Entering the world of undergraduate education

Professor James Gardner teaching Introduction to the American Legal System to a classroom of more than 70 undergraduate students.

Professor James Gardner teaching Introduction to the American Legal System to a classroom of more than 70 undergraduate students.

Published November 13, 2018

More than ever, the world needs the guidance of skilled, compassionate advocates. UB School of Law has responded to that need with a series of new undergraduate initiatives to encourage a legal career. The goal is to seek out talented young scholars and to help them imagine the purpose and passion of a life in the law.

“They can major in a number of other things, but the idea is to add some strength in legal knowledge for anyone in any career where legal knowledge would be useful.”
James Milles, Professor of Law; Director of Undergraduate Education
School of Law

The School of Law has taken its first steps toward entering the world of undergraduate education, with the introduction of a minor in law for UB students.

This fall, undergraduate courses included Introduction to the American Legal System, Public Law, and Sports Law. Three more courses will be offered in the spring, including Common Law, Federal Law, and Federal Income Taxation. All courses are taught by UB School of Law faculty and adjunct instructors.

The minor designation, says Professor James Milles, who directs the program, is a way for interested students to deepen their understanding of the legal system.

“They can major in a number of other things, but the idea is to add some strength in legal knowledge for anyone in any career where legal knowledge would be useful,” Milles says. That, he says, could include careers in such fields as engineering, business management, human resources and regulatory compliance. The minor will also include experiential and practical courses, Milles says, so students develop skills such as drafting legal documents, as well as understanding how law functions in society.

And the response has already been impressive. More than 70 undergraduates registered for Professor James Gardner’s Introduction to the American Legal System course. “The students have been enthusiastic and engaged,” says Gardner.  “Many of the students in the class are already interested in a career in law, and many others are intrigued by and open to the idea.”

The new minor comes as the School of Law seeks formal approval from the State University of New York and the American Bar Association for an undergraduate major in law, which it hopes to begin in fall 2019. That would make UB just the second law school in the nation, besides the University of Arizona, to offer an undergraduate degree in law.

Professor Matthew Steilen, who initially headed the faculty-staff committee that considered developing the undergraduate program, says the idea had existed for some time and was revisited as part of the law school’s strategic planning process.

“There’s a lot of excitement about this particular degree program,” Steilen says. The 10-person committee reached out to lawyers, business executives and other stakeholders in organizations where legal expertise comes into play, and those inquiries were met with tremendous interest.

And the faculty share in the enthusiasm. “Our faculty has unique talents and academic interests,” says Steilen. “We have faculty who have taught undergraduates, and a large number with doctorates in areas other than law. So I was excited about finding a way to bring some of that knowledge to undergraduates, in a package that would give them strong job prospects as part of their study of law.”