South Royalton Legal Clinic
For 34 years, the South Royalton Legal Clinic has taught Vermont Law School students how to integrate legal substance and procedures with essential practice skills. The clinic's goals have always been two:
- First, to help students learn how to engage in the reflective, ethical practice of law.
- Second, to provide much-needed legal assistance to poor and working Vermonters in a wide array of civil cases.
The seeds of the Clinic were planted early. On the first page of the first issue of the new student newspaper, The Forum (12/16/75), Dean Thomas Debevoise described key elements of VLS's educational mission: "The faculty believes that the availability of clinical training is an appropriate part of the school's basic program."
Over the next three years, an ad hoc committee led by Debevoise and Professor Ken Kreiling set out to develop an in-house clinic. The project had the support of the full faculty and the Board of Trustees. The clinic opened in January 1979, with Zander Rubin as the first director. Zander was formerly director of training for Vermont Legal Aid. He hired Tavian Mayer, VLS '78, as the first staff attorney.
The clinic filled in a gap in Vermont Legal Aid's coverage in northern Windsor and Orange counties. Tavian remembers that the clinic met a tremendous need in east-central Vermont by providing free legal services to low income Vermonters.
"We were simply overwhelmed by the need for service. We were limited in the case load we could do, so we wound up in-taking, then attempting to farm out to Vermont Legal Aid or Judicare what we couldn't handle."
Tavian added: "We tried to do things we could handle in one semester. Discrete type cases: landlord/tenant, housing, and domestic abuse. It wasn't till we had really established ourselves that we started to take on the civil rights cases which would carry on more than one semester."
By the end of its first year, the clinic had "provided brief service and/or representation to 172 low-income Vermonters and ...handled two appeals to the Vermont Supreme Court" (Forum, 3/21/80, p. 5). Just three years after opening its doors, the clinic had "grown to provide for three times as many students and clients" as in its first year.
In Summer 1980 Zander left the clinic to work at the Vermont Attorney General's office, and was succeeded as director by Elliot Burg of Vermont Legal Aid's Rutland office.
Susan Apel arrived in 1982 from Keystone Legal Services in Pennsylvania, succeeding Tavian Mayer, who went into private practice in South Royalton. The next year, 1983, saw the arrival of James May from Vermont Legal Aid's Springfield office. He came to SRLC as a Clinical Fellow, jointly sponsored by VLS and VLA.
When Elliot left in 1986 to work in Bolivia for a year, and then to work for the Vermont Attorney General's Office, Dean Jonathan Chase appointed Susan and Jim as co-directors for the next year. Susan moved "across the street" in 1987 to help start the General Practice Program, and Jim became SRLC director, a post he still occupies.
Elliot Burg's recollection of the six years he led the clinic rings true to the students and lawyers working there today. "Early on, the clinic embraced a model that fostered maximum student involvement in cases and at the same time required staff to be here every step of the way. In my view, that model was the best one in terms of representing clients competently and learning most fully. It was also extremely intense. What we expected of students, we imposed upon ourselves as staff."
Of her years at the clinic, Susan Apel has the fondest of memories: "It was the hardest, and at the same time, the most fulfilling job. To be there as students are beginning to develop a professional self, and to foster that process, is a great privilege. I remember many hours spent in the car with students, on our way to Burlington or Rutland or Montpelier. The time and proximity of being in the car allowed me to get to know students in ways that I wouldn't have otherwise. Many important conversations took place in that Honda." Additionally, "Elliot and Jim and I worked hard together. I learned an enormous amount about lawyering and teaching from both of them."
Jim May recalls that "working with Susan and Elliot was a remarkable experience. We were friends, and mutually supportive. Susan had great rapport with students, always asked the difficult questions, and was remarkably successful in her cases. Elliot was not only brilliant as both an attorney and administrator, but disciplined and hardworking, as well. Most of what I know about program administration is based on what I learned from Elliot."
Since 1987, we have built a strong clinic of professionally accomplished attorneys and support staff.
During a key transition period in 1990, recent graduate Jud Burnham, VLS '89, played an important role as temporary staff attorney while the school conducted a search for an attorney with enough years of experience to supervise students in court under state and federal student practice rules. Jud went on to become Vermont's longest-serving trial court clerk until his retirement in 2008.
The permanent attorney selected in December 1990, Maryann Zavez, still serves in that post and is, like Jim, now a tenured member of the faculty.
With the encouragement of Dean Douglas Costle, a third attorney slot focusing on family law was created the next year with funds from the Vermont Bar Foundation's IOLTA (Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts) program.
It was originally filled by Attorney Nina Lloyd, who came from the law firm of Baker and Hayes in Lebanon, N.H.
In 1994, SRLC Director James May helped establish Russia's first law school legal clinic at Petrozavodsk State University (PSU) in Karelia, a northwestern Russian republic bordering Finland. The PSU clinic has served as a model for creation of other clinics throughout Russia. Since 1999, Mr. May, in collaboration with Vermont/Karelia Rule of Law Project, has worked to help develop demonstration civil legal aid programs in Karelia.
Since 1995, it has been filled by Alex Banks, VLS '87, who returned to Vermont from Northwest Legal Services in Mercer County, Penn.
Kinvin Wroth came to VLS as Dean in 1996 with a strong track record on, among other things, Access to Justice issues. As Dean, he was instrumental in creating the Vermont Access to Justice Coalition, of which VLS is a key player. In 1999, he supported the clinic's hiring of a fourth attorney with U.S. Department of Justice funding.
That attorney was Arthur Edersheim. Coming from private practice in Orwell, Vt., he also had valuable experience as an attorney with the Vermont Office of Child Support Enforcement.
The clinic's current staffing is rounded out by Office Manager and stalwart Sharon Mee, with over 15 years of service, and Legal Administrative Assistant Erika Pierce, who came to the Clinic in 2011 from Dartmouth College.