UB Courtroom Named for Law School Alumnus Francis M. Letro in Recognition of $1 Million Gift

Release Date: October 10, 2002

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Demonstrating his generosity and a belief in the power of advocacy that was inspired in him as a child, Francis M. Letro, a 1979 graduate of the University at Buffalo Law School, has committed $1 million to the school in support of its programs and facilities.

In recognition of his gift, the University at Buffalo Council has named the Law School's courtroom, which opened last fall, the Francis M. Letro Courtroom.

The UB Law School was the first one in the nation to have a functional courtroom that regularly hosts actual trials in its building.

UB President William R. Greiner announced the gift today (Oct. 10, 2002) at a press conference in the Francis M. Letro Courtroom on the UB North (Amherst) Campus.

"With this gift, Fran Letro and UB Law have made history -- the Francis M. Letro Courtroom was the first fully operational courtroom to be housed within a law school in the nation," Greiner said.

"Thanks to Fran's vision and leadership, our law students and faculty will now have firsthand access to a full range of trial business, just by walking down the hall. I don't think the value of such proximity for our students can be overstated; the UB Law School will now be a locus not only for training and research in law, but its practice."

Greiner added: "This is precisely the kind of active, interconnected and intellectually vibrant educational environment that UB excels in providing, and we are tremendously grateful to Fran Letro and his wife, Cindy Abbott-Letro, for their outstanding support in helping us make this innovative new advancement possible."

UB Council Chair Jeremy M. Jacobs, Sr., one of three honorary chairs of UB's $250 million campaign, noted that Letro's gift puts the campaign over the $200 million mark -- "a very important milestone for the campaign and for this university."

"This gift," he added, "will reap immeasurable results for our law school students, whose education and experience will be greatly enriched by Fran Letro's generosity, and it will serve as a beacon to attract generations of future students to this world-class law school," Jacobs said.

He added, "We all should be inspired by Fran Letro's spirit for life and his spirit of generosity. Fran's leadership has been monumental, not only here at the university, but also in the Western New York community."

Letro was just 7 and was living in Olean when his father, a foreman for the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad, lost a leg in a railway accident. Seeing his family devastated by the tragedy, the elder Letro retained an attorney who secured a settlement.

"I remember my father's enormous respect, admiration and gratitude for the lawyer who represented him," Letro recalled.

That experience inspired him to pursue a career in law, so that he could be an advocate for victims of similar misfortunes. Letro's path to success began with his acceptance to the UB Law School, then located at 77 W. Eagle St. in downtown Buffalo. He recalled crossing the street with other law students to observe trial lawyers in action in the courtrooms in Erie County Hall.

"I remember seeing one lawyer pacing in the hall there, because the jury was out, and he told me how nerve-racking it was to be waiting for the verdict," Letro said. "I always enjoyed conversations with attorneys in the courthouse and learned much from them."

Letro said the ability to attend trials on a regular basis was lost when UB Law School moved to Amherst. His gift, he added, is a way to help recapture that experience for today's students, while also expressing his appreciation for the education and the opportunity the school provided him.

UB Law School Dean Nils Olsen said Letro's gift will have an enormous impact on law students' educational experience "because there is no substitute for watching lawyers and judges in action.

"Most of the professionals who use our courtroom gladly stay after the trial to explain the legal proceedings, maneuverings and strategies to our students, who are excited to learn the realities of their profession from the people who actively participate in it," said Olsen. "We greatly appreciate this gift from Francis, which helps us bring the courts to UB Law School."

The Francis M. Letro Courtroom is located on the first floor of John Lord O'Brian Hall on UB's North Campus, across the hall from student classrooms. As a result of its innovative multi-use design, the courtroom can be used for appellate arguments, as well as trials. It features a bench constructed to accommodate from one to seven judges, judicial chambers, a jury deliberation room and spectator seating for up to 100.

The Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court Fourth Department has already utilized the courtroom, as have federal and state trial courts. Proceedings scheduled in the near future include the full range of court business -- from appeals to jury trials -- at many levels.

Letro graduated from George Washington University in 1972 before attending UB Law School. After he obtained his law degree in 1979, he practiced in Buffalo for 17 years before founding his own law firm in 1996 as a specialist in personal injury and insurance law. Known for his outstanding litigation skills and the exceptional results he has obtained in a number of high-profile cases, Letro has served as president of the Western affiliate of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association and as a member of its board of directors.

He and his wife, television personality and community leader Cindy Abbott-Letro, also are active in Western New York philanthropic and arts organizations.

The gift from Letro is part of UB's $250 million campaign, one of the largest ever conducted by a public university in New York and New England. Although it is the fifth major fund-raising campaign conducted by UB, it is the first national/international, university-wide campaign led by alumni and volunteer leaders from across the country. Funds raised will be used to enrich academic programs, support students and enhance university life.

For information on how you can support the University at Buffalo, go to http://www.buffalo.edu/giving.