Published February 20, 2018
Thomas P. Franczyk stepped down from the Erie County Court bench in December — ending nearly two decades of service as a judge – and stepped up for the School of Law.
The longtime co-director of the school’s Trial Advocacy Program will add significant teaching responsibilities to that role. “My goal is to bring 34 years of practical experience from the courtroom into the classroom, and give students a real-life perspective on the practice of law,” says Franczyk, who spent 14 years as a prosecutor before his election to Buffalo City Court and then County Court.
That experience will be in play as he teaches a course in Evidence starting this spring, as well as a course designed especially for students in the two-year JD and master of laws programs, many of them foreign-trained lawyers seeking a further academic credential.
Franczyk first got involved with the law school’s trial teams — which travel the world representing the law school at high-level competitions — back in 1994. “I got the bug back then, but I could only participate on a limited basis,” he says. “I’ve always enjoyed working with the students, and I still enjoy it. I enjoy watching them progress from people who look uncomfortable in the courtroom to becoming lawyers who are ready to walk into a courtroom and try a case.”
Franczyk will now be leading the Trial Advocacy Program with Jennifer Scharf, ’05, who succeeds Christopher J. O’Brien as a co-director.
“The amount of work you put into a trial team is unlike any law school class,” says Scharf. “It’s more like a job than a class.”
She should know. As a UB law student, she says being on one of those teams made all the difference.
“It was a pivotal course for me,” she says. “It was really one of those courses that taught you the skills of being a lawyer. All law school courses are important, but trial team taught you how to do the day to day. It made you feel courtroom-ready from the day you walk out the door.”
Scharf, whose day job is as legal counsel for Erie County Medical Center, continues to coach teams each fall and spring semester, as she has done since 2007. She also teaches as an adjunct instructor, leading classes in Trial Technique, and serving as overall administrator for the Trial Advocacy Program.
In that role, she says one of her major goals is to recruit new talent and a diverse and inclusive group of instructors. She’s also looking to broaden the base of students who come into the program — reminding them, for one thing, that it’s not uncommon for the lawyers who judge or watch these competitions to approach good performers afterward with offers of job interviews or employment.
“We’re really proud of our job-placement record for trial team students,” she says.
Scharf has coached many teams over the years. “There are so many high points,” she says. “We’ve had a lot of great successes on my teams. But the thing I’m most proud of is that so many of the students I’ve coached are now my colleagues and my friends.”
As for Franczyk, he also will continue to coach teams in both the fall and spring semesters, and to oversee the Buffalo-Niagara Mock Trial Competition, the largest such competition in the nation. He’ll also draft some of the case problems that the school’s Trial Technique instructors use in their courses.
He says he’s looking forward to returning to the classroom. “As a judge, I’ve always enjoyed doing the research and writing, some of the scholarly aspects of the law,” he says. “This gives me an opportunity to dig down a little deeper on the academic side.”