School of Law is making sure that students preparing for careers in litigation will enter their first trial with the skills and experience they’ll need to practice at a proficient level.

The school’s newly formed Advocacy Institute pulls together academics and experienced attorneys to give students broad exposure to how litigators work in trial and appellate advocacy. The institute covers three major programs: the teaching of trial advocacy skills, the school’s expanding presence in regional and national moot court competitions, and training in the burgeoning field of alternative dispute resolution.

In the school’s popular Trial Advocacy Technique classes, students prepare and try a civil or criminal case. Along the way they learn such skills as using exhibits to present their case in a dynamic, persuasive way; refreshing a friendly witness’ recollection of events; and impeaching an adversary witness with a prior inconsistent statement or omission. Many of the advanced courses in trial technique are taught by practicing attorneys and judges.

Students routinely use the Francis M. Letro Courtroom to hone their oral argument skills. It’s also a working courtroom where you can learn by watching skilled practitioners do what they do best.                      

Many recent graduates say that the intensive, hands-on work of moot court and trial advocacy competitions was the most valuable part of their Law School experience. In these competitions, students compete in teams to brief the case in question and argue their side before volunteer judges from the bench and bar.

The Law School runs three national moot court competitions – the Buffalo Niagara Mock Trial Competition, one of the largest in the nation; the Herbert Wechsler National Criminal Moot Court Competition; and the Albert R. Mugel National Tax Moot Court Competition – as well as the intramural Charles S. Desmond Moot Court Competition.

Teams of law students also travel nationally to other trial technique competitions – and excel. Most recently, a SUNY Buffalo team placed among the top 30 competitors in the worldwide Phillip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, which focuses on international appellate advocacy in front of the International Court of Justice. More than 620 teams and 2,000 law students from 89 countries registered for the competition.

All four of the University at Buffalo School of Law students who competed at the Jessup International placed among the top 30 oralists in the world at the global competition and two team members finished among the world’s top 10. The SUNY Buffalo team advanced to this worldwide competition’s “sweet 16” round before its elimination, and it was the only team in the competition to finish with all oralists in the top 50.

The Law School is currently expanding the moot court and trial advocacy opportunities offered to its students, including new competitions in alternative dispute resolution.

New courses are being planned on advocacy topics, and our faculty are continually searching for the most effective ways to impart the skills of a litigator. Included in the mix are the popular January “bridge courses,” intensive four-week sessions on specialized topics in the law. Recent courses have included The Trial of a Death Penalty Case, Discovery Strategy and Deposition Tactics, Choosing the Right Jury, and Private Sector Alternative Dispute Resolution.

 “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,” says Judge Thomas P. Franczk, who directs the Buffalo Niagara Mock Trial Competition and co-directs the Advocacy Institute. “They 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.”