Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Little Bit of History

August 30th marks the 50th anniversary of the appointment of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to be appointed to the US Supreme Court.   Thurgood Marshall stayed on the bench for 24 years before retiring for health reasons.  An admirer of the Constitution as a youth, he applied to attend the University of Maryland School of Law but was denied based on their segregation policy.  He instead went to Howard University Law School and graduated magna cum laude. He spent his legal career as a leading advocate of individual rights, culminating with his victory as litigator in the Brown vs. Board of Education case.  He in fact won 29 of the 32 cases he had brought before the Supreme Court during his career.  He was also later victorious in his suit against the University of Maryland for their unfair admissions policy.

As I read the Thurgood Marshall article, a little bit of Vermont’s history stared back at me from its Ziploc baggie on my desk.  For those of you not following our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts, you may not know that some very kind folks at Dartmouth College mailed to us what appears to be an original pamphlet from 1806 entitled “General Regulations for the Gentlemen of the Bar in the State of Vermont.” While we at the VBA all found some humor in the fact that it was meant for only the “gentlemen” of the bar, we considered ourselves fortunate that we have not known a time when women were not allowed admission at all. 

After researching the handling of archives, I went with the washed hands, rather than the white cotton gloves, approach.  Triple washed, and not as clumsy as white gloves, my hands trembled as I struggled to remember not to lick my finger to help separate the pages.  Rather than handle it for a lengthy period of time, it was scanned and immediately returned to the baggie and safe.

So what ARE the general regulations?  The anticipation was admittedly greater than the reveal.  Curiously, the pamphlet included a reference only to Dartmouth College as the place to study to have “suitable proficiency in the knowledge of the law.” The main mechanism for being admitted to the bar was rather, after receiving a degree in the arts, studying for three years in the office of a “respectable” member of the bar.  The candidate, after studying three years with the admitted attorney, or five years without an arts degree, would be admitted after recommendation and favorable votes by two-thirds of the “county society” of admitted attorneys present.

The best line regarding the clerkship is this: “No member of the bar shall receive as a reward for the tuition of a student at law in his office any sum less than two hundred and fifty dollars for the time required by these regulations for admission to practice, and in that proportion for a shorter time.”  So the clerkship was not always 100% volunteer work: the ‘respectable’ member of the bar must receive at least $250 for three to five years of supervision of a student!  What a deal!  The greater benefit to the ‘respectable’ admitted attorney of course was that no student was allowed to profit from the office or receive benefits from the profession of the law, nor be allowed to pursue any other employment. 

The pamphlet goes on to state that no sponsoring attorney could have more than two students in his office at any one time and each student had to be approved by the county society.  With the student having to come up with funds to pay the ‘respectable’ attorney for the 3 years or apprenticeship and also being forbidden from receiving any compensation, it is presumed that the practicing attorneys in Vermont in the early 1800’s were undoubtedly from the upper crust of society.  The barriers to admission were robust. 

Certainly, the debate rages on today regarding the socio-economic barriers to admission to the practice of law.  Law school tuitions are being touted as excessive and, particularly in Vermont, not on par with the potential future remuneration in many practice areas.  Still, the involuntary servitude of law clerks memorialized in this pamphlet is no longer mandatory.  And law schools, like VLS, are looking at accelerated and joint degree programs.

Today, with the continued hard-look at removing arbitrary barriers to admission and the focus on universal test scores, those gifted in logic and critical thinking can and will find a path toward helping others in one of the most rewarding time-honored intellectually fulfilling professions.  As a bonus, in Vermont, there are countless ‘respectable’ attorneys in our collegial bar willing to lend a hand or mentor new attorneys for even less than the $83.33/year!  If you are new and have a question, post to the VBA Connect online communities or give one of your colleagues a call.  Mentorship is alive in Vermont, just without the formalities.

If you would like a scanned copy of the 1806 “General Regulations” pamphlet drop me a line at jeb at vtbar dot org.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Summer in Full Bloom!

Montpelier continues to deliver.  The annuals at the capital and the gigantic hydrangeas are decked out at the capitol building.  Take a stroll, you won’t be disappointed.  Enjoy Vermont’s beautiful but fleeting summer as winter will be here before we know it! 

And save the date for our Annual Meeting October 12th and 13th at the Hilton, Burlington.  Our Thursday evening ethics in the movies (with popcorn, snacks and a cash bar) is sure to please. And the substantive offerings on Friday will entertain you, educate you and fulfill your CLE needs.  See you strolling around!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Beyond Where the Sidewalk Ends...

While walking today, I came to the place where the sidewalk ends.  Literally. Somehow, I expected it to be a bit more magical and welcoming.  But perhaps I was looking at it from the perspective of a jaded, tired adult, and not as Shel Silverstein imagined it through the eyes of children.  A child would probably see the beautiful green hillside as a place for non-conformity and unrestricted play.  I saw defeat.  And poison ivy.

This got me thinking about this week’s blog. At our board meeting last week, we spoke of reinvigorating the work of The Vermont Joint Commission on the Future of Legal Services.  We spoke of the declining, aging membership and the changing provision of services, which got me thinking again about disruptors in the profession, like LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer, online education providers and the access to justice gap.  The discussion always seems to turn to doomsday or ‘the end’ and the overwhelming adversities that we must face, and fight. We have to be reminded, however, that with change and competition comes opportunity.  The end is another beginning. Maybe we just need a little more imagination!

I recently read in the blog “Associate’s Mind” one young lawyer’s perspective about how important bar associations are to build relationships in person, and on-line.  Bar associations are still critical for networking, allowing attorneys to meet for the first time or get to know better lawyers who are or had once been adversaries in a case.  The live events and online communities allow people to connect and bond outside of the confines of a particularly adversarial case.  Without a neutral platform for building relationships, smart and possibly ego-driven advocates, could remain permanently entrenched. They could miss the opportunity to connect and perhaps look back and laugh.   We are here for each other, now as ever before.  The VBA helps with these bonding opportunities, but also strives to improve the public perception of lawyers, educate and advocate for positive change in the legislature, among other things.

Many bar associations around the country are issuing futures reports to discuss the changes in the legal profession and how associations can better help attorneys embrace change, rather than resort to fight or flight. Our association, like the others, exists solely to help lawyers help others.  Our mission is to serve the public and the profession, cherishing the spirit of congeniality within the legal community.  We recognize the strength, diversity and imagination, rich within our membership.  And we need you, as you need us, as we all strive to find new ways to improve the profession as a rewarding and fulfilling way to help people wade through the complexities of life.

The VBA will soon be entering into some working-group and implementation phase projects stemming from our futures report.  We will be forming working committees to design and implement some of the recommended changes with respect to our court system, technology, education and the provision of legal services.  It’s time to be creative and use our collective wisdom and imagination to help each other remain successful and fulfilled while closing the access to justice gap.  Who is in?  If you have some ideas with respect to implementation or if you’d like to serve on a phase 2 committee, please drop me a line at jeb at vtbar dot org!