UB Law’s newly established doctoral program has hit its stride this fall with the arrival of the first full cohort of students pursuing the JSD degree.
The program is open to both U.S. and international students, but the inaugural group of JSD students is global in scope. They bring to Buffalo both a world of experience in legal practice and academia, and an ambitious roster of research projects to pursue.
“This program lets us build out the research side of the student experience,” says Professor Mateo Taussig-Rubbo, who directs the JSD program, “both for these individual students and also in their interaction with our JD students. They’ll be exposing our JDs to other ways of legal thinking they might not otherwise have.”
Students in the JSD take a year’s worth of courses—they can choose any course offered at UB, in the law school or other units—including a foundational law school colloquium that’s intended to support their research and introduce them to ongoing faculty scholarship. Two additional years focused on research and writing ultimately leads to a doctoral thesis. Each student is assigned a faculty adviser, who helps gather the committee that oversees the thesis process.
As the four JSD students—all practicing lawyers—settle in for an intense period of academic work, they shared some of the ambitions that a doctorate in law can make possible.
“I love to be busy,” says Carlos Federico Aguirre Cárdenas, a lawyer from Mexico who comes to UB Law with aspirations to transition from legal practice to full-time teaching. A specialist in foreign trade, customs, and free trade agreements, he founded a law firm that largely represents foreign companies seeking to do business in Mexico, as well as Mexican companies conducting international transactions.
But that’s just one of many pursuits for Aguirre. He has written three books on international trade, served as a consultant, presented on his area of expertise, and for almost 20 years has taught at universities in Mexico and (remotely) in Colombia. “My idea is that at some point I will be concentrated more in academic and research interests rather than being a practitioner,” he says. “That’s my ideal future.”
A friend earned a master of laws degree from UB Law and recommended the school. “It has just been a wonderful experience,” Aguirre says. “I have learned more from the classes I have been taking in the first month than in a complete semester of my previous classes in international law.”
His research centers on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the free trade agreement that replaced NAFTA and took effect in 2020. Specifically, he’s looking at the role of rules of origin—which determine whether products are eligible for duty-free status or reduced duties—in trade governed by the agreement. “I want to understand why the rules of origin are needed, how they have originated and evolved,” Aguirre says. “It’s a piece of analysis that will define the rules of origin and their importance and future.”
Bianca Robertson, of Cape Town, South Africa, has wide experience as an international human rights lawyer. She has worked with the United Nations, academic institutions, nongovernmental organizations and the South African Parliament. Robertson, who has a master’s degree in international human rights law from the University of Essex in the United Kingdom, comes to UB Law as a Fulbright Scholar.
Her particular interest is in the rights of children, and the advancement of those rights through law reform. Her research project will focus on law reform in South Africa but will compare other countries’ efforts.
“We had an unequal society before we had democracy in South Africa,” Robertson says. “With democracy, we developed a comprehensive and progressive Constitution. It provides a specific section on the rights of children, and from that South Africa developed national laws to ensure those rights. It is essential to monitor and evaluate the body of law to assess how far we have come as a country. I aim to assess how South Africa has progressed in law reform on children’s rights to make them more practical and sustainable."
After her JSD program is complete, Robertson says she intends to return to South Africa to research and teach at the university level.
Peiwei “Peter” Wang is a partner in a southeast China law firm, where for two decades he has practiced in the area of financial transactions and international trade. His clients span the globe, from France to South Africa, Turkey to Australia to Hong Kong.
He earned a master of laws degree at William and Mary School of Law, then decided to take the New York State bar exam. He was assigned a Buffalo testing center, passed the bar, but rethought his career arc. “My previous study of U.S. law led me to realize that maybe there is something more important than earning money,” Wang says. “I’ve been a successful lawyer, but I realized something had to be done.” UB Law was the first school he applied to, with the goal of contributing to interdisciplinary scholarship on international trade and censorship.
Wang is interested in the relationship between government social controls, such as censorship, and international trade. Looking at China and other countries, he’s investigating whether crackdowns on free speech hinder the expansion of a country’s international trade, or promote trade growth. “Economic development and confinement of freedom of expression, can these two goals be attained?” he asks.
The next steps in his professional life are uncertain. “I just want to make some intellectual contribution,” Wang says. “I’m doing something that I believe is correct. And the harder I work, the luckier I will be.”
A.B.M. Asrafuzzaman is an associate professor of law at the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh and an advocate of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. He has also served repeatedly as a member of the Legal Education Committee of the Bangladesh Bar Council.
He’s no stranger to higher education, having earned master of laws degrees from the University of Dhaka and from the University of Washington, where he was a Barer Fellow in 2020. He joins UB Law as a BOS Scholar. His research interests include the law of inheritance, women’s rights, sustainable development law, family law, torts, international human rights, intellectual property, and constitutional law. He has published ten articles in highly regarded law journals.
“To me, UB is one of the leading research universities in the world,” Asrafuzzaman says. “The professors of law have wonderful academic backgrounds, and there are amazing research facilities to enable students to reach their goals.”
His thesis project bears the title “Women’s Unequal Inheritance Right Over Property in Bangladesh.”
Women’s rights to inherit property are complicated in Bangladesh by the strictures of religious law, Asrafuzzaman says. “In most cases,” he says, “Muslim women get a half share of what their male counterparts inherit from the deceased person’s property. There are some cases, where women do not get property at all. Hindu traditional religious law regulates Hindu and Buddhist women’s succession issues; they inherit only limited interest (a right to enjoy during their lifetime) in a few cases, but cannot exercise ownership over that property. The 1925 Succession Act determines Christian women’s inheritance issues, and women who have no religion; they generally inherit an equal share with their male counterparts. And the principles of customary laws govern indigenous women’s succession issues. In most cases, they do not get any property from inheritance when men are present.”
In the thesis, Asrafuzzaman says, he will put forth some proposed legal reforms so that the nation can fulfill its obligations under the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.