At VLS they embed in you the ethic of zealous advocacy for your client, and at the same time, they telegraph to you that outcomes require collaboration and resolving competing demands.”
Founder and Managing Partner, Sirotkin & Necrason, PLLC
"We were sitting knee-to-knee in a camper covered with ramshackle boards in the dark, creosote dripping under our feet, while the client was offering us hospitality the best he could.... It was very vivid and stayed forever in my mind that practically homeless is a tough place to be," he says.
Working with the local Habitat for Humanity chapter, Adam mobilized everyone he could collar into building a new house for the man and his family. It became a cause célèbre on campus, with professors, students, and staff pitching in money, designing green strategies, and nailing down boards and shingles on weekends. The house, with passive solar, a composting toilet, recycled building materials, and locally milled lumber, became the first green Habitat project-pioneering the eco-strategies now embraced by Habitat nationwide. When, after 15 months of hard work, the house was christened with a happy gathering and lots of photos, "We were not celebrating winning-we were acknowledging progress," says Adam. Says South Royalton Legal Clinic Professor Alex Banks: "Adam's vision and inexhaustible energy were at the center of why it was a success."
Says Adam: "The legal clinic broadened my horizons beyond my passion for environmental law and put me on a path toward the career I now really enjoy." Today a managing partner in the Montpelier law firm of Sirotkin & Necrason, he walks the halls of the Vermont statehouse to lobby not only for environmental legislation such as clear-cutting restrictions, but also for consumer protection, drug addiction treatment, elderly healthcare, and workers' rights. "By getting on the front end of policy, we can create outcomes before bad things happen," he says. "State government in Vermont is very connected to the people-it's small-scale, and the merits of a case matter. Your credibility is your commodity, and you can work hard and make a difference."
One of his lead clients demonstrates the art of the possible: "The affordable housing development community and the conservation organizations in Vermont teamed up and said, let's not fight with each other-let's fight together for affordable housing in community centers and land conservation in the countryside." His lobbying has helped the coalition secure $100 million in funding, enabling it to build or renovate 10,000 affordable homes in historic town centers and conserve the acreage of hundreds of farms by buying development rights. "It protects both vulnerable Vermonters and the environment in one fell swoop," he says.
Adam credits his drive to his parents: "They made me someone who likes to get things done." His father ran a construction company in Oneonta, New York: "When I was a little kid, I was babysat by a bulldozer-my dad would put me on a big piece of equipment and I'd ride around with a guy running his route all day." Nights he would tag along to civic meetings with his mother, "a community leader and change-maker." Weekends and summers would find him canoeing on the Susquehanna River: "Even as a kid, it seemed dirty to me-it was clear something was wrong." He work-studied his way through the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, then methodically chose VLS: "I liked that it's set in nature instead of apart from nature, and that it's small enough that you can feel you're part of a community."
His work in the legal clinic led directly to his first job: "[SRLC Director] Jim May said to me, 'If you want to be a change agent at the policy level, go to the legislature and check it out.' He wrote a couple of names on a slip of paper and said, 'These two guys are doing work you're interested in. I'll give them a call and tell them you want to meet with them.'" Adam interned with them for two years, then the three of them formed a partnership that focuses on state government advocacy and represents largely social justice and nonprofit public interest clients, as well as professional associations and a few corporations.
"At VLS they embed in you the ethic of zealous advocacy for your client, and at the same time, they telegraph to you that outcomes require collaboration and resolving competing demands," Adam says. "That theme has proven to be the piece of VLS education that's most meaningful to me. You're looking to float as many boats as you can while still serving your client's core interest."
He met his wife, Diana, when his friend Brian Dunkiel MSEL/JD '96 advised him that he had a bad haircut and should try a stylist at a new salon. "She turned out to be my wife," says Adam. A single mother, she brought two children into the marriage and they've had two more. Ten years ago, they bought a run-down 1860 farmhouse in Jericho village center: "Reconstruction, not renovation" is about 90 percent complete. Says Adam: "It was a lifelong need and goal of mine to have a building project at home that I could do with my kids, and now-to have your seven-year-old son wearing a tool belt and saying, 'Dad, that doesn't look level'-it's a great thing!"