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History and Mission

Our Mission

"To educate students in a diverse community that fosters personal growth and that enables them to attain outstanding professional skills and high ethical values with which to serve as lawyers and environmental and other professionals in an increasingly technological and interdependent global society."


Photo of VLS’s first faculty.When Vermont Law School was established in 1972, no one could have predicted the school's future course. The success of today's VLS speaks to the energy, commitment, and faith of its leaders: the deans, the trustees who guided them, and the students, faculty, and staff who have studied, taught, and worked together to realize a shared vision. As the law school continues to build, it rests on a firm foundation. Vermont Law School has gained national recognition as a law school of excellence. And VLS is playing a significant role in the legal affairs of Vermont, New England, and the nation.

In the summer of 1973, 113 students sat in the old South Royalton schoolhouse and started their legal studies with a tuition of $2,100. They were attending a law school that hadn’t yet been approved by the American Bar Association—a factor of great concern, since most states require graduation from an ABA-approved law school for admission to the bar.

In December 1973, VLS was certified by the Vermont Board of Education as an institution of higher learning. Provisional ABA approval came in February 1975. Bells rang when the news arrived, and classes were cancelled.

A full complement of classes arrived on campus for the fall 1975 term. The law school's charter class graduated in spring 1976.

Full approval by the ABA came in 1978, and the law school was accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) in 1980. VLS became a member of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) in 1981.

The Environmental Law Center opened its doors in 1978 with eight master's degree students. The Environmental Law Center now offers the most comprehensive environmental law and policy curriculum in the nation, its program is consistently top-ranked by U.S.News & World Report, and confers both the Master of Environmental Law and Policy (MELP) and Master of Laws in Environmental Law (LLM) degrees. The Class of 2008 included 87 students receiving these master's degrees.

A legal clinic for the area's low-income residents, the South Royalton Legal Clinic was established in 1979. Student clinicians provide help for persons otherwise unable to afford counsel in areas such as family law, juvenile law and children's rights, civil rights and civil liberties, consumer protection, bankruptcy, and immigration. In the 2009–10 academic year, working under state and federal student practice rules, 53 of our student clinicians represtented clients in over 220 court and administrative hearings in 21 different venues.

The General Practice Program was instituted in 1987 and quickly grew. The GPP is an important VLS program and is recipient of the American Bar Association's prestigious E. Smythe Gambrell Award for Professionalism. This national award is presented to law schools and other organizations in recognition for advancing professionalism in the practice of law.

The Julien and Virginia Cornell Library opened in 1991. Today, the library features a collection of  149,000 titles and over 349,000 volumes, wireless and remote access, and a full staff of information professionals who are experts in teaching, providing reference services, and selecting legal resources.

The James L. and Evelena S. Oakes Hall building was constructed and dedicated in 1998. Incorporating "green building" techniques along with the latest classroom technology, Oakes Hall is an energy-efficient and modern teaching facility.

In 2005 the old South Royalton schoolhouse, where that first Vermont Law School class studied in 1973, was renovated and renamed Debevoise Hall, after one of the first deans of the law school, Thomas M. Debevoise. Renovations balanced historical preservation with design efficiency and environmental awareness. Debevoise Hall was the first LEED Silver Certified renovation building project in the state of Vermont. The hall continues to serve as classroom space and now also houses administration offices, the Environmental Law Center, and the Yates Common Room, a gathering place that serves as the campus's "living room."

Vermont Law School is committed to the proposition that its graduates will dedicate themselves to the law, service, and the environment with integrity, skill, vision, and pleasure. The law school's first decades give every indication that this cornerstone of the VLS experience will continue to sustain and inspire future generations of law students.

Awards and Achievements

Listing of recent awards and achievements by Vermont Law School