Albert R. Mugel was a lawyer's lawyer – a brilliant, larger-than-life figure who spent a lifetime practicing and teaching law in a city he loved. He was a dean of the Buffalo legal profession and a founder of Jaeckle Fleischmann & Mugel, one of the region's largest law firms. He concentrated his practice in income, estate and gift taxation; estates and trusts; future interests; and estate planning.
Mugel, 85, died Wednesday, September 10, 2003, at his home in Snyder, New York.
"It's a great loss not only to the university and the Law School, but also to the legal profession," said Nils Olsen, dean of University at Buffalo Law School. "He became a good friend over the past ten years, and I will miss him."
Mugel earned a reputation as a hard-working attorney with the ability to grasp the confusing tax law and its torrent of changes each year. But even when engrossed in practice, he remained the consummate law professor.
"He took great pleasure solving complex tax problems for his clients, but he also found the time to train the next generation of lawyers," said Jacob D. Hyman, former dean and emeritus professor. "He always emphasized the importance of integrity."
A full time professor in the late 1940s, he was an adjunct law professor since 1955. Mugel made tax law the foundation of his teaching, and his courses on future interests and estate planning were renowned. Future interests, especially, was a Mugel specialty. He taught it every year except during his military service. His understanding of the law, storytelling ability and dry wit were a rare combination that won over students and colleagues.
According to former dean and law professor Barry B. Boyer, "Al was a model of professional responsibility, accountability and quality."
"When lawyers wanted to go to people who were the last word on the subject, they would go to him," said William Schapiro, a longtime friend and partner at Jaeckle Fleischmann & Mugel. "That's what Al was – a last-word lawyer."
Mugel also was immersed in charitable and civic organizations throughout Buffalo. Most recently, Mugel had been a trustee, director and legal architect of the John R. Oishei Foundation and had a particular interest in its being a catalyst to help change the misfortunes of the city he loved.
"We have built a great university by an unusual degree of university and community cooperation," University at Buffalo President William R. Greiner said in 1993 when presenting Mugel with the Law School's Jaeckle Award. Named for Mugel's former law partner Edwin F. Jaeckle, the Jaeckle Award is the highest honor the Law School and Law Alumni Association can bestow.
"The Law School was built on volunteer faculty from the community. So when we honor Al Mugel, we honor many things, including that quality of volunteerism and community cooperation so important to this university over time. We honor a great tradition and a great man and a great friend," Greiner said.
Professor Wade J. Newhouse remembered Mugel's work in revitalizing the Law Alumni Association and the establishment of the Albert R. Mugel National Tax Competition, which he said "has given the Law School national exposure."
"Talented, creative, brilliant, highly regarded by colleagues and clients – all the adjectives you heard about Al are true," Newhouse said. "He also had a sense of humor, with a bite."
Colleagues in the Law School recall that humor when Mugel spoke about his long Saturday-morning classes – "my two-hour class starting at 8:30 in the morning and running until maybe 12 o'clock." For the students it has been, he said, "a real test of the kidneys."
Mugel also laughingly confessed to friends that some of the cases he cited in the classroom were his own invention. "And when some of my students became judges, they accepted them" as precedents, he laughed.
Born and raised on the West Side, Mugel graduated from St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute. A semi-pro baseball pitcher in his younger days, he graduated from Canisius College in 1940.
He graduated from UB Law cum laude in 1941 and worked briefly with the law firm Kenefick, Cooke, Mitchell, Bass & Letchworth until Uncle Sam called. Mugel served in the European Theater of Operations as a tank officer, and returned to Kenefick, Cooke at the war's end in 1945.
In 1948 he joined UB Law School as a full-time professor, serving until the outbreak of the Korean War. He was recalled to duty and served as a tank officer with the First Cavalry Division in Korea, and after a full tour of duty returned to the Law School as a full-time professor.
When he joined Jaeckle, Fleischmann, Kelly, Swart & Augspurger, the firm that would become Jaeckle Fleischmann & Mugel, he cut back to part-time teaching hours, which he kept until he died.
Recalls his longtime law partner, Adelbert Fleischmann: "When my brother Manly and I convinced Al to join our firm in 1954, it was with the explicit understanding that he would continue to teach at the Law School. And that is a commitment which he kept."
In addition to receiving the Edwin F. Jaeckle Award, the Law School community paid tribute to Mugel's longevity as a teacher in 1997, as fellow faculty members, staff and alumni recognized his five decades of full- and part-time service to the Law School. He also was honored in 1999 by the Buffalo Law Review, whose editors cited "his passion and commitment" for the law and "his devotion to helping young lawyers."
Mugel received other numerous awards over the years, including the Samuel P. Capen Alumni Award, Canisius College Distinguished Alumni Award, and St. Joseph Collegiate Institute Signum Fidei Award.