photo of students participating in the Desmond Competition.

Concentrating on great advocacy

UB School of Law’s newest academic concentration gives students a significant career advantage: intense training in the skills of legal advocacy.

An outgrowth of the school’s Advocacy Institute, the concentration in advocacy includes significant hands-on experience in trial advocacy, appellate advocacy and alternative dispute resolution. It also incorporates doctrinal courses and clinical service, ensuring that students have exposure to both important black-letter law and experience in representing real-world clients.

“We want to guide students toward the curriculum that will best enable them to accomplish our goal of developing skilled, disciplined and principled litigators,” says Anthony O’Rourke, Joseph W. Belluck and Laura L. Aswad Professor of Civil Justice and director of the Advocacy Institute, who developed the concentration. “It’s designed to provide a holistic advocacy education that has a solid doctrinal foundation and exposes them to the most important elements of client-centered advocacy.”

Anthony O’Rourke.

Anthony O’Rourke

The concentration, O’Rourke says, is unique among U.S. law schools. “Other schools have concentrations in advocacy,” he says, “but the difference is our emphasis on the rigorous core doctrinal requirements that provide students the foundation to become skilled litigators.” In addition to a Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility course that all UB School of Law students take, advanced courses in evidence, administrative law, complex litigation, criminal procedure and the federal courts are required.

Significantly, students must participate in at least one law school clinic or practicum. As part of their courses in appellate advocacy, mediation and trial technique, students must take part in competitions offered through those courses. “We want to provide students the opportunity to take experiential courses in the three most important facets of advocacy,” O’Rourke says, “but also to have client contact and understand what it means to litigate on behalf of a real person.”

About one-third of all UB law students are currently involved in some way in Advocacy Institute courses, O’Rourke says.  Current first-year students will be able to pursue the concentration, and some second-year students may be able to meet its requirements as well.

Graduating with a concentration in advocacy, he says, will afford new graduates a leg up in the job market. “It will be a signal that they’re serious about becoming litigators,” O’Rourke says, “and it will show that they have the training to become effective litigators on their first day on the job.”

Beyond that benefit, he says, “developing the certificate forced me to think about what it means to be practice-ready. For us, being practice-ready means having an intellectually serious foundation that allows you not only to use those skills effectively in your first job but to grow as a lawyer, and to face the challenges you’ll encounter as the legal profession changes and as your career evolves.”

Leadership in the Advocacy Institute also includes Jennifer R. Scharf ’05, co-director of trial advocacy; Lucinda Finley, Frank G. Raichle Professor of Trial and Appellate Advocacy, who directs the appellate advocacy component; and Steven R. Sugarman ’85, director of alternative dispute resolution. Also central to the establishment of an advocacy concentration is Kim Diana Connolly, professor and director of clinical legal education.

The new concentration is added to the list of specialized concentrations available to students. Other concentrations include criminal law; cross-border legal studies; family law; intellectual property and privacy law; international law; and sports law.