New Clinical Building to Improve Free Legal Services for Public
May 21, 2012
Vermont Law School cut the ribbon Friday on its new Center for Legal Services, an historic landmark that underwent a $3.5 million renovation to create a vibrant new home for VLS's largest pro bono clinics.
The 14,700-square-foot facility will enable the South Royalton Legal Clinic (SRLC) and the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic (ENRLC) to serve clients more effectively and provide an optimal learning environment for students. The larger space will also allow the clinics to add staff attorneys, student clinicians and cases in coming years. The clinics provide millions of dollars in free legal services each year in the name of environmental stewardship, social justice and public interest.
"This building represents the can-do spirit of Vermont Law School," retiring Dean and President Jeff Shields told the large crowd at the ribbon cutting ceremony, which included Gov. Peter Shumlin, Vermont Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Reiber and representatives of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch.
The project was prompted by the American Bar Association's requirement that VLS improve the SRLC's physical space, but it expanded into a strategic initiative to bring the SRLC and the ENRLC under one roof. Barrister's Book Shop will join the clinics this summer in the newly renovated building at 190 Chelsea St., which was formerly Freck's Department Store.
"The ABA said we needed to downsize our clinical programs because the current buildings were insufficient, so we took this decrepit but historic building and turned it into a first-rate clinical facility," said Shields, whos thanked the nearly 500 donors who contributed to the project, including VLS Trustee Fran Yates and Joel Faxon '04, a partner at Stratton Faxon.
Shumlin thanked VLS for representing low-income residents and community groups who can't afford legal representation, saying the clinics' services were crucial to the "fabric of family" and to having a clean environment. The governor also thanked Shields and his wife Genie for their efforts during his eight years as dean and president of VLS. "You are responsible for this accomplishment," he said. "This building is affirmation that this school cherishes the place it's in and gives back everyday selflessly, which is the job of lawyers."
Reiber said the Center for Legal Services represents VLS's commitment to the legal profession's code of ethics and professionalism, "which are one of the most difficult things to teach. I applaud Vermont Law School and Dean Shields."
Faxon echoed the comments of the other speakers, saying the center will "provide the public with the right to access to the courts and the right to be heard."
VLS's clinical programs are overseen by two of the country's top clinical educators. Professor Margaret Barry, past president of the Clinical Legal Education Association, is the acting associate dean for Clinical and Experiential Programs, and Professor Christine Cimini, former head of clinical programs at Denver University Sturm School of Law, is the director of Semester in Practice and Externship Programs.
VLS's clinical program--ranked 23rd among law schools nationwide by U.S.News & World Report--stands out from others in several ways. Few law schools have an environmental law clinic, and even fewer have a land use clinic. The VLS poverty law clinic allows students in-depth work in immigration, child welfare, domestic relations, public benefits and prison projects. The environmental clinic, one of the largest in the country in terms of students enrolled, offers rare and ready access to top environmental experts on the faculty.