Winter 2022

New Fund Will Bolster International Opportunities at Michigan Law

By Chelsea Liddy Pivtorak

Julie Metzger and Sam Bufford standing in front of building
Samuel Bufford (left), Julia Metzger (right)

While serving as a federal bankruptcy judge in Los Angeles, the Hon. Samuel Bufford, ’73, jumped at an opportunity from the U.S. State Department to teach a legal seminar in Eastern Europe following the fall of the Berlin Wall. This set off a chain of events that sent Bufford and his wife, Julia Metzger, AB ’70, to a dizzying number of countries around the world, and it also led the couple to establish a new fund that will support international experiences for Michigan Law students. 

The pair first met at The Ohio State University, where Metzger received her law degree and where Bufford taught after graduating from Michigan Law. After they were married, they decided to move to California to practice. Bufford specialized in business law, specifically corporate, bankruptcy, antitrust, and securities. Metzger focused on commercial law, particularly financial institutions, and spent time at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). 

Both emphasize how important their Michigan degrees and connections were to their success. “When we moved to California, I found my Michigan undergrad degree opened more doors than my law degree from Ohio State. The JD qualified me for the jobs, but I wouldn’t have gotten the interview without the Michigan undergrad,” says Metzger, a proud third-generation U-M graduate.

In 1985, Bufford was chosen to serve as U.S. bankruptcy judge in the Central District of California. Shortly thereafter, he started receiving offers to teach international legal seminars due to his teaching experience, professional credentials, and the foreign language capabilities that he picked up from time spent in Geneva after law school. He became one of six U.S. judges sent to teach a judicial seminar in Romania, which in 1989 was in the process of restructuring its economy and modernizing its laws.

Bufford says that this experience put him on the State Department’s “short list” for similar programs in Eastern Europe, and it wasn’t long before he recruited his wife to join him. Metzger’s broad knowledge of commercial and corporate law proved useful in an area of the world that was transitioning away from communism and reorganizing almost all of its businesses.  

While continuing to practice in California, Bufford and Metzger were itinerant, staying for brief stints in places as widespread as Oman, Ecuador, Korea, and Brazil. They participated in seminars sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, USAID, the International Training Center for Bankers, the International Insolvency Institute, and many other entities. 

After retiring from practice, the couple took up faculty appointments at Penn State Law, which sent them to Mongolia (the high temperature during their stay was -12°F). Bufford also returned to Romania in 2016, where he taught as a Fulbright Fellow at the University of Bucharest.

In their desire to promote opportunities for international study at the Law School, Bufford and Metzger are carrying on a journey that has defined their partnership. The Bufford-Metzger Fund for International Activities at Michigan Law will support international experiential learning for students, including study abroad, international internship or clerkship placements, independent research projects, international moot courts, and the International and Comparative Law Research Scholar program. 

“Our view is that the international experiences we have had, traveling the world and meeting the people, very much broadened our horizons. We received wonderful benefits in our time, and other people should have that opportunity as well,” says Bufford. 

“We see it as a two-way street, both a benefit for the student who gets to travel abroad and also a chance to enhance the University’s outreach and influence,” Metzger adds.