Vermont Bar Association's View Of VLS, As Tenure Controversy Hits School

Jul 18, 2018

There is turmoil at Vermont Law School following the news that tenure has been revoked for 14 out of 19 faculty members at the South Royalton institution. A recent VTDigger article revealed the 75 percent reduction in tenured faculty as part of a plan to help restructure finances that have taken a hit from ongoing budget deficits.

Vermont Law School enjoys a reputation as one of the country's top environmental law schools, and the situation has many Vermonters concerned about the school's future — including Vermont Bar Association Executive Director Therese Corsones, who spoke to VPR about how the school interacts with her organization.

Find excerpts from the conversation with Corsones below. Listen to the full audio above.

The relationship between VLS and VBA:

"We have a very strong collaborative relationship with the law school and it's become even stronger, I would say, in the last several years in particular," Corsones said. "The VBA and Vermont Law School professors work with young new lawyers who want to set up a practice, especially in rural underserved areas in Vermont. So the incubator program provides a mechanism for them to get mentorship and oversight and ... a small stipend to help them set up their practices. And it's a way that we can try to encourage new lawyers to settle in Vermont, especially in those areas where there might not be lawyers to satisfy the need for legal assistance.

"And we also offer a special membership rate to Vermont Law School students in the hopes of connecting them with lawyers. This is a way for many law students who would love to settle in Vermont to connect with attorneys and ideally, you know, assist them with the transition."

Where VLS fits into issues facing law schools generally:

"I think all law schools are facing similar issues in terms of declining enrollments for a while, mainly because — and this is true for all of higher education — you had skyrocketing tuition costs, so that when students graduate they have a heavy debt burden," Corsones said. "In Vermont, across the career board, oftentimes wages are lower than in other areas. So I think that has an impact in terms of lawyers coming to Vermont.

"One benefit has been that I think law schools have become more flexible, focusing much more on the practical and not exclusively on the theoretical — and Vermont Law School is very strong in that respect. They have the South Royalton Legal Clinic that they've had since the '70s, where you have students who are actually providing legal assistance to low-income persons in the community, veterans issues or bankruptcy or family law. They get direct practical experience such that when they graduate, then they have much more of an ability to enter a courtroom and argue a case."

How VBA may work with VLS going forward: 

"I think what we can certainly do is reach out to Dean [Thomas] McHenry, if there is anything that we can do that would be of help," Corsones said. "He spoke at our annual meeting last year when he came — we wanted to introduce him to the membership — and at that meeting there might have been 300 people in the room, and he asked how many were Vermont Law School alumni. And at least half the people raised their hands. So I'll certainly reach out to ask if there is anything that we can do that would be of assistance."

Disclosure: Vermont Law School is a VPR underwriter.