Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Celebrate Pro Bono!

October is pro bono month, and October 23-29 is ABA’s pro bono week.  Vermont has incredible and rewarding pro bono opportunities.  Learn about the programs and obtain CLE credit by attending the VBA Pro Bono Conference, October 26, 2016 at the State House in Montpelier.  Click HERE for more info on tomorrow’s conference.

There is a common misperception that pro bono means “for free.”  Pro bono actually comes from the Latin pro bono publico meaning “for the public good.”  Lawyers, at their core, are in the profession to help people navigate through difficult situations, often well after the legal retainer has run dry.  Continuing to fight the good fight, undoubtedly for ‘truth, justice and the American way’ may appear to fulfill this aspiration to provide services for the public good, but the rule is a bit more specific.  Just being in a profession that exists to help clients is not enough.

Both the ABA and Rule 6.1 of the Vermont Rules of Professional Conduct state that every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay.  It suggests that lawyers should render at least 50 hours per year providing pro bono services, the majority of which should be to help persons of limited means or charitable organizations that serve those of limited means.  The majority of the 50 hours need to be without fee or expectation of fee.  The rule then goes on to address other no fee or reduced fee services, beyond the majority of the 50 hours, that could be rendered to protect civil rights or public rights or to improve the legal system or law.

 Being in a service profession, it seems to go without saying that Vermont lawyers will give their time to help those in need, without pro bono hours being mandated.  And they often do, even though the stated 50 hours is merely aspirational.  The most cited reason for not giving time is that it is harder to earn a living in Vermont than elsewhere.  That Vermont practice is replete with ‘involuntary pro bono.’ While this may be true, it also follows that a huge population of Vermonters are low income and are in dire need of legal services.  Nationally, the ABA has found that 40% of low and moderate income households have legal problems but that only 20% of those legal needs are being met.  Legal services are needed, so why not help?

As so aptly put by Anne Frank, “No one has ever become poor by giving.”  Or as often, and perhaps incorrectly, attributed to Winston Churchill, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”  Countless studies have shown that giving is more rewarding and fulfilling than receiving. 

Consider volunteering at one of the following established programs and see just how gratifying the work can be!

·        Vermont Volunteer Lawyer Project is a statewide program matching volunteer attorneys with low-income clients in need of help in civil legal matters. To sign up or to request more information, contact Angele Court, VVLP Coordinator, at (802) 863-7153.

·        Chittenden County Small Claims Clinic is held on the first Tuesday of each month in the District and Family Court building on Cherry Street in Burlington. Volunteer attorneys meet with clients to review their cases and prepare them for the upcoming hearing. The attorneys do not provide legal advice. To volunteer, or to receive more information, contact Jeffrey Messina Esq., with Bergeron, Paradis & Fitzpatrick, LLP by calling (802) 879-6304.

·        Chittenden County Rent Escrow Clinic is held at least two times a month on Tuesdays from 8:30AM until noon at Chittenden County Courthouse, 175 Main Street in Burlington. Three attorney volunteers enter limited appearances for clients in rent escrow hearings that morning. To volunteer, or to obtain more information, contact Angele Court with Legal Services Law Line of Vermont at 802-863-7153.

·        County Bar Legal Assistance Projects are low-bono projects providing stipends for attorneys representing low income clients in foreclosure, collections and landlord/tenant cases in civil division, in adult involuntary guardianships in probate divisions, and in child support contempt defense in family division. These low bono projects exist in Addison, Bennington, Rutland, Windham, Windsor/Orange Counties, and are coming soon in Franklin/Grand Isle and Washington Counties. For general information contact Mary Ashcroft at mashcroft@vtbar.org or at 802-223-2020.   
To sign up for the program in your preferred country, contacts are below:
Addison County: Sarah Star, Esq. 802-385-1023
Bennington County: John Lamson, Esq., 802-447-8500
Orange County: Judge Bernie Lewis at 802-728-9604
Rutland County: Mary Ashcroft, Esq., 802-775-5189 (OVER 800 CASES TO DATE!)                       Windham County: Ellen Kreitmeier, Esq., 802-490-9265
Windsor/Orange Counties: Marc Nemeth, Esq. 802-763-2227

·        Caledonia County Legal Clinic is offered on Friday afternoon every other month at the Courthouse in St. Johnsbury. Attorney volunteers are needed to visit with clients on a variety of issues for 20 minutes each. For more information or to volunteer, call the court at 748-6600.

·        St. Johnsbury Community Justice Center offers a free evening legal clinic on the first Monday of every month, and needs volunteer attorneys to meet with each client for 30 minutes, working from 6-8PM. For more information or to volunteer, call Neil Favreau at (802) 748- 2977.

·        Washington County Legal Clinic operates two Friday afternoons a month at the Washington Family Court in Barre. Volunteer attorneys see 3-6 clients for 15 minute consultations each. Clients with all types of legal questions are served. To volunteer, please call the Family Court at 479-4205.

The county “low bono” projects listed above are funded by grants from the Vermont Bar Foundation. 

Pro bono opportunities exist in every county in Vermont.  If not through an established program, consider volunteering in your local probate or family division, where the pro bono need is especially great.  Fulfill Rule 6.1 and you, too, will feel fulfilled!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Scenes from VBA's 138th Annual Meeting

If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, then this photo-packed Blawg installment rivals an Act of Congress! The 138th Annual Meeting was a smashing success, and how better to describe it than with thousands upon thousands of words, albeit in picture form. Captions are included, however, since it would be impossible for trained legal professionals to remain entirely speechless!

Taking in the setting before the meeting begins.

Judge Robert Mello fields a question from Paul Gillies about Judge Mello’s book “Moses Robinson and the Founding of Vermont”.

Judge Stephen Martin discusses his book “Orville’s Revenge: The Anatomy of a Suicide” with a photo of the late Orville Gibson and his wife in the foreground.

Nancy Martin exhibits how one can tie one’s self up in order to hurl one’s self from a bridge!

Former Agency of Transportation Secretary Sue Minter speaks first in the Gubernatorial Dialogue followed by Lt. Governor Phil Scott addressing the membership. Last up was Liberty Union Candidate Bill Lee who shared his enthusiasm (and drew some laughs) during the Gubernatorial Dialogue.  The event was moderated by Daniel Richardson.

Friday morning's Wake Up and Run/Walk participants got to view the sunrise.

Peaceful morning mindfulness through curtain sheers...John Newman presents to very engaged members in a beautiful setting.

Greg Weimer engrosses the crowd during the E-Discovery for Small Civil Cases seminar.

Anna Saxman  and Marshall Pahl describe the latest rulings in the criminal law update seminar next to a bank of lake-view windows.

The panelists in the Alimony Reform presentation include Judges Brian Grearson, Thomas Devine and Kevin Griffin, along with Attorneys Susan Murray and Emily Davis.

Tom Valente explains the use of parody as a defense in trademark cases.

Also in IP, In case you want to know how to take over the world, Gordon Troy can explain!

Nancy Livak addresses potential infringement with this lively cheerleader costume case.

Penny Benelli and Amber Barber present to a packed lakeside room with the Family Law year in review.

Steve Ellis addressing a question at the Employment Law review.

Tom Moody engaging his audience at the Business Law review as Tristram Coffin awaits his portion of the presentation.

Mike Kennedy and Drew Palcsik keeping members calm with their cloud computing seminar.

Members are assembled for the lunch meeting  - a packed house with this view out the window:

Mike Kennedy presents President’s Awards to Access to Justice Campaign Co-Chairs Jeff Johnson and Jean Giddings for their fantastic work as last year’s co-chairs.

Mike Kennedy presents President’s Awards to lawyer/legislators Shap Smith and Willem Jewett for their many contributions while serving in the Vermont Legislature.
This year’s Access to Justice Campaign Co-Chairs Rob McClallen and Gary Karnedy thank the audience for their past support and urge continued support for the Poverty Law Fellow Program this year.

Mairead O’Reilly, the current Poverty Law Fellow, describes the work she will be undertaking with a focus on issues surrounding the opiate epidemic.

Immediate Past President Dan Richardson passes the gavel to new President Mike Kennedy.

President Mike Kennedy addresses the membership during his very moving acceptance speech!  

Post-lunch socializing with the service award winners and President Kennedy.

The afternoon continues with Appellate Law cast of presenters including Justices Skoglund and Eaton, Judge Crawford and David Boyd.

Real Property Year in Review with Andy Mikell, Benjamin Deppman and Jim Knapp.

Thanks for having us, Lake Morey!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Pets R (most of) Us!

Now then, I’ve gotten your attention with cuteness overload--well at least 60% of you.  Approximately 60% of Americans own pets, and most of those pet-owners are dog owners.  And while many of us pet owners frown on the use of the word “own” since our pets are actually our beloved family members, I intended to use ‘own’ in the truest legal sense of the word.  Come to VBA’s Pet Law Day on September 30, 2016 in S. Burlington and you will see how a dog compares, in the eyes of the law, to, say, a couch! 

There have been several pet-related cases that have made it to the Vermont Supreme Court, a few of which will be discussed at our Pet Law Day.  But what about the couch?  Well, despite that many studies have shown that pets can reduce obesity, increase happiness and reduce stress in their owners, they are simply, legally, personal property. Though many have tried, there cannot be a custody arrangement for a family pet in Vermont.  Not only can pets not be subject to an order of custody, they also, unlike humans, can instead be subject to a “finders-keepers” ruling like a couch on a street corner. But unlike a couch, dogs escape and can bite either each other or humans.   Also, unlike a couch, you cannot leave them in a hot car or otherwise mistreat them.  Sound complicated?  It is!  We will explore these issues and more, including pet trusts, at Pet Law Day on September 30, so register TODAY! 

Pet laws are complex and the industry is robust. Spending on pets in the US has grown rapidly over the last decade.  It is estimated that Americans spent approximately $60 Billion on pets in 2015, which is slightly more than we spent on clothing, handbags, makeup and shoes combined.  This spending also edged out what was spent on childcare by over $10 Billion.  More troublesome, perhaps for the ridiculed pet and most certainly for those living in poverty with legal needs, Americans spent approximately $350 Million on Halloween costumes for their pets in 2015, which is over 90% of the entire Legal Services Corporation funding for the same year to fund Legal Aid.  Saving the priorities discussion for another day, pets are undoubtedly a major factor in the lives and the spending of Americans.

As the industry grows, so does the case law addressing situations relating to animals.  Our Lawyer Referral Service receives calls monthly related to pet theft, custody, bites and the like.  Just this week we received a call involving a pet that was kept in one home at the end of the child’s visitation, against the other parent’s wishes, with no agreement or order in place addressing the former family’s pet.  Just yesterday, there was a dog death and vehicle break-in for a dog left in a hot car in Colchester. We receive so many calls that we are adding an Animal Law category to our Lawyer Referral Service.  Want to be added to our LRS Animal Law category?  If you are already a registered LRS attorney, email Devlin at dnicholls@vtbar.org to add this category.  If you are not a VBA Lawyer Referral Service attorney, why not?!  Register HERE and perhaps the next Vermont Supreme Court animal case could be yours!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Crowdfunding Justice

Welcome to the 2016 Vermont Poverty Law Fellow, Mairead O’Reilly!  Mairead is our fifth Vermont Poverty Law Fellow, funded entirely by generous donations from over 300 Vermont lawyers, law firms and organizations to the annual Vermont Bar Foundation Access to Justice Campaign.  Originally spearheaded by the late Joan Wing, attorney Spencer Knapp and former VBA Executive Director, Bob Paolini, among others, and through herculean efforts of all of the Access to Justice Campaign volunteers, the Vermont Poverty Law Fellowship program is now welcoming its fifth two-year fellow.   The fellowship was designed to address serious unmet legal needs of Vermont’s low-income community. 

In 2008, Grace Pazdan became the first Vermont Poverty Law Fellow, focusing on the foreclosure crisis and providing legal representation to Vermonters facing foreclosure.  During her tenure, she was instrumental in creating Vermont’s mandatory foreclosure mediation statute and training attorneys to assist defendants.  Jessica Radbord then became the second fellow, focusing on housing issues, particularly with respect to rental housing safety.  Because her fellowship coincided with flooding both in May of 2011 and with Irene’s late August, 2011 flooding, Jessica represented those most affected by the storms with their housing needs, having a tremendous impact on Vermont’s disaster recovery procedures.

Jay Diaz became Vermont’s third Poverty Law Fellow, focusing on promoting educational access, stability and equity for Vermont’s low-income children.  Throughout 2012-2014, he worked tirelessly in an effort to close the opportunity gap facing students from lower-income households.  In 2014, Katelyn Atwood became the fourth fellow, focusing on Veterans' rights.  Not only was Katelyn able to assist Vermont Veterans directly with unmet legal needs, she did a significant amount of outreach and training, raising awareness regarding the needs of Vermont’s 50,000 Veterans and training attorneys to be able to assist them.

The Access to Justice Campaign is proud to be able to fund this year’s fifth fellow, Mairead O’Reilly, who will be focusing on the broad impact of Vermont’s opioid epidemic.  The epidemic has far-reaching effects on housing, education and health care and has caused great stress to our courts, agencies and schools.  Mairead will be working on identifying, developing and implementing solutions, including systemic reform initiatives, to help addicted and recovering clients get their lives on track and contribute to their communities once again. 

Not only was Ms. O’Reilly a Full Tuition Merit Scholar at the University of Connecticut School of Law, she spent her law school terms working in the field of access to justice, at the Greater Hartford Legal Aid, The University of Connecticut Poverty Law Clinic, the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, and the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project in Washington, D.C.  She will no doubt continue the outstanding work of our poverty law fellows-past while carving her own positive and enduring path of change.

The hundreds of donors to the Access to Justice Campaign can see real value and impact of their contributions.  This is crowdfunding at its finest – having a great idea, funding a great idea and putting the great idea into tangible action!  How about adding another sense to the mix?  Donors can get a taste of the great idea (in the form of a craft beer, wine or spirit) by coming to any one (or all) of the upcoming regional Justice Fest events!

Donors to this year's campaign are provided a drink ticket and can meet Mairead.  All are welcome.  Contributions are needed, especially if the great work of the Vermont Poverty Law Fellow is to continue.  The annual campaign starts NOW and is coming soon to a watering hole near you.  Check our website banner for details, or click HERE for the Journal ad (p 22-23)!  The first event is September 26, 2016 at the Hop 'N Moose in Rutland.

Mairead came by last week to meet with VBA Executive Director Teri Corsones and VBF Executive Director Deb Bailey.

2016 Vermont Poverty Law Fellow Mairead O'Reilly

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Special Delivery!

Debate, Dialogue, Discussion, Discourse, Deliberation… Lawyers love these “D” words.  The differences between them are subtle, but meaningful, and not merely semantics.  The underlying theme, however, is the recognition that there exist differing viewpoints, on virtually everything, and those variances need to be explored.  We attorneys pride ourselves on being open and informed, which can only be accomplished through endless debate and discussion.

Because we know our members’ Dominant Desire for Discussion, the Vermont Bar Association is Determined to Deliver! 

The Attorney General is defined as the ‘chief’ lawyer or ‘chief’ law enforcement officer for the State.  We understand that lawyers, in particular, will want to be conversant regarding the choice for this crucial legal position.  This year, the Attorney General race is contested, and who better to host a debate between the chief candidates than your association of lawyers?  

              JOIN US on Thursday, September 8, 2016 
        at 3:00pm at the Statehouse Pavilion

in the Auditorium in Montpelier for a debate between the two main-party candidates for Attorney General.  VBA Executive Director Teri Corsones will be moderating the discussion between Deb Bucknam and T.J. Donovan on issues that matter most to our membership!

Light refreshments to be served.

If you’d like to submit a question, which may be utilized (without attribution) at the debate, please send it to jeb@vtbar.org by August 31, 2016. 

But wait, there are more Discussions to Deliver! Save the Date.

 The Vermont Bar Association is also proud to host a “Gubernatorial Dialogue” for the three candidates for Vermont Governor on Thursday, October 13, 2016 from 6:00 – 7:00 p.m. at our 138th Annual Meeting at Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee. The candidates include, alphabetically, Bill Lee (Liberty Union), Sue Minter (Democrat) and Phil Scott (Republican). Each candidate will give a brief presentation about issues affecting the justice system, and then will field questions from the audience. Come meet the candidates, and ask them your questions about issues relating to our justice system in Vermont. 

Check the VBA website often for updates on the event at www.vtbar.org and click HERE to register for the annual meeting.  Don’t Delay!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Peaceful Pursuits

We received an email from one of our members who has been going through some hard times taking care of aging and ill family members.  She wanted to let us know that she read our Pursuits of Happiness Blawg, which prompted her to share how much quilting and crocheting have allowed her to remain centered and at peace.  She also alluded to how great gardening is to relieve stress.  For our cover contest submission, we heard from another member who has spent countless hours in her kayak just observing a breeding population of bald eagles who have made their home near hers. 

Our Pursuits of Happiness interviews are in full swing, and, as promised, we are highlighting members with some mad skills, that is, in addition to their legal prowess.  The emails and cover contest submissions, however, remind us of how our members do whatever they can to make time to enjoy all of what Vermont has to offer.  Even a close colleague of mine, who is objectively and undeniably a workaholic, tries to take time in the evening to enjoy his breathtaking views at home:   

While the legal profession is considered to be an extremely stressful profession, one word that connotes stress universally to all professions is “commute.”  Indeed, this was the most worrisome item in the “con” category when considering closing my near 20-year law practice to join the staff of the VBA.  Commuting can undoubtedly be stressful, especially when considering trading a 3-minute rural commute for a 40-minute drive to the thriving metropolis of Montpelier.  Not only will I no longer have moose and bear at my office, but I have to drive there surrounded by other drivers?!  Fear not, however, as I found that I could never tire of the breathtaking views coming into Montpelier from the south in the mornings.   On most days, the valleys are filled with fog, contrasting beautifully with the vast green mountains in the sun.  Of course, commuters can only take fleeting mental pictures, as there is really no way to capture this beauty without committing several dangerous traffic violations.

In the “pro” category, it seemed potentially an even trade to swap moose and bear for the energy and excitement of Montpelier, brimming with outstanding eateries.  But then there was a bonus: Hubbard Park!  Just behind the VBA office is one of the many entrances to Hubbard Park.   Imagine my surprise one lunch break, when I wandered up the switchback trail and found this: 

Peaceful pursuits need not take long.  It takes me 14 minutes to walk from my office to the top of the Tower at Hubbard Park.  A brisk walk (on the days I don’t indulge at one of Montpelier’s amazing lunch haunts) can relieve a ton of stress in just 30 minutes.  A shawl can also be crocheted during lunch. There are attorneys that run or play tennis nearly every day at lunch.  Sunset kayaks or paddleboards are the epitome of relaxation. 

Vermont attorneys work extremely hard taxing their brains and pouring endless energy into helping clients, whether or not the clients can afford full freight.  We’ve been blessed with one of the most beautiful Vermont summers in recent memory, so hopefully all of our members are taking some much-deserved time out for their peaceful pursuits.  Our minds, bodies and clients will thank us.