Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Legal Services Corporation Board Meets in Vermont for First Time – Recognizes Vermont Attorneys and Firm for Excellent Pro Bono Work

The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) was established by Congress in 1974 to promote equal access to justice by funding civil legal assistance for low-income Americans.  LSC awards grants through a competitive process, and currently funds 134 independent legal aid organizations, including Legal Services Law Line of Vermont.  Based in Washington, D.C., the LSC Board of Directors holds its quarterly Board meetings at different locations around the country, and is meeting for the first time in Vermont this week.

In conjunction with its Board meeting, the LSC organized a full day of presentations that featured many government and Judicial leaders in the access to justice field.  The day was capped off by a Pro Bono Awards Reception to recognize the excellent pro bono work of three Vermont attorneys and a Vermont law firm.  The day’s presentations included remarks by U.S. Representative Peter Welch, Governor Peter Shumlin, and LSC Board Chairman John Levi. Each spoke of the importance of the rule of law in American society, and the critical need to provide equal access to our system of justice.  A distinguished panel of jurists including U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Peter Hall, Chief Justice Paul Reiber, Justice Beth Robinson, U.S. District Judge Joseph LaPlante (NH), Justice Gary Hicks (NH), and Justice Andrew Mead (ME) participated in a panel discussion entitled “The Importance of Access to Justice to the Judiciary.” Each panelist spoke to different access to justice initiatives in their respective courts and jurisdictions.

Lisa Foster, the Director of the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Access to Justice, moderated a panel discussion on Access to Justice in Canada, and, as the lunch speaker, spoke about different initiatives that the Department of Justice is undertaking to provide civil legal assistance to those who face an economic barrier to legal counsel.  Her great work helped to form the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable which recognizes that legal aid provides real support to anti-poverty initiatives across all governmental agencies in their efforts to increase housing, healthcare, employment, education, family stability and public safety.

VBA Executive Director and Vermont Bar Foundation President Teri Corsones gave opening remarks at the evening’s LSC Pro Bono Service Award Reception sponsored by the VBA and the Chittenden County Bar Association.  Attorneys Sandra Baird, P. Scott McGee and Rebecca Rice, along with the law firm Downs Rachlin Martin, PLLC, were each recognized for their extraordinary commitment to equal justice.  Sandra Baird was recognized for her many years of work for the Saturday Free Walk-In Legal Clinic in Burlington and for Legal Services Law Line. Scott McGee from the firm Hershenson, Carter, Scott & McGee in Norwich, was recognized for the numerous pro bono cases involving complex legal matters related to family law, contracts, and home ownership that he has handled over the years. Rebecca Rice, from the firm Cohen & Rice in Rutland, was recognized for the high volume and often emergency bankruptcy cases that she has handled for low-income litigants, and Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC was recognized for its generous financial support for access to justice and pro bono programs. Attorneys Elizabeth Wohl, Paul Ode and Samantha Lednicky accepted the award on behalf of the firm.

Attorney Tom Garrett, Director of Legal Services Law Line of Vermont for the past 18 years, was also commended for his strong dedication to access to justice in Vermont. Tom will be retiring in August, 2016. Congratulations, Tom! 

Check out some pictures from the event, below...
 Hon. Peter Welch

 Hon. Peter Shumlin

 Esteemed Panel

 Engaged audience

 Our Justices

 Hon. Peter Hall

 Lisa Foster


Reception sponsors

 Great crowd, including Justice Robinson, Tom Garrett, Sam Abel-Palmer and David Koeninger in this photo.

 Sam Abel-Palmer and Jim May.

 Teri's AMAZING cake!

 What a view!

 Teri Corsones

Recipient Sandra Baird with LSC

 Recipient Scott McGee with LSC

 Recipient Rebecca Rice with LSC

 Recipients DRM with LSC

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Vermont Hosts ULC in Stowe!

For the first time in its 125-year existence, the Uniform Law Commission is holding its annual meeting in Vermont, which commenced in Stowe on July 8, 2016.  The ULC, comprises more than 350 practicing lawyers, governmental lawyers, judges, law professors, and lawyer-legislators from every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  Commissioners are appointed by their states to draft and promote enactment of uniform laws that are designed to solve problems common to all the states.  For context, the ULC is primarily responsible for laws that have been adopted by states nationwide, such as the Uniform Commercial Code, the Uniform Partnership Act and the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act.

As expected, Vermont lawyers were gracious hosts.  Chief Justice Paul Reiber gave opening remarks to kick-off the several-day event. Our Richard Cassidy, who is the current president of the ULC, eloquently delivered his President’s Address.  In true Vermont fashion, Commissioner Peter Langrock gave each and every commissioner a jug of Vermont maple syrup from trees tapped on his property. Understanding the significance of hosting this national law group of attorneys, the Vermont Bar Association sponsored the event, in part, with Executive Director, Teri Corsones attending the opening ceremony as a guest.  Check out the pictures from the event, below.

There are nearly 500 people in attendance at the event.  The meeting is indeed a working meeting for the Commissioners who are tackling 6 new uniform acts or amendments: The Uniform Employee and Student Online Privacy Protection Act, the Uniform Family Law Arbitration Act, the Revised Uniform Unclaimed Property Act, the Uniform Unsworn Domestic Declarations Act, the Uniform Wage Garnishment Act and the Amendment to the Revised Uniform Law on Notarial Acts.  As these Acts move toward final approval, the Commissioners will also be tackling drafts related to non-parental rights to custody and visitation, uniform parentage, the regulation of virtual currency businesses and criminal records accuracy. 

Thanks to Vermont’s Commissioners for their tireless service: Richard T. Cassidy, Theodore C. Kramer, Peter F. Langrock, Carl H. Lisman, Luke Martland and Stephanie J. Willbanks. 

With these amazing and talented attorneys, the beautiful Stowe setting and, of course, the parting gifts, including Peter Langrock’s syrup, hopefully Vermont will become a ULC favorite and will host again, at least this time sooner than the next appearance of Brigadoon.

Commissioners Richard Cassidy, Peter Langrock, Carl Lisman and Stephanie Willbanks, with VBA Executive Director Teri Corsones

President Richard Cassidy addresses the ULC Commissioners (each seated with their syrups!)

View from a Vermont commissioner table

Meeting sponsors, giving the ULC a hearty Vermont welcome

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Pursuits of Happiness

Happy Independence Day (week) everyone!  We hope you all had a relaxing, safe and fun weekend. It’s summer bar journal time here at the VBA—just sending the finishing touches off to the publisher.  What do Independence Day and our summer journal have in common?  Read on!

Of course we know that the Declaration of Independence bestowed upon us unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.   Pursuit, yes, but certainly not happiness itself, as if the elusive state of happiness could be guaranteed.  As worded, the pursuit of happiness, singularly, seems to imply a never-ending quest, the right to constantly strive to achieve the unattainable goal of happiness.

The word “pursuit” can mean quest, objective or search, but it also has synonyms such as hobby, recreation, pastime or vocation.  Perhaps our founding fathers just meant we can do what makes us happy, within certain well-defined and carefully laid-out legal and ethical parameters, of course!  Most lawyers I know chose the field of law and enjoy practicing law because it simultaneously provides intellectual and altruistic satisfaction.  Above all, lawyers use their intellect and their training to help people with complex matters.  Helping people in this fashion stimulates the mind and the heart.

It goes without saying that practicing law is extremely stressful, however. Often, people’s lives, rights and livelihoods are at stake, ensuring that all good lawyers are in a constant state of fear over making even the slightest mistake.  But this noble yet taxing ‘day-job’ club is not all that defines us.  Most of us engage in some kind of non-legal ‘pursuits of happiness’ to maintain sanity and a sense of peace.  Like so many Vermont lawyers who live here for the scenery bonus rather than a high level of financial reward, a good number of us hike, kayak, ski, garden or run, all of which helps to foster joy.  Some even take it to the next level. Our membership is brimming with lawyers who have fascinating artistic, literary, philanthropic and athletic pursuits --and they’ve got mad skills!

The Summer 2016 Vermont Bar Journal will debut a new journal department aptly called Pursuits of Happiness.  We at the VBA want to interview you and share with the membership your noble, remarkable or even bizarre pursuits.  Among us, we’ve got marathoners, Spartan racers, athletes holding assorted grand trophies, novelists, wine-makers, painters, sculptors, musicians, chefs, builders for charity, equestrians, farmers and so much more.  We know you are out there! Nominate yourself or your colleague (anonymously if you wish) to be interviewed today!  Email me at jeb@vtbar.org

Monday, June 27, 2016

Procrastinator's Day

Do lawyers really have the reputation of being late or doing everything at the last minute?  I have heard far too many times that I was expected to arrive late, merely because I’m a lawyer.  In semi-protest, I would say, “I resemble that remark!”  

Perhaps, we lawyers just have different ways of prioritizing.  Truly, we are never (or hardly ever?) late for Court or an important meeting.  In our practices, we operate under a deluge of critical and pressing deadlines, and manage to juggle them in a most-impressive fashion.  Perhaps we are just too aware that there are simply not the same consequences of arriving late for a social event as there are for a Court hearing.

We at the VBA recognize the demands on our members’ time, so imperative and unyielding, that license renewal may be pushed down the priority scale.  After all, we have two whole years to amass the requisite CLE credits, client matters taking priority all the while.  Until June, when panic sets in.  Never fear, Procrastinator’s Day to the rescue! 

Our Procrastinator’s Day this year, held on June 24, 2016, was attended by approximately 60 members.  The day had fun-filled and informative segments on Ethics, Mindfulness, Literature, Television and Music.  Who knew that CLE credits could be garnered by doing yoga, watching The Simpsons clips and listening to “Stairway to Heaven” samples?  Check out the event’s photos, below.

Still need live CLE credits? Now that’s remarkable procrastination! Don’t forget Agriculture Law Day on June 28, 2016.  And if you have to do some post-renewal deadline license repair, our Annual Meeting in Lake Morey on October 13-14, 2016 is sure to fill the tank.  In addition to the CLE’s, we plan to have entertaining events such as a gubernatorial candidates debate, a beer and cheese tasting, golf ball ethics on the course, and not-to-be-missed interactive presentations on Judge Mello's book, Moses Robinson and the Founding of Vermont and Judge Martin's book, Orville's Revenge: The Anatomy of a Suicide.

See you there!  On time, of course.