Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic
About the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic
The clinic offers Vermont Law School students the exceptional opportunity to become "apprentice lawyers" and to apply what they learn in the classroom to real-world cases and projects. Our clients are community groups and conservation organizations who are facing significant environmental problems and are in need of competent, creative legal assistance.
The clinic selects cases based on a number of criteria, three of which are most important. First, the case must provide a rich learning experience—that is, a case that allows students to take charge of key elements, to develop the facts and law, and to advise and represent clients in a variety of legal settings. Second, we favor cases that present an opportunity to serve clients who would not otherwise be able to afford legal representation. And third, the case must afford an opportunity to resolve environmental problems, protect public health, and/or conserve important natural resources.
Projects are developed by the clinic faculty in consultation with student clinicians. Work plans and schedules are developed for each project. Weekly Team Meetings are used to discuss case progress, substantive issues, research strategies, professional and ethical considerations, client relations, media relations, and other issues. Student clinicians often have an opportunity to travel within or outside Vermont to inspect sites, meet with clients, visit agency offices, and participate in oral arguments, trials, and other proceedings.
Student clinicians also participate in weekly Seminars designed to deepen their knowledge of environmental law and practical lawyering skills. In addition, weekly Strategy Sessions provide students the opportunity to discuss case progress together and address other relevant clinic matters.
The clinic generally accepts ten or more students for each term (spring, summer, and fall). There are three enrollment options during the Spring and Fall semesters: six credits for part-time enrollment (minimum 20 hours per week), nine credits for three-quarter time enrollment (minimum 30 hours per week), or thirteen credits for full-time enrollment (minimum 40 hours per week). During the Spring semester, enrollment is open to all second- and third-year JD students and LLM students. During the Fall semester, enrollment is limited to third-year JD students and LLM students.
In the Summer, students can enroll in the clinic for up to nine credits toward their JD or MELP degree, and summer clerkships are also available. Summer enrollment is open to rising second- and third-year JD students and LLM students. We generally apply a preference for rising third-year JD students, but we usually do accept a few rising second-year JD students. All summer students work full-time (minimum 40 hours per week) for eleven weeks regardless of the number of credits they are seeking or their clerkship status. Clinical faculty send out notices to the student body via email regarding application requirements, information sessions, and deadlines for upcoming terms. These notices are usually sent out in September/October for the following Spring and Summer terms, and in February/March for the following Fall term.
Students are selected for the program based on academic achievement, relevant work experience, research and writing skills, communication skills, professionalism, a demonstrated interest in environmental and natural resource issues, and other factors. As preparation for the clinical experience, students should take the Legal Profession course before enrolling in the program, although we may make special arrangements for students who have not yet had the opportunity to take the Legal Profession course. In addition, we strongly encourage students to take the following courses prior to their enrollment in the clinic: Administrative Law, Environmental Law (or another substantive environmental law course), and Evidence.
Advanced ENRLC: The Clinic also provides some opportunities for students to continue on for a second semester. In the second semester, students further develop their understandings of law and the broad philosophical, economic, and scientific underpinnings of their work, as well as the lawyering skills introduced in their initial ENRLC experiences. Second-semester students are expected to take greater responsibility for cases and to mentor novice clinicians. As with the regular ENRLC course, students may enroll for six, nine, or thirteen credits in Advanced ENRLC; however, enrollment is by permission of the ENRLC Director.
The Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic opened its doors to students and clients in August 2003 with a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. Founding director Pat Parenteau and assistant director Julia LeMense faced the daunting job of establishing a law office at a law school—a task much harder than it might appear. They were inspired to meet this challenge because of the overwhelming student excitement about the possibility of establishing an environmental law clinic at Vermont Law School. The first group of student clinicians also helped immeasurably in getting the fledgling clinic off the ground. Veterans at the existing South Royalton Legal Clinic, faculty from other environmental clinics around the country, and many Vermont Law School faculty and staff members also provided substantial advice and support. From the outset, the clinic took on challenging cases against major companies and government agencies, and the clinic succeeded in making important gains for its clients. Most importantly, the student clinicians received, in those early semesters, an unparalleled opportunity to build not just cases but an entire litigation practice.
Professor Parenteau handed over the reins to director David Mears in 2006, and he continues to serve as the clinic's senior counsel. Under Professor Mears' leadership, the clinic's student enrollment grew from 4 to 10 students per semester and increased its workload from 4-5 cases and projects to 14-15 at any one time. The clinic has also added full-time and three-quarter time options, allowing students to delve more deeply into their cases and projects. Professor Teresa Clemmer joined the clinic as associate director in 2008, and she took over as acting director shortly before David Mears accepted an appointment by Governor Shumlin to serve as Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. In early 2012, the clinic was delighted to welcome Douglas A. Ruley as its new Director. Read more about Director Ruley here.