Jennifer Scharf doesn’t like to stand idle. As an attorney at Erie County Medical Center, she provides legal counsel on human resources and employment law matters, and manages litigation and outside counsel for one of Western New York’s leading medical facilities.
And in her spare time, she’s an adjunct instructor at the law school, teaching Trial Technique classes, and coaching law students to compete in regional and national trial competitions.
But that’s not all. Scharf also serves as co-director of the law school’s trial advocacy program, along with retired Erie County Court judge Thomas P. Franczyk, a role that comes with significant administrative responsibility. In that role, one of Scharf’s main objectives is to recruit volunteer coaches and judges from our legal community to ensure that our students are learning how to advocate from the very best.
We asked Scharf a few questions about the program:
As co-director of the law school’s trial advocacy program, you spend a lot of time recruiting volunteers from the legal community to serve as judges at our advocacy competitions. Why is this important?
Our students benefit incredibly from interacting and receiving input from practicing attorneys. It exposes our students to new and practical ways to look at situations -- and it shows off our amazing trial advocacy students to local practitioners. Every year I receive calls and comments from judges and evaluators who want to hire our students. There is no better job interview than watching students in action!
Can you tell us a little about the competitions that the law school organizes?
The crown jewel of our program is the Buffalo Niagara Trial Competition. This was Judge Franczyk's brainchild, and this year we will celebrate its 15th Anniversary. Schools from across the country travel to Buffalo to compete. When we travel to conferences nationwide, other schools rave that the Buffalo Niagara is the best trial competition they attend.
This year we are also the regional hosts for the Texas Young Lawyers Association's National Trial Competition, co-sponsored by the American College of Trial Lawyers. This will bring in schools from the northeast to compete in a regional competition here in Buffalo. The winner will then go on to compete at a national level.
Last year we launched the Buffalo Intramural Competition, which allows UB School of Law students to compete against each other. At the final trial, Hon. Lawrence J. Vilardo of the Western District of New York judged our winning students as they tried a case against practicing attorneys Jessica Kulpit ’08 and John Feroleto ’07.
And of course, as many UB School of Law graduates may remember, our Trial Technique finals are on the first Saturday of every December and May.
How many judges do you typically need?
We like to have at least one judge and two evaluators per courtroom per round. The Buffalo Niagara has four preliminary rounds, followed by three more elimination rounds. For that competition, we need over one hundred volunteers, and many volunteers will evaluate more than one round. By contrast, our Trial Technique finals have just one round, so we need about 40 judges.
How is this year different?
This school year we have more teams competing in the Buffalo Niagara. (It is so hard to say "no" to other schools who want to compete here!) And since we were selected to host the National Trial Competition, we will need more judges than we have in past years.
What are the benefits to serving as a volunteer judge?
Giving back to UB School of Law! Also, you can get CLE credits (3 non-transitional NYS CLE credits for 3 hours of judging). Evaluators get to see students in action, and we have had great success with evaluators hiring law clerks and new attorneys from judging our competitions. For me, judging keeps me fresh -- there is no better way to hone your own skills than to formulate feedback for others.
How can I volunteer?
That’s easy! Email me at JRScharf@buffalo.edu.
Below is a list of our upcoming competitions:
Buffalo Niagara Competition
Friday, November 9 through Sunday, November 11
Morning and Afternoon Rounds
Finals on Monday, November 12
Trial Technique Finals
Saturday, December 1
8:30 am - Noon
National Trial Competition
Mark your calendars for February 2019
Trial Technique Finals
Saturday, May 4, 2019
8:30 am - Noon