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As the Western New York legal community speeds along with everyone else into the new millennium, one of the area's chief judges has adopted a centuries-old English legal custom to strive to improve the tone and congeniality of local court-related activities.

State Supreme Court Justice Vincent E. Doyle Jr., administrative judge of the state's Eighth Judicial District, has fathered a new Buffalo chapter of the American Inns of Court, which will bring judges, lawyers and law students together in non-legal settings to deal with legal issues and concerns.

Once one of Western New York's premier trial lawyers, Doyle said he decided to adopt an English legal tradition -- Inns of Court -- to constantly strive to sharpen local legal skills, raise ethical standards and reestablish a tradition of the congeniality of the trial bar.

With 10 State University at Buffalo Law School students already showing an interest, Doyle said he expects shortly to set up "pupillage teams" of eight individuals -- two judges, two veteran lawyers, two relatively new lawyers and two law students -- to meet every six weeks to discuss legal issues.

Modeled after the British system of legal apprenticeship through which lawyers become certified barristers by working through "inns of court" comprised of groups of barrister firms, the American effort is crafted to improve the skills, professionalism and ethic of both judges and lawyers.

Founded in 1980 by former U.S. Chief Justice Warren E. Berger, the American Inns of Court has more than 300 chapters nationwide involving over 22,000 judges, lawyers and law school students.

The Buffalo chapter becomes the seventh in New York. Others are in Rochester, Manhattan, Albany, Huntington, Nassau County and Uniondale.

Doyle said the intention is for each local team to "break bread and discuss the law and its applications, with the goal to help lawyers become more effective advocates and counselors and develop a keener ethical awareness."

"This organization gives third-year law students and young lawyers the opportunity to socialize with and learn from some of the most experienced judges and lawyers in the community," Doyle said.

At times young lawyers will be paired with an experienced colleague or judge who will then act as a sort of professional mentor, the judge said.

Doyle credits his Wales-born wife, Joan Whitehead Doyle, and a chance meeting with a national official of the American Inns of Court in Ottawa four years ago with convincing him to champion the local effort.

Doyle held the first meeting of the Buffalo chapter, which already has 29 judge and lawyer members, in a downtown bistro Wednesday evening.

Doyle lauded officials of the Buffalo chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates, including its current president James T. Scime and its past president Steven P. Curvin with helping him convince the foundation that oversees the national organization to let him set up a Buffalo Inn of Court.

Joining Doyle as the initial officers of the Buffalo Inn are Curvin as chapter counsel, John J. Giardino who will be its secretary and Amherst Town Justice Mark G. Farrell who is chapter treasurer.

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