woman standing in a hallway.

New leadership for a foundational curriculum

When Angie McDuff ’12 (JD), '18 (LLM) pivoted her career to become an instructor in the law school’s Legal Analysis, Writing and Research (LAWR) program, she was looking for a deeper sense of meaning in her work. Her experience in coaching UB Law’s Jessup International Law Moot Court teams persuaded her that shaping the next generation of legal minds was exactly the deeper meaning she was looking for.

Now, just a few years later, McDuff has been named director of the LAWR program, whose instructors teach the three-semester sequence that gets every student up to speed in the fundamental skills of lawyers through small classes and intensive one-on-one coaching.

McDuff, who also earned a master of laws degree from UB Law, brings to her new role both a deep familiarity with the program through her teaching, and also wide experience in legal practice. Before entering academia, she practiced in immigration law and corporate regulatory analysis and compliance.

A conversation with Professor McDuff finds her alive with ideas for further developing this key part of UB Law’s commitment to graduating practice-ready lawyers.

You’ve taught in the LAWR program since 2019. How has this key program evolved in the time you’ve been teaching, and what have you learned in the process?

The program of course had to evolve when the world moved totally online as a result of the pandemic. During that time, I benefited greatly from excellent leadership both internally at UB and externally within the legal writing community. Those leaders didn’t hide from the challenges of educating in what felt like a new frontier; instead, they embraced new technologies and guided us through uncertainty. As a result of that pivot, my own teaching improved, but more importantly, the lessons I learned from that time are guiding how I’m approaching the changes relating to AI right now.

As director of the program, how do you see it evolving further?

One thing that I’m really hoping to do is grow the relationship between the program and the local bar. We’ve been doing this in informal ways for many years. For example, many LAWR professors have hosted local judges or other practitioners in their classrooms to talk about jobs, legal writing, and practicing locally. We also have local attorneys act as judges for 1L oral arguments at the end of the semester each spring. I want to further the connection with the local bar to ensure we’re fully preparing our students for practice; to do so, we must know the expectations that the local bar has for our students.

 You’ve worked in both immigration law and corporate and regulatory compliance, but of course law touches all areas of life. Is there one specialty that is particularly effective in teaching basic lawyering skills?

Not that I’ve found. In teaching LAWR, I draw on the skills I’ve learned from almost every job I’ve ever had. Immigration law helped me better understand trauma-informed lawyering, while compliance helped me hone my analytical skills. However, I also carry into the classroom lessons I learned from my time waiting tables in college and nearly 10 years of working retail. And that’s something I try to help my students understand: they all have transferable skills. It’s a matter of figuring out what those skills are and how they relate to their future careers. Of course, they’ll develop and hone new skills in law school, but I want to alleviate the fear that they’re starting from scratch, because I thought I was.

Many professional disciplines are concerned by the prospect that artificial intelligence will transform their work. Are LAWR instructors teaching their students about the promise and peril of using AI in practice?

The perils, absolutely! But I’d say we’re still sorting out how to handle AI in legal writing generally, not just our specific program. One of the greatest benefits of our program is that each LAWR professor has freedom to accomplish the main objectives and goals of the program in a way that best fits their own teaching philosophy. Within the program, we’re actively engaging in conversations about AI in our classrooms and our curriculum as we consider how our students can use AI effectively and ethically within the bounds of what’s expected of them when they enter practice.

What attracts you to the challenge of teaching new law students these foundational skills, as opposed to the doctrinal and specialized courses that come later in law school?

I love teaching in the 1L curriculum, and specifically our LAWR program, because of the substance of what I teach and the opportunity it gives me to mentor students. Because LAWR begins during orientation and our LAWR sections stay together for the entire first year, I am able to help my students, during the foundational part of their law school experience, develop skills they will use for the rest of their careers. I also enjoy mentoring my students through a 1L experience that, for many of them, is a powerfully transformative year. And starting with the students in their 1L year is like getting to be there at the beginning of an incredible journey.