Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Spring Forth and Prosper!

Spring has sprung. Meaning, it has flown the coop.  Spring just wanted to make sure we really wanted it--for any of us who were sad when we realized skiing was over.  And shoveling.  Snow made its brief (it has to be brief, right?) reprise.  And soon Spring will be upon us again.  The vernal equinox was March 20th this year, which is nature’s way of letting the snow know that it is okay for it to leave. Now.

Most importantly, the days are longer.  Snow or no snow, it is easier to get out and about now that the equinox is upon us.  With more daylight comes more energy—spring cleaning really is a phenomenon.  Getting out, or staying in, most find a rejuvenation and desire to accomplish things.  Despite the mildness of this winter, surviving winter in Vermont should always be celebrated. 

This Spring, equinox means THE Equinox! We are venturing south (and west) to try a new venue for our Mid-Year Meeting March 30-31.  And who doesn’t love outlet shopping and fancy locales?  The food choices all looked mouth wateringly good.  Given our last snow dump, skiing may still be an option.  Why not treat yourself to a relaxing stay at the Equinox, and add a spa treatment or shopping?  It is not too late to register, and we’ve arranged an overflow hotel, should the Equinox rate be too daunting.  The CLE offerings are sure to please.  We are privileged to have a renowned social media expert from Boston, a nationally recognized financial speaker from Vermont, and presentations by many of our Vermont judges and our own Attorney General.  Legislative schedule permitting, we also may get a visit from our Governor!  Check out the agenda at www.vtbar.myevent.com

Spring also means Spring Journal time.  The Spring Journal is nearly off to the presses.  Stay tuned for entertaining and informative explorations on mushroom foraging, practicing by numbers, tales from Kosovo, parrots, Phish and more.  We also will be offering another cartoon caption contest, so sharpen your newly rejuvenated brain cells for another battle of wits. 

Finally, what would Spring be without discussing new growth?  How about growing your knowledge base, your connections with colleagues and your practice by trying out the new VBA Connect online communities.  Similar to our old listserve, but improved on so many levels, VBA Connect will allow you to share, connect and engage like never before.  Join a discussion and see what the real property folks have known all along…sharing collective wisdom is an extremely valuable resource for your practice.

Here's to all the amazing things that Spring has to offer. Spring forth and prosper.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

What's the Buzz?

Happenings and Tips for VBA Connect, week 3.

Members are adapting quickly to our new online communities.  As with our prior listserve service, the most active section is the Property Law Section, with Family Law following close behind.   One of the added benefits of this new system is that you can check out and search what other Sections are talking about whether or not you join or post.  So what is the buzz?

The Property Law Section has continued to discuss MyVtax glitches and fixes, referrals for out of state matters, septic shadows, HOA liens, tenant evictions and pending legislation.  The Family Law Section is actively discussing several new bills being introduced on alimony reform, joint custody presumptions, side judges as mediators and other hot topics.  While you are browsing, check out the Technology Community’s discussions on Virtual Law Practice and Law Practice Management Software.  We are trying to assemble recommendations and warnings for software products, so if you have anything to add, please do so!

We have sent an email blast out to the membership to remind members to login and configure their accounts.  Please check your junk mail and white list mail@connectedcommunity.org.  All members have been defaulted to receiving a “daily digest” unless otherwise selected.  As noted in the General Discussion Library post “General Use Instructions,” you can see that there are two ways to select your email notification preferences. 

First, in each community, by the heading, is a button called “settings.”  There, you can set your email notifications for that community with a drop-down under “email notifications.”  Alternatively, you can view all your communities at once by clicking the drop-down arrow next to your profile picture (or Mr. Nobody picture) in the top right corner, and selecting “profile.” In your profile, select “my account” and there will be a drop-down for “community notifications.”  You can set all your community preferences there.

One member noted how convenient it was to be able to set the notifications at “daily digest” or none while he was on vacation, but then change them back to “real time” when he returned.  He thought he could go online on his own time when he was away to see what everyone was up to, but keep his emails down until he got back.  Another noted how important it is to have “real time” set during the legislative session and perhaps changing to “daily digest” when summer hits.  Because legislation is inevitably last-minute (and often critical), setting to “real time” now makes sense.  The beauty is that you can control what you see.

We know some members haven’t yet logged on, as they have “been meaning to” when they have “spare time.”  Been there, heard that! Rest assured that joining the conversation is as easy as entering your VBA username and password and browsing the communities.  The buttons are minimal, and clear, and the platform is extremely user-friendly.  One of your most powerful, yet most simple, resources is the collective wisdom of your colleagues. So what are you waiting for?  Join the conversation today! 

Got questions? We are here to help! Email me at jeb at vtbar dot org.  Training is available.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread!

“The best thing since sliced bread.”  What a revolutionary thing in 1928 when the first effective bread-slicing machine came out!  Wonder Bread used this as their ad slogan shortly thereafter.  Where would school lunches, picnics, toast and grilled cheese sandwiches be if not for this technological advance?  True, the technology made life easier, lunches faster, and more convenient.  But then there’s always the backlash.  Commercially prepared bread will never be as good or as wholesome as homemade.   Despite the more recent push to source more locally and naturally, there is still no question that the bread-slicer was a game changer that added a certain efficiency to our lives.

With almost any new technology, we tend to have the same love-hate relationship.  How many times have we simultaneously cursed the internet for its constant intrusion on our lives while relishing in the ease at which we can solve a trivia dispute or obtain validation of a memory? While email clutters our practices, who would ever want to go back to attempting to communicate with a group of say, 3 or more, without the ability to simply email a group? Or suffer the delays of mailing letters for pressing matters?  Because technology changes so rapidly, we often have difficulty identifying just what exactly IS the best thing since sliced bread, rather than succumbing to imposters, like the bread-slicer fails between 1860 and 1928.

Because ‘why can’t we just go back to pencil and paper?’ is never the answer, we are all charged with the responsibility of practicing efficiently and competently in the present world.  VBA’s President Mike Kennedy blogs often in his Ethical Grounds blog, about the need to be technologically competent.  Not only is it our ethical responsibility, we also are only able to serve our clients if we respond to their needs and how they want to be served.  As we recently noted on our Facebook page, quoting an ABA Journal article by Jack Newton, clients today often prefer an effortless experience over an exceptional experience.  While this may not always be the case, it is important to recognize that everyone’s client base demands more user-friendly experiences than ever before.  We don’t always have to be utilizing the best thing since sliced bread, but we better be sure that we are not shunning sliced bread, or the internet, or email encryption, or online client portals, or document management software just because we prefer chunks of bread (and pencils). 

As most of our members are aware, we’ve launched a new phase of member communication called VBA Connect.  While we’ve had quite a bit of positive feedback, some members are still having difficulty starting out as they lament the good old days of conference calls or listserves.  We are here to help our members enter into this phase of communication.  The old listserves, while new and shiny at some point, had become stale.  Many people were being bounced off periodically, there was no way to find old posts, there was no way to share documents, videos or large files and there was no organization or ability to see other sections and discussions.  These online communities are easily searchable, more streamlined, organized, clean and easy to use.  You can customize whether you receive emails daily, in real time or not at all.  The embedded online directory saves time.  Just like with any new thing, it will take a bit of time to become accustomed to the changes.  We urge our members to please do so.  It may just be ONE OF the best things since sliced bread.

While we are on the subject of discerning the best thing since sliced bread, the Technology Community is open and available to all members to join and use.  With so many technology aids out there, how can anyone know what is hot and what is not?  Collective wisdom is an incredibly powerful tool.  We encourage you to post to the technology community to share your wisdom and questions about the latest hardware and software.  Want to know what other members think of Clio, Worldox, Timeslips, TimeMatters, Amicus, Abacus, Rocket Lawyer, Dropbox, Goodreader, Logmein, virtu, Zixmail, printers, laptops, apps, etc.?  Got troubleshooting questions? Why not ask?  We can organize responses with the goal of creating a ‘reviews’ library in the future.  Just bite into that perfectly square sandwich.  Happy posting.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The future is NOW, well, by next week…

As promised, the VBA will be releasing our latest and most valuable new benefit: VBA Connect.   This new phase of member communications brings listserves to a higher level, allowing our members to engage, connect and share like never before. 

Within a week, all of our members will be receiving an email from us, welcoming them to the new online communities.  Please read this email!  There will be a lot of useful information in the email about how to personalize your account and maximize your benefits from the service.  The two most important items will be (1) to create or verify your profile and (2) to check your settings in terms of how you want to receive notices and conversations.  You can get daily, weekly or real time emails when your colleagues post questions, answers and documents OR you can choose to just go online yourself and receive no notices. You will have a single sign-on, meaning VBA Connect uses your same username and password that you use for vtbar.org.  

We know the listserves have been extremely active lately.  The real property folks are still struggling with the Pearl Harbor Day release of myVTax and its aftermath of glitches and confusion.  Folks have had to hand-copy responses and create a petition separately, just to make sense of the countless comments and questions.  We at the VBA are listening.  Those comments have been cut and pasted into a word document, which is not pretty, but which will save those comments for review and assembly after the change.  Because the old listserve service was neither archiveable nor searchable, the process became very cumbersome.  VBA Connect will allow Section members and other VBA members to view and search all conversation threads for the information they need.  Forgot the answer to a post about a condo permit from 6 months ago? This problem will be a thing of the past!

The Family Law Section has been actively requesting members’ positions for the upcoming House Judiciary Committee hearings on alimony reform.  Members had difficulty sharing the Family Division Oversight Committee Report due to limitations of the listserve service.  Also, like the Real Property Section issues, responses were difficult to find or categorize, and were certainly not searchable.  The Section also had some intense discussions about whether Vermont should have a presumption that joint responsibility is best for the child, codified like New Hampshire.  Arguments for either side appeared strong, given the potential for pressure in abuse situations.  Members had difficulty sharing the 50-State report on the issue.  The Section Members expressed their gratitude to Section Chair, Penny Benelli, who has had to hand-assemble the responses.  These responses and documents have been saved by us to post to the new system.

The online communities work much like other social media platforms.  You can have a profile that is as extensive or as minimal as you wish.  You can add other members to your contacts for ease in communication or you can have no contacts on your list at all.  Either way, VBA Connect does contain a full membership directory.  VBA Connect is extremely user-friendly and the folks at VBA will be your guide for any questions you may have.  We will be posting documents to the library and questions to the Sections to get you started but will place the system initially in “full moderation” mode so that we do not bombard or overwhelm the membership with superfluous information.  The site has been in Beta Testing but when it goes live, we will be calling on all Section Chairs to post at least one discussion for further testing.  Posts will have buttons clearly marked as “Reply to Discussion” or “Reply to Sender” so that the formerly prevalent and often embarrassing listserve posting errors will never recur.

Check out the screen shot below and be on the lookout for this incredible benefit.  Like winter, VBA Connect is coming!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Welcome Legislators!

Time for another “a picture is worth 1,000 words” blog!  The VBA hosted a Legislators’ Reception on January 18th in the Cedar Creek Room at the Statehouse.  The event was very well attended as the pictures demonstrate.  Hopefully the pictures also show the perfect mix of food, drink, smiles and meaningful conversations among the attendees.  Scroll down for a gallery glimpse into this successful event.

We at the VBA strive to be a valuable resource to our representatives and their constituents. As a backdrop to the event, in one corner there was a slideshow loop of pictures from the Legislators’ Days held in each County, and information about our resources such as our VBA Section Chairs, the Bar Ambassadors, our lawyer referral service and legal assistance business cards and our public education initiatives, such as our “Basics of the US Constitution” presentations.  If legislators have any question about proposed legislation, they can take comfort in knowing that the VBA Section Chairs are there to assist with understanding or to reach out to other members in that substantive area of law for issue spotting, testimony and discussion.  The Bar Ambassadors in each county are also a great resource.  Most importantly, we got an opportunity to interact with our legislators at a lively social event!

One picture that may not be self-explanatory is the close up of the large battle painting in the Cedar Creek Room.  The bearded injured man being carried is Thomas Kennedy, a direct relative of our own VBA President, Mike Kennedy.  Not only did this Kennedy survive his injury, but he later became a state official with stints as Sheriff of Franklin County, Town selectman and constable, superintendent and a two-term representative in the State legislature.  His prominent position as a young star in the legislature, and perhaps his potential influence over future artist commissions, may explain his front and center position in the painting!

Thank you to everyone who helped make this event a success!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Congratulations to Beth Mann and Dave Fenster!

Governor Shumlin swore in, as Superior Court judges, both former VBA President and Addison County State’s Attorney, David Fenster and VBA Member and Rutland practitioner, Elizabeth Mann at the Statehouse in Montpelier today.  Shumlin remarked that Mann and Fenster were chosen because of their grace, dignity, compassion, commitment to the law and good judgment.  He noted that dispensing justice is “more than just being a really, really good lawyer” but that other qualities are shown in how these two attorneys live their lives. 

Governor Shumlin said that both Fenster and Mann “get the rest of it,” that people come into court facing real struggles and that the lives of the litigants matter.  The Governor said: “Dispensing justice doesn’t mean that you are powerful; it means that you care.”   His speech was followed by brief and touching expressions of gratitude by both Mann and Fenster, the official administration of oath and signing by the new judges.  Photos were taken and a brief opportunity for questions was given to the press by the Governor. 

The ceremony was attended by many judges and court staff as well as family, colleagues and friends of both Mann and Fenster.  Beth Mann’s parents, husband and two sons attended, all appearing emotional, as were we all, during her beautiful speech.  Dave Fenster’s parents, step-parents, wife and daughter and son were also all in attendance and were thanked profusely.  Some levity was added when Dave’s wife’s shoe became lodged in the ventilation grate, which she handled with grace, and when the Governor’s pen (from “the bottom of the box” due to the end of his tenure) failed to operate properly, and several replacements were offered. 

Read on for pictures of the event, the guests, and the shoe and pen incidents!

Judges Toor, Teachout and Hoar awaiting the ceremony.

Governor Shumlin greets Fenster's son with Mann's son in the background.

Coworkers and family of Fenster and Mann watching the ceremony, with VBA President Mike Kennedy in attendance.

Beth Mann giving her touching speech.

Dave Fenster giving his thank you speech.

Beth Mann being sworn in with her family behind her.

Dave Fenster being sworn in with his family behind him.

Just prior to the swearing in, the Governor reacts to the shoe-eating grate!

The point where the pen ran out...

The Governor posed for pictures with both families (after noting that the room was "not iphone friendly"), with reporters blocking, we only obtained this fine iphone photo of the Judge Fenster contingent.

All smiles as judges gather, presumably planning "new guy" responsibilities, post-ceremony!