With the promotion of two veteran educators, UB School of Law is doubling its efforts to help students navigate the rigors of law school and enter the professional world ready to practice.
The appointments of William MacDonald as assistant dean for academic and bar success, and Patrick J. Long '00 as assistant dean for professional development, aim to create seamless support for students as they adjust to the unique demands of legal study and grow into their roles as effective, ethical attorneys. The moves come partly in response to revised standards put forth by the American Bar Association, which now requires accredited law schools to address professional identity as a part of their legal education program, as well as incorporate training in cross-cultural competencies in their classes.
Long’s portfolio will concentrate on first-year students; MacDonald will focus on second- and third-year students.
A longtime instructor in the law school’s Legal Analysis, Writing and Research (LAWR) program, Long is teaching two sections of Professional Development, a required course for 1Ls that spans two semesters. He says the course, a re-envisioned version of one previously called Legal Profession, goes deeper into the ABA’s expectation that law schools “provide substantial opportunities for students to develop their professional identity—the values, principles and practices of well-being essential to the profession.”
“There’s a lot of room for interpretation there,” Long notes, but plenty of opportunity to engage students in their professional formation.
The course’s fall semester focuses on the skills students need to do well in law school—taking lecture notes, reading critically, preparing for exams—as well as self-care strategies that will serve them in school and beyond.
Some of those study skills are already taught in the LAWR program, Long says, “but what we’ve discovered is that the LAWR program has a lot of content to cover. The more time I can spend with the students on study skills, the more time the LAWR faculty will have to focus on writing, citation and analysis.”
In the spring semester, he says, the class will turn to the principles that undergird the profession. He plans to show students The Verdict, a 1982 movie in which Paul Newman plays a lawyer trying a medical malpractice case, while struggling with addiction. “It shows the kinds of decisions that real lawyers have to make, with the moral ambiguities and real challenges that legal practice provides,” Long says. He’s also hoping to assign Billy Budd, Herman Melville’s novella about a naive young sailor on trial for accidentally killing his tormentor. “It really sketches out for students the hard issues of justice vs. law,” he says. And he plans to bring to class successful practitioners, “people from the local bar who are models in corporate law or criminal defense or trial work, to talk to students about their day-to-day life as attorneys, but also about how to fashion a career that allows you to remain human.”
Issues of professional formation, Long says, have become more important as the demands on veteran lawyers’ time have increased. “New associates used to become lawyers in a system where the senior partners would have lunch with them and talk about cases. They were models of civility and professionalism,” he says. “Veteran lawyers don’t necessarily have the time to devote that attention to new associates now, and many of our students may not have that kind of mentorship in professional life.”
As assistant dean for academic and bar success, MacDonald will continue to teach the spring-semester course for third-year students that he has taught for six years: Bar Exam Strategies and Skills, aimed at “giving people a running start on their summer bar preparation.” Its purpose, he says, is threefold: to bolster students’ general skills in test-taking, to offer direct feedback on students’ work, and to impress upon them that bar prep needs their serious and early attention. “Law school classes are philosophical,” he says, “but bar prep spews a firehose of information at you. If you’re not expecting that, you might not even think you need to go to the prep classes. This class is designed to give people a realistic idea of what to expect.”
MacDonald is also teaching a newly created course this fall called Bar Success Essay Writing, which addresses the writing exercises that count for about half of a test-taker’s bar exam score. The class provides intensive instruction to a small cohort of about 15 third-year students, some of them Pro Bono Scholars who will take the bar in February,
In conjunction with Bernadette Gargano, vice dean for student affairs, MacDonald will also continue to provide individual support for students whose grades may be cause for concern, helping to address not only academic issues but complicating factors in the students’ personal lives, such as a family illness. “Very often I’ll meet with students weekly or biweekly,” he says. “There are many who don’t make the transition to law school as quickly as others; they just need a little more time and guidance to get on their feet. We’re supporting not just students having substantive difficulty, but even some of our stronger students who, without our advice, might not perform as well as they could.”