Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Because I can't resist sticking my oar in, when I read Don Esmonde's column in last Sunday's Buffalo News about relocating UB Law into the Statler building I dashed off an email to Esmonde explaining why this would be a terrible plan. He apparently still disagrees. On my way into work that Monday I was stopped by a preservationist acquaintance who is active in the effort to save the Statler and was asked what my thoughts were. We had a pleasant conversation, and then I wrote an email to UB President John Simpson laying out the same arguments. Then I wrote a submission for the Buffalo News, which ran today. Buffalo News stuff disappears behind a paywall, so I'll reprint it here:

"Relocating the University at Buffalo Law School to the Statler would be a bad plan for the Law School, and amounts to valuing a building over an important part of the leading institution in our region. The UB School of Law belongs on campus.
A lot of lawyers think the Law School belongs downtown. The idea has always been popular with students, but this is based on a misunderstanding of what a law school does.
As a past president of the UB Student Bar Association, I’ve been guilty of making the same mistake myself. As an adjunct faculty member for the last 10 years, I think I now know better.
Proximity to the courts is frequently cited as the advantage to a downtown location, but this would actually be a detriment. A quality law school is not a trade school where students pay tuition for three years to learn when to stand up, when to sit down and when to say objection.”
Most lawyers are not litigators, and even most litigators aren’t in court on a daily basis. As entertaining as hanging around the courthouse can be, most of the time it is about as valuable an intellectual experience as hanging around in a bar or a barbershop.
Good lawyers have been trained to think about their clients’ problems, applying a vast field of knowledge to those problems in order to work out a solution. We learn how to do this by coming to grips with the history application of the law. You learn how to be a good lawyer from being instructed in the analytical processes lawyers use in the classroom by quality faculty.
The best law schools have the best faculty — lawyers who are expert in their fields, produce serious scholarship and advance the study of law in society. Quality faculty members are not interested in teaching in a trade school; they are interested in doing serious academic work.
They want to participate in the intellectual life of the university, where ideas can cross-pollinate.
They want to be able to interact with colleagues from other disciplines.
UB Law used to be downtown, and it was well enough regarded back then, but its reputation did not peak until it was moved out to the main campus of the university in 1973. That’s not a coincidence; that’s cause and effect.
Over the course of the past 30 years, the faculty members of the Law School have contributed a great deal to the intellectual leadership of UB as a whole. I cannot imagine that my late property professor, former UB President William Greiner, would want to see a law ghetto created on Niagara Square."

The News also ran two letters. As is traditional when there is a downtown preservation issue of some sort one was from someone from Elma. There is always a letter from someone who lives in Elma, or Alden, or Medina or someplace-- people who haven't been downtown in forty years. The other was from Joseph C. Grasmick, a member of the UB Law class of '79. His letter is notable for its nostalgia for a time he can't possibly remember. It is always possible to argue that things would be better if they were more like they were in the olden days if you start from the premise that the olden days were the best days ever. They weren't, but there's no convincing some people.

Esmonde's argument is a bit more invidious. He says that UB owes downtown, because it is a taxpayer funded institution. He is wrong. UB is obliged to be a responsible steward of its institutional existence-- its responsibility is to be the best university it can be. When I went to UB Law, (I graduated in 1982) its US News ranking placed it in the top 20 nationally. There is simply no way that it will ever scale to that level again if the University decides that it should model the law school after New York Law.

I'm fond of the Statler, which is a historically significant old hotel building. We had our wedding reception there. Notwithstanding that affection, however, there is no question that the Univesity of Buffalo and its law school are more important to the region than an old hotel. If Brian Higgins wants to make the Statler a part of UB let him figure out a way to turn it into student housing.

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