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Warnken keeps old-fashioned ways for first class at new UB Law building

When Byron Warnken taught the first class in the original John and Frances Angelos Law Center in 1982, students took notes with paper and pen.

Byron Warnken teaches the first class at the John and Frances Angelos Law Center at University of Baltimore School of Law. Warnken also taught the first class at the old law building more than three decades ago.

In his first class at the University of Baltimore School of Law’s new modern building, Warnken will be teaching in a technologically advanced classroom — but the students will still be writing with ink, in notebooks. There is no technology allowed in his classroom.

“After 31 years and five days, my technology is this,” Warnken said, pointing to his mouth.

Warnken taught the first class in the $115 million building Monday night in its 100-student classroom, almost exactly 31 years after he taught the first class in the law school’s first permanent residence across the street.

The law school was founded in 1925, with only a part-time evening program, but became a full-time school in 1969. Before 1982, classes were held in a few classrooms at Charles Hall and the Langsdale Library on campus, Warnken said.

“We were grateful to be anywhere,” Warnken said.

Warnken, who has been teaching at the law school since 1973, said the students in his class Monday are a more prepared group than the class he taught after the old building’s opening. He said he thought the bottom quarter of the law school’s students today were much stronger academically than the bottom quarter of the law school’s 1982 class.

“I think the University of Baltimore School of Law has gotten to be a much stronger institution,” Warnken.

There are other differences, too. That first class in the 1980s was about 95 percent white and 70 percent male, Warnken said. Monday’s class was about 65 percent white and 35 percent male, Warnken said.

And aside from added amenities like individual showers, a coffee shop and several balconies, the students in the new building’s inaugural class have more opportunities academically, Warnken said. In 1982, there were more required courses and fewer electives, he said.

When Warnken first started teaching at the law school, it had an “outsiders” reputation, like a vocational-technical school, he said.

There has been a mentality switch, though, in recent years: now, law firms want students with practical skills, “who know where to find a courthouse,” Warnken said.

“All of a sudden …, now we are cool,” Warnken said. “We are no longer considered weird or second-class.” Warnken said his teaching style and curriculum have not changed much over three decades. He likes to walk up to students and pressure them with questions, “just as a judge might.”

He uses all his own teaching materials. At the beginning of each class he gives out a quiz with seven questions about the reading materials. After giving out the quiz answers, he discusses two cases with the class. Then he spends around 50 to 75 minutes of the period analyzing a hypothetical problem of the day with students.

“I will call on you at random; maybe you are correct, maybe you are incorrect, but you will find out if others are paying attention,” Warnken said.

The new 190,000-square-foot law school building opened in April. The building at the intersection of Charles Street and Mount Royal Avenue is energy-efficient and has 15 classrooms, a library, six terraces, a moot court room and faculty offices.

The 12-story building broke ground in August 2010. The modern design was created by Architect Stefan Behnisch, of Behnisch Architekten in Stuttgart, Germany, along with Baltimore’s Ayers Saint Gross, who won a design competition to design the law center.

Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, of the Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos P.C. in Baltimore, gave about $15 million to the building, which received $22 million total in private donations.

The new and old law school buildings are named after Angelos’ parents. While summer school classes started this week in the new building, faculty and staff will move in early this summer.