The curriculum for the JD/MERL joint degree program combines the curriculum for the JD degree and the curriculum for the MERL degree—with the important difference that students enrolled in the joint degree program can count 9 JD credits toward their MERL degree. The MERL curriculum includes four required courses (adding up to 12 credits) designed to provide students with a broad-based understanding of the intersection of energy and law, regulation, policy, and economic analysis in addition to a scholarly research project or externship (up to 10 credits) on an energy topic. Apart from these requirements, students may choose from among the 50-plus courses related to energy, land, water, climate, or the general environment. The JD curriculum includes a first-year foundation in basic legal subjects as well as techniques of legal analysis; the second and third years of the JD program mostly consist of elective courses and subjects that will be covered on the bar exam.
One-on-one academic advising is available to help students choose courses, identify valuable experiential opportunities, and otherwise take advantage of the extensive environmental program at VLS.
An important feature of the JD/MERL degree program is the opportunity to spend the Summer Session studying energy law and policy and participating in a community of fellow students and scholars exploring the cutting edge in the energy field. The summer faculty, including regular VLS faculty, scholars from other law schools and other nations, public interest advocates, experienced government attorneys and lawyers from private practice, teach approximately 35 courses in five two- or three-week terms between early June and early August. Each term normally includes at least one specialized course in energy law and policy.
Students typically spend three hours in the classroom four days a week, leaving ample time to enjoy the considerable outdoor recreational opportunities in the Green Mountain State, such as tubing down the White River, hiking the Long Trail, or enjoying a leisurely meal in South Royalton or any of the many other picturesque villages surrounding the law school.
The law school hosts a Distinguished Summer Scholar in Energy Law and Policy, along with Distinguished Scholars in Environmental Law, Agriculture and Food, and International Law. All of these scholars are available to meet with students during their two-week residencies. In addition, the summer faculty, the Distinguished Summer Scholars, VLS Media Fellows, and other visitors offer several lunchtime "Hot Topics" lectures each week over the course of the summer term.
After spending the summer after their first year taking energy-related courses, most JD/MERLs spend the summer after their second year pursuing externships at different locations around the country and the world. Student externs earn credit toward their MERL degrees while gaining valuable experience that advances their education and helps prepare them for employment following graduation. A VLS counselor assists students in locating externship opportunities, but students can also identify suitable externship placements on their own. Students pursue a wide variety of externships, including with the U.S. Department of Justice, state attorneys general, federal and state energy and environmental agencies, nonprofit advocacy groups, and many other types of institutions. A mentor in the office hosting each externship oversees a student's work, and a member of the VLS faculty serves as the on-campus externship supervisor for each student.
The full, current list of energy and environmental courses is available here: Environmental Law Courses by Subject Area (.pdf)
JD/MERL students may pursue a wide variety of clinical and externship opportunities. As discussed above, most JD/MERLs earn will credit toward their MERL degree by pursuing an externship during the summer after their second year. In addition, some JD/MERLs do part-time externships during the regular school year, usually within the State of Vermont. Visit the Master's Externships page for more information.
The full range of other experiential programs that are offered to JDs is also available to JD/MERL students, including the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic. JD/MERLs can also enroll in the JD Semester in Practice or Judicial Externship programs. All of these experiential learning opportunities help ensure that JD/MERL graduates are prepared the first day on the job. Finally, JD/MERL students also have the option of pursuing "seventh semester" fall externships after graduating with their JD degree and taking the bar exam, allowing students to gain experience on the ground in the community where they plan to pursue a career.