The Power of the Law
A small, committed law school in rural Vermont is quietly changing the world. Join us.
World-Class Thinkers and Doers
Our students rock. They are scientists, hackers, hikers, and musicians; they are talented, sometimes quirky, restless, engaged, entrepreneurial self-starters and self-selectors who believe in community; they are idealists interested in practical training; they are friends, activists, and kick-ass lawyers. They are advocates and risk takers who want to change the world, not fit into it.
Vermont Law School students participate in clinics and externships that give them experience working with community groups, acting as court-appointed guardians for children, representing underserved clients, and conducting leading-edge research. They take part in national trial advocacy, in environmental and civil rights/civil liberties moot court competitions, and in arguments before the Vermont Supreme Court. They learn across disciplines and engage with the challenges and injustices of our time.
Our alumni walk the talk across the U.S. and in 20 countries around the world. They are change agents who go into public and nonprofit sectors at twice the national law school average, who see a law degree as not only the start of constructive careers but of meaningful lives. They defend, litigate, and advocate on behalf of wetlands, clean air, and threatened habitats; on behalf of new immigrants, incarcerated mothers, and low-wage farm workers. They create value. At rallies and protests, public hearings, information sessions, organizational meetings, school board meetings, food banks: they show up.
What Power Looks Like
In our communities and our world, law is how we divide our rights and responsibilities. It’s how we organize our corporations and co-ops, how we structure markets, how we create policies and regulations, how we agree, and how we resolve disagreement. Students truly interested in making an impact on the world—in the private, public, or social sector—need the tools of the law in order to know how to get things done. At Vermont Law School, we know where the power resides.
The next generation of leaders will tackle the most complex and pressing problems the planet has ever known. Climate change models now predict catastrophic environmental and social impacts by the year 2050. “As it happens, that span between now and 2050 represents the span of careers of the people sitting in our classrooms right now,” notes Vermont Law School Dean Marc Mihaly. “It’s important to change policy. But it’s more important to train the generation that will make new policy. 2050. That’s their shot, and they know it.”
All the Tools
We have reached a historic moment. The environment has moved from an issue in society to THE issue. Every thinking person in industry, finance, government, NGOs—no matter the sector—is coming to terms with the seriousness of the fact that the human race is simply outgrowing the planet. The urgency and interest have created an area of the law so complex that it’s almost no longer a single field: It’s land use. It’s pollution control. It’s fisheries. It’s carbon sequestration. It’s energy.
In the face of almost overwhelming national and global problems, a determined law school in Vermont is providing the tools for solutions.
If you care about the environment, energy policy is the single most important influence. If you care about energy, environmental realities are the single most important restraint. In America, where 40 percent of all carbon emissions come from power plants making electricity, the disputes about these issues are settled through the legal system. Vermont Law School—with the nation’s top-ranked environmental law program, with its law-firm-within-a law-school Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic, with its extraordinarily well-connected network of alumni—has gone toe-to-toe with state and federal agencies and multinational corporations and has shaped environmental law and policy at the highest level. Just one area of the law. One important slice of what we do here. And always with the future in mind.
What Else Are You Going to Do?
It’s a time-honored reason: Talented young people want to keep their options open, but don’t yet have a plan for using their talent. So they choose to attend law school.
We think of the question differently here. Our diverse students share one important trait: they want to make a difference. They come here and they learn, first-hand, what it means to work on behalf of the underserved, to advocate for communities who feel powerless in the face of powerful economic interests, to fight for the health of the planet and for social justice.
Their Vermont Law degrees are just the start of diverse career paths that lead to high-level positions with influential agencies; they become organizers of grassroots movements, partners in top law firms, and directors in organizations such as The World Bank, USAID, and Earthjustice. They become the kind of leaders this world needs now more than ever. And so we ask again:
You have one lifetime.
What else are you going to do?
Lots of law schools around the country initially supported the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gays and lesbians serving in the U.S. military. But when the schools risked losing federal funding for not allowing military recruiters on campus, only two of them—including Vermont Law School—stood up for what they believed was right. Professor Jackie Gardina recalls, “We wouldn’t welcome any employer on campus who wouldn’t accept applications from all of our qualified students.” The principled stance cost the school between $300,000 and $500,000 a year between 1999 and September 2011, when the policy was finally repealed.
While some law schools were passive in their opposition, Vermont Law School was a vocal, national leader. Its faculty presented white papers on the policy’s legal issues. Some 20-40 students traveled each year to Washington to lobby Congress. They held bake sales to fund their trips; VLS faculty and staff members made donations; and DC-area alumni opened their homes for lodging. On campus, the administration used its recruiting policy as an ongoing opportunity to articulate and defend the school’s position—and to keep the conversation alive in a community that is unusually engaged in matters of fairness and principle.
What Sustains Us
In the area of how our country grows and distributes its food, the current body of law is planted in commoditized, industrial-scale mass production. At the same time, a more sustainable food movement has taken root—one that will require creative policies, new standards and regulations, fresh markets, and innovative structures to flourish. Small-scale organic farms. Farm-to-table networks. Grass-fed beef and free-range poultry. Urban gardens. Food not genetically modified for maximizing yield and profit. Agriculture that is good for people and good for the planet.
Laws need to change. Vermont Law School is nimbly—perhaps uniquely—positioned to train the leaders who will shape that change. A tiny handful of legal centers have sprung up across the country to shepherd the new body of law surrounding our food supply. Only one of them, Vermont Law School’s Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS), is located in a state known for sustainable practices and progressive entrepreneurs. CAFS offers its students and faculty the chance to get their hands dirty with real farmers while having access to some of the country’s leading thinkers in the environment and agriculture. It’s an incredibly fertile place.
Justice for All Americans
Low-income farm workers, incarcerated mothers, abused children, desperate immigrants—these are the real-life clients of the Vermont Law School’s South Royalton Legal Clinic (SRLC). Since 1979, the second-largest poverty law center in Vermont has relentlessly worked to help and protect the state’s most vulnerable citizens. Under the supervision of full-time staff attorneys, SRLC students have worked pro bono on more than 2,000 formal cases and consulted on many thousands more. Their important work is as basic as explaining disability benefits and as profound as keeping families together.
In one clinic project, VLS students work with Vermont Immigration and Asylum Advocates to provide pro bono legal services to recently arrived immigrant survivors of torture. The work exposes students to a larger world of injustice—and instills in them a deeper sense of the power of the law.
Because the Status Quo is No Longer Acceptable
The Country's Top Environmental Law Program
Founded in 1978, the Environmental Law Center at Vermont Law School has the largest graduate environmental law program in the country, and consistently ranks among the nation’s best by U.S. News & World Report. The multi-disciplinary program positions graduates to take lead roles in solving the world’s most complex and significant problems. We have planted a flag here for a simple reason: because you can’t solve the world’s problems without educating the world’s problem solvers.
Degrees & Programs
A Place for Change
This campus is different. It’s got the ingredients most people seek when they want to restore themselves—natural beauty, a purposeful sense of quiet, and a powerful sense of community. Vermont Law School is a place where students can see actual farmers bring eggs to market in the morning, and where they can take a hike between classes in the afternoon. Where faculty, male and female, straight and gay, participate in a drag revue. It’s a place where classes get cancelled after a major tropical storm so students can help neighbors clean up. The environment here is not an abstraction. It’s the point.
This is a place where law school students actually have fun. Where they are immersed in a diverse community of risk-takers and advocates who inspire each other and become friends for life.
In Vermont there are no billboards, because our faculty helped create the laws 40 years ago that prohibit them. There are more CSAs here per capita than in any other state. Civil unions began here. Our power comes from wind, solar, and hydro sources. The alchemy of this place is difficult to define but hard to overstate. It’s transparently obvious to people who are here.
We call it SoRo, but the map says South Royalton, Vermont.
The Power of the Law
A small committed law school in rural Vermont is quietly changing the world. Join us.
Nearly every day of his work week, Jehmal Hudson,, JD ’06, walks from his office on First Street up to Capitol Hill. “Yeah,” he says. “No brief case, no laptop. Just my mouth. My job is all about relationships.” The relationships are at a high level: Hudson is the lone Congressional liaison for the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission (FERC). The people he talks with are members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the Natural Resources Committee, and the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
In his role, Hudson stays informed and shares information around a wide range of energy issues. Among other things, FERC is responsible for ensuring the safety and reliability of the nation’s electricity grid; making sure utility costs are just and reasonable; regulating the sales and transmission of natural gas; and approving and re-licensing hydroelectric projects. Since the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the independent agency has also had the authority to enforce compliance with energy regulations. It recently forced a $410 million settlement with JP Morgan Chase for market manipulation.
“No brief case, no laptop. Just my mouth. My job is all about relationships.”
Jehmal Hudson, JD ’06
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
Hudson’s environmental interest was stirred at Vermont Law School through working on lead paint/tenant/landlord issues in his home city of Brooklyn. But it was his internship in the office of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton that introduced him to the world—and potential power — of politics. “That’s where I discovered I could make more difference,” he recalls. “Not on the science side of the law, but the side that needs interpersonal skills.”
The extraordinary relationship between Vermont Law School and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) goes back to the very beginning, when an attorney named Doug Costle, as part of President Richard Nixon’s Advisory Council on Executive Organization, helped draw up the blueprint for a wide-ranging new federal agency that would protect the nation’s air, land, and water. Costle would go on to lead the EPA for four years during the Carter administration and, from 1987 to 1991, serve as Dean of Vermont Law School.
Over the past four decades, scores of VLS graduates have brought their unique brand of activism, civic responsibility, scientific understanding, and legal training into our most important environmental regulator and watchdog. Not surprising, perhaps—given that Vermont’s environmental law program is consistently ranked the best in the nation. Still, with the small size of the school’s alumni body, the numbers are surprising and disproportionate. “VLS has very quietly and systematically penetrated the public sector,” notes Vermont Law School Dean Marc Mihaly. “At EPA, in energy, we’re virtually a mafia.”
“I’m working with partners that have a real financial stake in slowing climate change. I’m helping to educate corporations as to how to best position themselves for the future. It’s a very unique position to be in.”
Allison Dennis, MSEL ’05
Public Affairs, Office of Air and Radiation,
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
In the summer of 2013, 36 Vermont Law School graduates and current students were working in EPA’s Washington headquarters at the William Jefferson Clinton Building. Posing for a group portrait on August 6 were:
- Mark Seltzer, JD ’08
- Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention
- Laurice Jones, JD ’98
- Grants and Debarment
- Brian Thompson, MSEL ’05, JD ’08
- Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance
- Allison Dennis, MSEL ’05
- Public Affairs, Office of Air and Radiation
- Daniel Schramm, JD ’08
- Office of General Counsel
- Matthew Marks, JD ’12
- Office of General Counsel
- Jonathan Stein, JD ’05,, MSEL ’05
- Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance
- Jonah Richmond, JD ’14
- Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention
- Jessica Scott, JD ’10
- Office of General Counsel
- Even Belser, JD ’10
- Clean Air Act Enforcement
- Will Labate, JD ’14, MELP ’14
- Stratospheric Protection Division
- Edward Kulschinsky, JD ’09
- Office of Administrative Law Judges
In November of 2009, St. Louis-based Arch Coal, the second-largest coal producer in the U.S., acquired the rights to strip-mine 731 million tons of Otter Creek coal reserves in the Powder River Basin of Montana.
But without a railroad to serve the mine, the coal would have nowhere to go and would forever remain in the ground. Thus, Arch Coal’s purchase set in motion a years-long application process before the federal Surface Transportation Board for permission to construct nearly 50 miles of new rail line to serve the mine. A host of additional market, transportation, and land-rights issues would become part of the approval process.
“The final verdict is still a ways off. But there have been small victories along the way.”
Jill Bernstein, JD ’13
Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic
Vermont Law School’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic was brought in to help Northern Plains Resource Council, a nonprofit group of ranchers and family farmers, in their thirty-year battle against the railroad and mining project. Jillian Bernstein ’13, during her final year at VLS, took the lead on a four-student team and prepared one aspect of the case: a 60-page report on the “public convenience and necessity” of the new railroad, delivered to the Surface Transportation Board. Bernstein helped catalogue the negative impacts the rail line would have on the family-owned ranch land the line would bisect, and completed an impressive market analysis that made two convincing arguments. Seven of the ten domestic prospective buyers of Otter Creek coal had either been retired or converted to cheaper natural gas since the lease was granted, which left the Asian export market as the most feasible destination for the coal. And that market was already served by coal from Australia and Indonesia. This is a coal mine with no future.
“The final verdict is still a ways off,” Bernstein says. “But there have been small victories along the way. Bernstein and her team’s work led to one of those small victories. In a rare move, the Surface Transportation Board granted the parties the right to conduct “discovery,” a legal process that requires coal and railroad executives to turn over their files and answer questions under oath.
It has been invigorating for Vermont Law students to provide extensive legal work for a grassroots "holistic" strategy that compliments and leverages the power of the law. This long-standing case involved legislation, public education, earned media, coalition building, and intense grassroots pressure on decision makers. All added up, the railroad will not be built and the coal will not be mined.
In 1997, the U.S. Department of Energy reported that radioactive tritium had been leaking for at least a dozen years from a spent-fuel pool at the High Flux Beam nuclear reactor at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island.
The reactor, which had been shut down for a year, was put on stand-by. An anti-radiation group in East Hampton, the STAR (Standing for Truth About Radiation) Foundation, vowed to keep the 33-year-old reactor from ever firing up again. It hired Vermont Law School graduate Scott Cullen to coordinate its legal challenge.
“A legal education can prepare you to do all sorts of things, not just work in a courtroom or with stacks of paper.”
Scott Cullen, JD ’96
GRACE Communications Foundation
Cullen was an atypical lawyer. A free spirit who loved to surf near his home in Montauk, Cullen had a broad view of the law and a self-effacing, aw-shucks demeanor that undersold the strength of his intellect. He understood the power of grassroots organizing and the energy of activism. He still remembered vividly the time that he and a few VLS classmates put kayaks into the White River and paddled downstream to campus – and were astonished by how much trash they saw. One of them mentioned it to a professor who was just parking his car by the take-out. The professor said, “Let’s do something about it.” Together, they organized a massive work party – put out flyers, got people excited. The following weekend more than 60 people showed up to help – students and professors, local residents, a local hauling company. They pulled close to ten dump truck loads of trash out of the river. “That was an incredible lesson for me,” recalls Cullen. “And it had nothing to do with the law.”
Behind the scenes, Cullen orchestrated a sophisticated legal and public-information strategy that helped pressure the Energy Department, in 1999, to finally pull the plug on the reactor and turn its focus to clean-up.
Among those who noticed Cullen’s effectiveness was GRACE Communications Foundation in New York, which hired him as its Executive Director. The foundation not only funds organizations that promote sustainable practices, but it also helps align agendas, create partnerships, develop public campaigns — building synergy and leverage in the process. Hiring someone with a legal background to lead the foundation’s work was as unconventional — and forward looking — as the person they hired.
“We connect to the movements in a way that is more impactful than traditional philanthropy,” says Cullen. “A legal education can prepare you to do all sorts of things, not just work in a courtroom or with stacks of paper.”
As a Vermont Law School student, Alex Manning was keeping a secret about her past that even her family didn’t know. Years before she came to South Royalton, before her career in law enforcement and drug detection in Georgia, she’d been discharged as a private in the U.S. Army.
She’d never been asked — and never told — about the circumstances surrounding her discharge. In October of 2005, though, Vermont Law School sponsored a day-long conference and community-wide conversation on the federal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy concerning gays in the military. Knowing that Manning had once served in the army, organizers of the conference asked her to drive to the Burlington airport, escort, and then introduce one of the speakers for the conference, Col. Grethe Cammermeyer, the highest-ranking officer ever to speak out against the government’s discriminatory policy.
“To me, big things start in little bitty towns. South Royalton is my Selma, Alabama.”
Alex Manning, JD ’06
Attorney of Criminal and Family Law,
Hughes & Manning LLP, Atlanta, Georgia
In the car, Col. Cammermeyer said, "I understand you were in the military."
"Yes, Ma’am," said Manning.
"And you were discharged."
"What did the long form say, Alex?" Cammermeyer asked.
Then she answered in the coded language that both of them understood all too well. "Failure to adapt to military standards," she said.
She had never said the reason out loud. She looked straight ahead at the road, and began to cry.
At the conference, Manning hesitated, again, during her introduction of the colonel. She made eye contact with a friend among the standing-room audience in Chase Center, and looked around at her classmates. She realized in that moment that she felt safer in that community than with anyone else in her life. "I want to share something in public for the first time," she said. "I was kicked out of the military because I was gay."
Years later, after she’d become an unapologetic spokesperson for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, after the policy itself was finally repealed in 2011, Manning recalled the importance of that moment. "It changed the entire conversation that day," she said. "After that, I could have told them anything. I felt the comfort of being surrounded by 300 siblings. I felt the power of a community supporting me. I made up my mind right then to start speaking out and standing up for what I knew was right."
The Next Crop
On a humid August afternoon with thunderstorm clouds building, Tim Sanford and a couple of apprentice farmworkers move quickly along the rows of a field at Luna Bleu Farm in South Royalton, Vermont, transplanting flats of greenhouse-started kale into the ground.
It has been an unusually wet summer — unnaturally wet — and Sanford has already plowed under a few ruined crops and started over. There’s some light-hearted banter as the green sprouts get laid out, but sweat, too, and an almost grim sense of purpose in the motions as the sky grows darker.
“Most of our agriculture laws — food labeling, distribution, land use and land rights, you name it — are decades old. The job of this center is to train the next generation of food and agriculture advocates, to help create the new legal tools that will build a more durable system.”
Center for Agriculture and Food Systems
Luna Bleu Farm is a diversified, certified organic family farm. Along with vegetables, the farm sells beef from grass-fed, pastured cattle, and meat and eggs from organic, free-range chickens. Its products are sold at local farmers markets, in a handful of co-op and small grocery stores, and through community-supported agriculture (CSA) shares. In other words, it’s the kind of farm the country needs more of, one that nourishes the local economy and acts as a steward of the earth — and the kind of farm that is struggling to find its place in current-day America.
Several rows over, Laurie Ristino is talking with Sanford’s partner, co-owner Suzanne Long. Ristino is the director of Vermont Law School’s new Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS). With her are two of the center’s student researchers, Emma Hempstead and Delilah Griswold. They’ve come to share some news: the center has just submitted a grant proposal to the national Farmers Market Coalition for funding that will help start to create uniform guidelines surrounding risk, liability, and governance of farmers markets. Suzanne Long will be a resource — she’s active in the local scene, and has served as a board member of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. She’s on the ground — just as Professor Ristino and the CAFS are on the ground working to create the legal tools that will help support new, more sustainable, ways of growing and selling the food our country needs.
Long has taken a break to hear the news, and seems pleased. But she turns to the students. “Can you help do a little work while we talk? We need to get these in before the rain.”
Another part of the education here: students getting their hands dirty.
Out of the Shadows
When Alona Tate, JD ’15 arrived at Vermont Law School with a background in French and French translation, she imagined a career that would take advantage of the unusual VLS dual degree program with France’s University of Cergy-Pontoise.
But her eyes were opened to a different possible career when she interned for the South Royalton Legal Clinic in the summer of 2013. She was drawn to immigrant, refugee, and asylum work, and wanted to get the kind of up-close exposure the clinic setting could provide.
“The cases I worked on in the legal clinic were started by students before me. Now I’m emotionally invested — I want to see them through.”
Alona Tate, JD ’15
South Royalton Legal Clinic
Working under supervising attorney Art Edersheim, Tate traveled to the refugee resettlement center in Colchester, Vermont, and met with families who needed guidance in applying for and receiving their green cards: illiterate Bhutanese parents who relied on their children to translate for them; Afghan women who had risked their lives to get here; a father who had spent the previous 19 years in a refugee camp in Nepal. She heard them express how lucky they were, and she felt humbled and inspired by their stories.
In working with Vermont Immigration and Asylum Advocates, Tate’s exposure deepened. Immigrants escaping from torture back in their home countries travel a difficult path to asylum in the U.S. Challenged by a new language, often unable to pay for legal services, traumatized to a degree that can make recalling details of their torture difficult, the immigrants need to submit lengthy applications that meet strict legal requirements. What’s germane under legal principle? Does this meet an admissible definition of evidence? In helping immigrants through that process, Tate collaborated with experienced attorneys, social workers, and psychology students from the University of Vermont. “These people have lived lives I can’t even begin to imagine,” she says. “Their courage is extraordinary. It’s so rewarding to be able help in a way that truly makes a difference in people’s lives.”
A World of Hurt
It’s become popular in our culture to say that the world has too many lawyers. As part of the World Bank’s office of environmental and international law, Charles “Chuck” Di Leva, JD ’78 sees the changing climate, exploding populations in developing countries, and increasing pressure on the planet’s finite resources — and sees just the opposite.
“Conflict over rights is inherent,” he says, “and the growth in conflict as the world changes will be almost exponential: workers vs. employers; communities vs. corporations; water rights; property rights; environmental standards. In many places, there’s not even a consistent set of laws that applies to the national, regional, and provincial levels. The world needs more lawyers, not fewer.”
“The program at Vermont Law School is really geared toward equipping lawyers for the future. Going where we’re going, I don’t think traditional is going to work.”
Charles “Chuck” Di Leva, JD ’78
Chief Counsel of Environmental and International Law,
The situations Di Leva sees in his work are numbingly complex. To pick just a handful from hundreds: In Manilla, a projected 800,000 people will need to relocate as sea levels rise, each of them with a right to some kind of compensation and new start. In Southeast Asia, a planned major hydro facility will impact the riparian rights of two other countries downstream. In Africa, an expansion of a game preserve leads to a spike in poaching, as local residents lose farmland and economic opportunity. In former dictatorships, mineral resources go up for grabs in a legal vacuum. The urgent need for new laws and structures to sort out the inherent conflicts is pushing a historically bureaucratic organization to respond quickly and creatively.
Di Leva — who speaks French and Spanish, who studied biology and earth sciences as an undergraduate, who became passionate about the environment at Vermont Law School — notes that the lawyers the world needs most are the kinds of lawyers being trained right now at Vermont Law School. Entrepreneurial. Trained across disciplines. Creative. Savvy. Dedicated to social justice and to protecting the environment. Guided by the conviction that the good of society—indeed, the survival of the planet as we know it—ultimately rests on good law.
Environmental Law Center
Center for Agriculture and Food Systems
Established in 2012, CAFS provides support, research, and leadership for community-based agricultural systems, sustainable agriculture advocates, agencies, food hubs, incubators, and farmers.
Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic
Since 2003, the ENRLC has provided a hands-on, structured, supportive learning experience in which students develop real-world skills in environmental litigation, administrative processes, and client counseling.
Environmental Dispute Resolution
Thirty years ago VLS launched one of the nation’s first programs to teach the skills of dispute resolution — negotiation, mediation, and arbitration — that today have become even more critically important to environmental professionals.
Environmental Tax Policy Institute
By analyzing the ways in which taxation can be used to address environmental problems, the institute seeks to better inform the public policy debate about the role of environmental taxes at the local, state, and federal levels.
Institute for Energy and the Environment
The IEE has become a national and world resource on energy law and policy with an advanced curriculum in energy and regulatory law. Students learn how to use the law to shape policies that encourage energy efficiency, advance renewable energy, and promote energy security and justice.
International Environmental Law and Policy
Environmental issues are global issues, and Vermont Law School offers a curriculum of more than a dozen international environmental courses, enhanced by study opportunities through partnerships with leading foreign universities.
Land Use Institute
All of the legal and planning aspects of current land use issues are considered at the institute, including sustainable development, ecology planning, siting of energy installations, permitting processes, and the scope of eminent domain.
U.S.-China Partnership for Environmental Law
Founded in 2006, the partnership strengthens environmental laws and expertise in China and builds capacity among individuals and academic, government, and private sector institutions to solve pollution and energy problems.
Water and Justice Program
This program seeks to advance the idea that water is a public, common-pool resource, and uses water law, environmental justice, and policy initiatives to further this aim. Student research associates contribute to reports, conference presentations, legal analyses, and articles.
Degrees & Programs
As part of one of the top-ranked schools in the nation, Vermont Law School offers three Juris Doctor programs, two Master’s degree programs, and three LLM (Master of Laws) programs—all created to produce leaders who want to change the world. We also offer online options for both of our Master’s degree programs and two of our LLM programs.
JURIS DOCTOR (JD)
Accelerated Juris Doctor (2 years)
Vermont Law School’s Accelerated Juris Doctor program (AJD) offers an extraordinary opportunity for highly motivated and focused candidates to complete their law degree in only two years and for only two-thirds the cost of a traditional program. The program was strategically designed to allow accelerated students the chance to diversify their studies with electives and participate in both academic and experiential opportunities.
AJD students have the option of starting their courses in the summer or the fall. If they start their courses in the summer, they take their courses in a small cohort in the beginning of the summer and in the fall join their first-year, JD peers while also having the opportunity to take upper-level courses and participate in student groups and activities. The second summer, AJD students take advantage of Vermont Law School’s world-renowned Summer Session. Potential summer tracks include Clinical/Experiential, Environmental, Dispute Resolution, and General Practice or Interdisciplinary. Students finish their degree by spring of their second year. Because they’re prepared to sit for state bar exams in July, AJD students return to work a full year ahead of their traditional, JD-track peers. AJD students who start in the fall will complete their course work in August of the second year, and can sit for the bar the following winter.
Juris Doctor (3 years)
The core JD curriculum focuses on legal doctrine and analysis, emphasizes the broader social context of the law, and provides education in the skills and values needed for effective law practice. Our flexible JD program offers an opportunity both for concentration in a particular area of the law and for a broad preparation suited to general practice in all 50 states. Last year, VLS students sat for the bar in 33 different states.
Extended Juris Doctor (4 years)
Students with family, work, or life circumstances that preclude them from enrolling in the traditional three-year, JD program have the opportunity to take fewer credits per semester and graduate in four academic years. Students in our extended program have the ability to select the first-year sections that work best with their personal schedules. Students have the option of taking the summer off or enrolling in the joint, JD/Master’s program.
A Master’s degree from Vermont Law School is different. Instead of studying theories about how to change policy, our Master’s candidates learn the law and how to use it to effect change. By studying advocacy, regulations, legislation, and markets, they acquire the tools to create a more sustainable world. All of our Master’s degrees can be pursued jointly with our Juris Doctor program and online, and can be started in the fall or spring (NEASC approval pending for online MERL degree).
Master of Environmental Law & Policy (MELP)
Our MELP program is focused on the political, scientific, and communications aspects of environmental law, with an added emphasis on economics and advocacy. Our innovative curriculum is comprised of traditional law offerings and MELP-specific courses in writing and advocacy designed to benefit graduates in the public and private sectors. Flexible options allow candidates to complete the program in as little as 12 months. Experiential learning opportunities with state and federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, and advocacy groups ensure that MELP graduates are prepared for real-world situations the first day on the job.
Master of Energy Regulation and Law (MERL)
The MERL degree provides students with practical training in public advocacy and writing for a legal and policy audience, opportunities for independent research with support from faculty, and externships at organizations around the country and the world. Designed to be completed in as little as 12 months, the MERL provides students with a broad-based understanding of the intersection of energy and law, regulation, policy, and economic analysis.
Master of Laws (LLM) Degrees
Like the Master’s Degrees, the LLMs require one year of study and can also be pursued part-time. These programs require applicants to have a, JD degree, and are geared toward students interested in pursuing specialized careers in environmental and energy law or higher education. All of the LLM degrees can also be taken online, except for the LLM in American Legal Studies (NEASC approval pending for online LLM in Energy Law).
LLM in American Legal Studies
The Master of Laws in American Legal Studies is designed for students who hold a law degree from an institution outside the United States. As one of the few American Legal Studies degree programs that includes all of the course requirements to be eligible for the New York and Washington, D.C. bar exams, LLM prepares foreign-trained lawyers to practice in important cities in the United States.
LLM in Environmental Law
The LLM in Environmental Law is a 30-credit degree program whose cornerstone course is the Graduate Seminar, in which guest speakers lead discussions on a variety of current environmental issues. Many LLM students will choose to complete an externship, research project, teaching practicum, or thesis based upon their professional goals. The curriculum also offers a number of experiential learning opportunities with state and federal agencies, advocacy groups, and international organizations.
LLM in Energy Law
The LLM in Energy Law degree program is designed for students who wish to pursue intensive study and training in the field of energy law and policy. New demands for energy conservation and the rise of alternative energy technologies, along with the serious environmental problems associated with traditional power generation, are creating a host of new law and policy challenges for energy companies, private law firms, regulators, and legislators. Students graduating with the LLM in Energy Law from Vermont Law School will have the expertise to perform the sophisticated legal work needed to address these challenges.
As one of the top-ranked schools for externships and experiential learning, JD students can participate in a wide-range of hands-on learning opportunities including the following:
- Center for Agriculture and Food Systems
- Center for Applied Human Rights
- Center for Legal Innovation
- Criminal Law Clinic
- Dispute Resolution Clinic
- Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic
- Environmental Tax Policy Institute
- Institute for Energy and the Environment
- Judicial Externship Program
- Legal Writing Program
- Legislative Clinic
- Semester-in-Practice Program
- South Royalton Legal Clinic
- U.S.-China Partnership for Environmental Law
- Water and Justice Program