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The Inner Circle / Fall 2016


>> Michael Dworkin's Lasting Impact
>> Beth McCormack: Student-Centric Leader
>> Member Profile: Tom Leary JD/MSEL'98
>> Financial Update from President and Dean Mihaly


An Update from the Dean Search Committee


Dear Leaders' Circle and President's Society members,

As you may know, Marc Mihaly's term as the President and Dean of Vermont Law School ends on June 30, 2017, and after much thought and soul searching, he has decided not to seek reappointment. Dean Mihaly will return to the faculty and take a respite from the weighty duties and responsibilities he has so thoughtfully assumed since becoming the President and Dean of Vermont Law School on July 1, 2011, during a period of extraordinary change in legal education.

Chris Dutton, Chair of the Board of Trustees, has established a nine member Dean Search Committee composed of board members, faculty, and representatives of the staff and students to facilitate the selection by the board of the next President and Dean of Vermont Law School. The committee is co-chaired by Trustee Brian Dunkiel '96 and Professor Mark Latham. The other board members on the committee are Glenn Berger '78, Colleen Connor '85, and Constance Neary '89. The faculty-elected representatives on the committee are Deputy Vice Dean Beth McCormack and Vice Dean Stephanie Willbanks. The staff-elected representative is Vice President for Enrollment Management, Marketing and Communications John Miller ’09 and the student representative is Patrick Marass ’17, a student trustee. The committee is supported by Kim Evans, Chief of Staff to the President and Dean. To assist the committee in this important endeavor, it has retained the services of Ford Webb Associates, a national executive search firm that serves for profit, non-profit, governmental, and higher education institutions.

One of the essential preliminary tasks of the committee was to develop a position description, which may be found at It is crucial that we develop a deep and diverse pool of candidates for this vitally important position. While the committee, along with the assistance of Ford Webb Associates is working to develop just such a pool, we can use your assistance, and we urge you to please review the position description and share it with any of your contacts whom you believe would be an outstanding candidate and encourage them to apply. Alternatively, you may nominate them by emailing and we will contact them directly about their interest in the position.

The committee highly values input from the entire VLS community, and it has been meeting with faculty and staff to seek their ideas and answer questions regarding this position and the committee's work. As alumni of VLS and important members of the VLS community, the members of committee also highly value what you have to say, including your questions and your advice, as it goes about the business of building a pool of highly regarded individuals to assume the mantle as the next leader of Vermont Law School. To that end, the committee has developed a short survey to elicit your thoughts and ideas, and we urge you to complete it by Wednesday, November 23.

Take the survey.

We look forward to hearing from you, and will keep you apprised through periodic updates of developments as we work to build a pool of extraordinarily talented men and women from which to select the next President and Dean of Vermont Law School.

Very best,

 Brian Dunkiel signature  Vice Dean Mark Latham

Brian Dunkiel '96
Co-Chair, Dean Search Committee
Member, Board of Trustees
Vermont Law School

Mark Latham
Co-Chair, Dean Search Committee
Professor of Law 
Vermont Law School

Michael Dworkin's Lasting Impact

Inner Circle, Michael DworkinVermont Law School professor Michael Dworkin became interested in environmental law in an unusual way — by working with developmentally disabled people at the now-defunct Brandon Training School. During a yearlong break from college in the early 1970s, Dworkin worked with men at the school who had experienced lead and mercury poisoning. That motivated him to resume his studies at Middlebury College and go to Harvard Law School. Eventually, as an attorney at the Environmental Protection Agency, he worked on a rule that required metal finishing plants and automobile factories to reduce the amount of toxic metals they discharged into waterways.

That’s the kind of lasting impact on energy and environmental policy issues Dworkin has made throughout his career, including as director of the Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEE), which he founded at VLS in 2005. Since he passed the IEE directorship to Kevin Jones this summer, he is focusing on teaching and working on curriculum development. “I like learning how people’s minds grow,” Dworkin says of teaching. At the end of a course, students have more ideas than they did at the start, and they know good questions to ask.

“If you care about the environment, energy policy is the most important issue. If you care about energy, environmental realities are the most important constraint. America’s legal system has a profound legal effect on how we deal with those two questions. VLS can teach people how to work with and improve legal aspects of America’s energy system,” Dworkin says. “That’s the foundation of my teaching.” Among the classes he is teaching this year are the seminal courses Energy Policy In A Carbon-Constrained World, Global Energy Justice and Legislation & Regulation. “Justice theory courses are beginning to spring up around the country, so this is a leadership role in that,” Dworkin says of Global Energy Justice. The course examines such issues as the fairness of discontinuing electric service to people who don’t pay bills, looking at what philosophers such as Socrates might do. “These are moral as much as economic or engineering questions,” he says.

The learning goes both ways in Dworkin’s classes. In an energy course, students write a paper on a topic connected to the energy-environment interface. “My inbox is full of things that are fascinating to learn,” says Dworkin, who received the VLS 2016 Richard Brooks Award for Distinguished Scholarship. The IEE itself fosters distinguished scholarship. As the first center of its kind in the nation, the IEE commissions graduate research, offers an advanced energy law and policy curriculum, provides forums and conferences, and runs a student-staffed energy clinic. “Kevin and I work with students the way we used to work with professional consultants and produce products we would have wanted our consultants to produce, so the experience for students is similar to working for a consulting firm,” Dworkin says.

He cites recent IEE accomplishments that include projects with Carnegie Mellon University on carbon capture and sequestration as well as climate and energy decision-making, surveys on environmental duties of public utility commissions, and a book Jones co-authored about integrating smart meters into general electric systems, “A Smarter, Greener Grid.” The IEE achievement Dworkin is proudest of relates to students. “We have put dozens of students into jobs where they use their training and values to make a better world,” he says. VLS has more alumni at the EPA, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, state utility commissions, and emerging clean energy companies than any other law school, Dworkin believes. At energy conferences, he always sees VLS alumni. “I have a sense of having done something useful,” he says. “I could not have done this alone. It took VLS being a fertile base for it to happen.”

Beth McCormack: Student-Centric Leader

Beth McCormackBeth McCormack has learned that a good way to get to know students — really well — is by standing in line with them at 4 a.m. to hear oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court. Each fall, McCormack, Vermont Law School professor and new deputy vice dean of academic affairs, goes to Washington, D.C., with students in her appellate advocacy class to get some of the limited, unreserved seats for the public for arguments before the chief justices. Of her many duties as deputy vice dean and professor, her favorite way to spend time is talking one-on-one with students. “Students are thrilled just to be at the Supreme Court. Then to hear lawyers argue a case they know so much about…is really mind-blowing for them,” McCormack says. “We always meet interesting people in line, too.”

A VLS professor since 2011, she now teaches one class each semester and one in the summer in addition to her duties as vice dean, a position she started in in July. “I connect well with students. I always have. I’ve always liked mentoring them,” says McCormack, recipient of the Faculty of the Year award three times by the VLS student-run Women’s Law Group. That’s good because her role with students has broadened as dean. Now she deals with any issue that involves students and academics, including academic accommodations, curricular matters, the honor code, advising and other responsibilities.

“I feel drawn to VLS and making this place succeed,” McCormack says. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m new in this position…I’m going to learn it and stick with it.” McCormack, on the VLS strategic planning committee, is helping to implement some of the initiatives approved in the new strategic plan, including strengthening existing programs and increasing enrollment. As a professor who teaches legal writing, she is working on measures to introduce more writing into the curriculum and improve bar exam passage rates to help strengthen programs. A new graduation requirement is that students take a mock bar exam. The results will help administrators and faculty revise the way courses are taught to improve the passage rate, McCormack notes. She also is involved with a new program that aims to increase enrollment.

This year for the second year, VLS accepted a small number of students “who don’t meet the traditional criteria of a student who is likely to pass the bar…but their application appealed to us,” McCormack says. These could include students with a low LSAT score. For these students, VLS returns their tuition if they don’t succeed in the first year. Those who do well receive a partial scholarship if they meet certain requirements, including attending a pre-orientation program and having a reduced course load.

“These are things designed to maximize their chances to succeed,” says McCormack, who wants the program to expand. “It gets at the goal of making law school accessible to more students…It makes me proud to work here.” McCormack’s student-centric approach extends outside academics, too. As a Red Sox fan with season tickets, each summer she auctions off a game to benefit the Women’s Law Group and drives students to Fenway Park for the game. “I hang out with them, too. It’s a long day,” she says. Despite her rapport with students, there’s something about McCormack that might surprise them. “I guess I’m a little shy. I’m nervous before every single class,” she says. “I think my students would never know that.”

Member Profile: Tom Leary JD/MSEL'98

Tom Leary JD/MSEL'95The story of Tom Leary’s life reads like a riddle: “What do you get when you combine a thespian with an environmentalist?” The answer is not Vermont’s famed Bread and Puppet Theater (although, we're sure he would have been a star). No, the answer is…a lawyer.

Tom was drawn to law because he could translate his love for theater, nurtured in high school and college, into successful courtroom litigation. Ultimately, the ability to win a jury trial rests on a lawyer’s ability to recount a dramatic telling of an event—while convincing the audience (the jury) of the probability of truth.

Tom chose to attend Vermont Law School because of a passion for environmental causes honed by his father: “Dad was involved in many environmental activities, from a local environmental commission, to being involved at county level to preserve open spaces at a time when there was risk of suburban encroachment.” Tom’s love of theater, and his passion for the preservation of the environment, led him to determine that “the nation’s top environmental law program was a natural fit for where I saw myself going.”

There were other forces that would shape his future, including September 11, 2001, and the United States' subsequent military responses. In the early 1990s while attending college at Drew University, the first Gulf War kicked off. According to Tom, “I entertained the idea that if this turns into a long term campaign I would want to serve–and that our country needed good people to do that.” While the Gulf War was quickly resolved, that desire to serve remained. Ultimately while attending VLS, he reached out to recruiters in both the Army and Navy who both promised immediate litigation experience.

Tom began his military career with U.S. Navy as a litigator, serving as a prosecuting attorney responsible for trying a range of crimes before military courts-martial. But he soon transitioned to a position as the legal advisor for an Amphibious Ready Group deployed at sea, advising on operational law matters, the law of the sea, administrative issues, and military justice. Following the September 11th attacks, he became a Staff Judge Advocate where he advised military leaders on the full spectrum of military and special operations. Over several years, he has had ten deployments ranging from two to five months supporting operational forces in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Subsequent service in the Navy JAG Corps’ International Law and Operational Law office, followed by a stint as Deputy Force/Fleet Judge Advocate for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, have prepared him to serve in his current role as Deputy Legal Counsel to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the principal military advisor to the President and the Secretary of Defense. In that role, Tom serves in a small cadre of military lawyers who provide counsel to the Chairman and to the Joint Staff in a high stakes environment where there is no room for error. “Everything we do as a military, and therefore all the advice we give, is informed by some combination of international and domestic law, and the application of that law isn’t always crystal clear. Ultimately, we have to provide our best judgment to our nation’s most senior military leaders. It’s pretty heady stuff for a kid who went to public school in New Jersey.”

After 18 years serving in the Navy, Tom is proud of being part of a team of men and women who have put something larger than themselves as their priority. “I’m in a job now where I am reconnecting with people that I have served alongside, off and on, over many years. They, like me, began their careers at a junior level and have risen through the ranks. And here we are, still in the same fight together, doing our best to do good work for our nation and the world, particularly in the fight against Al Qaeda, ISIL, and other violent, extreme organizations.” For Tom, it’s an honor to be part of team, and “to do good while accomplishing our mission in accordance with international and domestic law.”

A demanding career and time abroad forced a hiatus with VLS. “Now, as I’ve gotten older and more senior, I am increasingly conscious of my roots, and that includes VLS.” Since returning to DC, Tom has had the chance to reconnect with several VLS classmates who have remained close friends despite the distance. “I have a much greater appreciation for the quiet and simplicity of my time at VLS. Law school is incredibly stressful, but Vermont Law School was hands down my first choice. It’s a place where you can walk outside or take a hike and clear your head from the demands of your studies. The combination of the quality of education I received and the setting have given me a renewed appreciation for the school. I’m proud to be a graduate of the school, and proud to support the school with my charitable giving.”

Financial update from President and Dean Marc Mihaly

Financial update from VLSWe have arrived at a most exciting time for VLS, really an inflection point of importance, for two related reasons:

Financial Stability. Our financial situation is stable, and this year we are operating without the use of reserves. In 2014, in anticipation of the stress caused by dramatic drops in law school enrollment nation-wide, the VLS Board of Trustees made specific allocations from reserves to help the school weather an anticipated period of deficit operations. As expected, we needed those reserves to supplement operations for the last two years.

To address the underlying issue, we cut costs, found additional sources of revenue, and undertook measures to improve our admissions outreach to grow our JD and master’s enrollment. And we benefited from an almost unprecedented tripling of your generous contributions to our annual fund which provide much-needed operating support. As a result we have again balanced our budget so we can operate this and coming years without the use of transfers from reserves. Thus we have weathered the storm created by the enrollment crisis and emerged stronger. I stress that this accomplishment has only been possible because of the amazing contributions of our staff and faculty who have been willing to see reduced benefits for several years. We need to find additional sources of revenue to enable us to truly thrive. And that leads me to the second point.

A New Strategic Plan. This year the VLS Board of Trustees approved an exciting new strategic plan and authorized the investments necessary to commence its implementation. The plan calls for reducing student debt and giving students more flexibility in the nature and timing of their legal and policy education.

We are moving to supplement our traditional three-year residential degree with a customizable year-around, multiple entry point model that allows students the flexibility to finish in as little as two years and enter the workforce sooner, or to return home after three semesters of experience in our wonderful community, and finish up online while working. We will attract new types of students, students who cannot necessarily spend three years in Vermont, and students who want to enter the workforce sooner for financial reasons.

This takes investment in marketing, web and other electronic infrastructure, all designed to extend our geographic reach, to enable us to project our mission outward from Vermont and reach new students from around the country and the world. Some of that investment will come from our reserves, some from the income from new programs, and some, hopefully, from your generous contributions.

In the coming months I will continue to update you on our progress in achieving our strategic initiatives. This is a tremendously exciting time in the history of Vermont Law School. I welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you in more detail and I urge you to contact me if you have any questions.

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Welcome New Members

The Leaders' Circle continues to grow!

The following people have joined or renewed their membership in the Leaders' Circle since the spring of 2016:

  • Nicole Alt and Christopher A. Thompson JD'98
  • Robert R. Brunelli JD'90
  • Peter S. Gould JD'02/MSEL'99
  • Amy M. Davenport
  • Thomas F. Leary JD/MSEL'98
  • Beth McCormack
  • Elizabeth Miller


#GivingTuesday - #1CourseCloser


Help Us Reach Our Goal

Vermont Law School has joined #GivingTuesday on November 29, 2016—a global day of giving that harnesses the collective power of individuals, communities and organizations to encourage philanthropy and to celebrate generosity worldwide. By the end of the day on November 29, our "One Course Closer" campaign seeks to raise $10,000—the cost of two three-credit courses (including books and supplies) at VLS. Your gift can help support VLS offer scholarships and financial aid to students pursuing their dream of a law school or graduate school education to make a difference in their communities and in the world. We are thrilled to announce that Trustee Colleen Connor '85 has generously offered to match Giving Tuesday gifts, dollar for dollar, up to $10,000! Click here to help us reach our goal.



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