For successful lawyers, there’s no substitute for the essentials of legal practice—the skills of insightful analysis, persuasive writing, and careful research. And for first-year law students at UB, climbing that mountain of knowledge is a top priority.
The school’s Legal Analysis, Writing and Research (LAWR) program, developed in consultation with judges and practicing lawyers, has become a mainstay of the 1L journey. It’s a distinctive feature of a UB Law education, receiving recognition from U.S. News & World Report’s 2023 rankings which place UB Law at No. 62 in the nation for legal writing, in the top third of all U.S. law schools.
The ranking reflects the LAWR program’s growing nationwide reputation. And although every law school teaches those foundational skills, Stephen Paskey, lecturer in law, legal analysis, writing and research and coordinator of the program, says UB Law’s approach is distinctive in a couple of ways.
“One of the real strengths of our program is that we have much smaller class sizes than other law schools,” he says. “Where other schools might have 42 students in a class, typically we have 26 to 28. It gives us more leeway to meet with students and comment intensively on their writing.”
Also, he says, LAWR faculty teach only their LAWR courses—they’re not juggling other classes and teaching responsibilities. As a result, Paskey says, “we’ve been successful at recruiting exceptional teachers. We’ve been able to create an ideal environment for people who really love teaching and want to teach. And within an agreed-upon framework, they have an enormous amount of latitude as to how they teach particular skills.”
It’s a formula that has worked well since the program’s inception more than a decade ago. Paskey was there at the beginning as an instructor and says the basics of the approach have remained constant ever since.
Incoming students, he says, meet for five sessions of their LAWR cohort during orientation week, before their other classes begin. “During those sessions,” he says, “the focus is very heavily on analysis. We’re trying to get students up to speed on the analytical skills that they will need for their other classes. We continue to work on those skills, and then we introduce writing; students write a simple, informal one-issue legal memo, and we train them in the basics of what attorneys and judges would expect from legal analysis by a lawyer. Then we introduce research. Ultimately, in the spring semester in particular, students are working on all three skills at the same time.”
Often, he says, the challenge is greatest with legal writing: “In some cases, students need to unlearn the habits they learned as undergraduates. A student who was in English or philosophy was taught to write in a very different way than lawyers write. It’s less direct, less to the point, less structured, less logical, less precise. And most students come to law school without having had their writing evaluated and commented on to the degree that we do.”
Two semesters of LAWR classes are required in the first year; 2L students can take a third semester, offering advanced practice, or another course that requires substantial writing experience, including seminars. Students who do exceptionally well can also become writing fellows, who provide additional guidance to LAWR students and take on a substantial writing or teaching project.
The program is a heavy lift for some students, but typically they find the experience flows seamlessly into their work as practicing lawyers.
“The main thing I learned through the LAWR program was how to structure legal writing and especially how to be concise about it,” says Emily Riordan ’15, director of immigration legal services at Journey’s End Refugee Services in Buffalo. “People who have gone to UB and gone through the program have a similar writing style, and it’s really useful, especially in dealing with [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] and the federal courts.
“I found it really interesting,” she says. “I came from an anthropology background, and my writing changed a lot.”
For Adam Amirault ’21, who spent a decade working with a mutual fund company prior to law school, the LAWR program was most useful in the skills of legal analysis and research.
“The program helped a lot with research and how to find what you need to say,” says Amirault, managing attorney of the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo’s Appeals & Post-Conviction Unit. “And understanding that the court doesn’t care what you think, the court cares what it thinks, so it’s about finding the authority and using it properly. The most valuable thing you learn is how to read a case and statute and what they really mean.”
He says he also appreciated the trial-and-error approach: “It wasn’t like an English class. It was, ‘here’s an example, here’s your task, go write it,’ and then the feedback was there. It was very practical.”