Inner Circle Circle #4 Summer 2015

The Inner Circle / Summer-Fall 2015



>> A Texas-VLS Connection: Chip and Ashley Duffie
>> Read Sparking Change: The AJD Program
>> Donors Made it Happen: The Institute for Energy and the Environment
>> Introducing Leah Giffin


Letter from the President and Dean

President and Dean Marc Mihaly

Dear members of the Leaders' Circle and President's Society,

In the last issue of the Inner Circle, I provided you with an update on the board-approved Strategic Financial Implementation Plan that set parameters for investment, growth, and a limited use of reserves over the next three years.

We are now turning our attention to the development of a new strategic plan that will address the larger picture of where we want to be in the next five years and beyond. A group of faculty, staff, students, alumni, and trustees are engaging in a discussion that will guide our future structure, function, and teaching. The effort responds to three imperatives: the need to incorporate modern pedagogy into legal and professional education; the importance of the possibilities created by technology and the web; and the need to develop a model that functions well financially.

Improvement for legal education

Modern pedagogy teaches us that people learn best by doing. Learning to “think like a lawyer” (a central skill for both our law and our master’s students) must include not just absorption of information, but also the use and application of that information to situations that either include real-life problems or simulate them. Vermont Law School has been a leading innovator in the development of this sort of “experiential education.” Our clinics, semesters-in-practice, and internships give most of our students an opportunity to deepen their classroom knowledge through its practical application. Now we need to build on these important steps. It is our belief that we must expand this sort of active learning experience and integrate it more fully into the life of the school. The American Bar Association and various state bars are making experientially based learning a requirement. VLS wants to lead this effort. There is no benefit to VLS being a follower.

The Technology Advantage

Technology presents truly amazing opportunities for us. Large lectures are an artifact of the time when the only way the professor could reach many students was for everyone to be in the same room at the same time. Today students can learn and interact with a professor and each other from multiple locations. Not only does this new model open up the world of pedagogical methods, and revolutionize the work and the school experience, but it also extends our geographic reach. One can imagine students working in another city under the supervision of a faculty member in South Royalton at the same time they are taking a class. We will be looking at these possibilities as we plan for our future.

Addressing Financial Security and Cost to Students

And, of course, we will be developing financial scenarios that model these various approaches to teaching. At today’s enrollment levels, I expect that few, if any, law schools are operating with a surplus. The traditional model is simply too expensive for us and for our students. We need to explore alternative approaches and structures, and test them for financial sustainability.

The solutions will be multiple; there is not one “silver bullet.” One approach, for example, is a shorter time in school, with an attendant reduction in living costs and earlier entry into the work force. Thus we instituted our two-year JD, and are exploring related arrangements. We are already operating year-round, and must look at the benefits of expanding that effort, and even encouraging multiple start points during the year rather than just the one traditional fall start. We will look at combinations of residential learning and distance learning, and examine the use of electronic learning—even for students here in South Royalton. A significant portion of our revenue comes from the nearly one-third of our students in the master’s programs. We’ll work to expand those programs, which present growth opportunities and build on our environmental and international expertise. We will explore alliances with other entities to share the substantial cost of our “back-office” operations. I know that the combined efforts of the creative members of the VLS community will find other productive avenues as well.

This re-thinking occurs at an opportune time. A crisis has its benefits, and the recent decline in enrollment, and changing market for legal services has opened up possibilities for change. It may well be that the decline in law school enrollment has bottomed out. The number of first-time LSAT test-takers has risen during the last year. Our applications were up again this enrollment cycle. I don’t expect law school enrollments to return to the boom years of the early 2000s. But, whether the enrollment decline is attenuating or not, it has encouraged our accreditors to allow experimentation, and that’s where VLS does best. Vermont Law School thrives in an atmosphere where change is encouraged because we are small, independent, and nimble. Our strongest comparative advantage is the ability to develop new models and implement them quickly.

I expect that Vermont Law School will create new educational models that will be fresh, germane to our mission, and set us apart from our peer institutions. I invite you to share your ideas for change in our model. Leaders' Circle and President Society members will be key players in this planning effort because of their understanding of our school and their deep involvement in the work world. Please, do not hesitate to write me at or to call me at 802-831-1237. I look forward to hearing from you, Vermont Law School’s most generous, loyal, and much appreciated supporters.

Very best,

Marc Mihaly signature white

Marc B. Mihaly, President and Dean

A Texas-VLS Connection: Chip and Ashley Duffie 

Duffies Inner Circle Summer 2015Armed with a newly minted JD from the South Carolina School of Law, Chip Duffie MSEL'97 moved to Vermont in 1996 to specialize in environmental law. In his mind it was clear: There was no better place to prepare him for his career than Vermont Law School.

It was at VLS where he met 1L student Ashley Brown JD’99 from Texas, and although the two did not begin dating at the time, they bonded over the fact that both were from the south. A few years after Ashley graduated from VLS, the two reconnected in Dallas, TX when their career paths crossed unexpectedly. According to Ashley, “the firm I was working with wanted to learn more about Chip and the company he was working for, and they knew of our shared connection to Vermont Law School. So, they sent me to meet him and take him to lunch.” Chip and Ashley are just one of the 350 VLS alumni couples today.

Ashley, a native Texan, chose Vermont Law School’s dual JD and MSEL program because she knew that it would afford her a top-notch academic experience and provide career opportunities. Vermont Law School’s joint degree program and the practical experience gained as a student gave her a leg up in her career.

After graduation, Ashley returned to Texas where she worked for the international corporate law firm of Haynes and Boone. She specialized in criminal and civil environmental law, white collar criminal defense, internal corporate investigations, and complex business litigation. After seven years, she accepted the position of in-house lawyer for Celanese, a Fortune 500 company specializing in chemicals and specialty materials. Today she serves as its Chief Compliance Officer, Associate General Counsel and Head of Global Litigation and Environmental Health and Safety Law.

Chip spent close to nineteen years at one of North America’s largest environmental service providers, Safety-Kleen Systems, Inc., headquartered near Dallas. As Chief Compliance Officer, he was responsible for all aspects of Environmental Health and Safety compliance and helped develop and implement the company’s sustainability program to ensure compliance and manage risk. Today, Chip serves as General Manager for Arbill’s compliance and safety consulting team whose work focuses on fostering a safety and compliance focused culture while reducing the incidents of injuries and costs.

The parents of two daughters, Chip and Ashley lead busy lives, but their ties to Vermont Law School remain solid; their support of the school at the Leaders’ Circle level is meaningful. For Ashley, it has a lot to do with the quality of education that she received: “Early in my career, I was chosen to work on a case because of the practical experience I had in environmental law; I was on a trial team before I even passed the bar. I was working with seasoned environmental lawyers, and they were impressed with the education I received at Vermont Law School.”

Chip echoes those sentiments saying that VLS not only gave him a first class, specialized education, but it is also “one of the main reasons I’m able to do the work that I do today.”

Sparking Change: The AJD Program

By Jessica Clarke, Contributing Writer

Vermont Law School's Debevoise HallConcerns about the cost of a legal education are not new. But as more schools offer budget-minded options, such as Vermont Law School’s Accelerated Juris Doctor (AJD) program, students and schools may spark change in traditional hiring practices in the field.

The VLS year-round, accelerated-start opportunities, the Summer Start AJD Honors program and the Fall Start AJD program, enable students to earn a degree in two years, not three, and reduce living expenses while they’re in school.

VLS AJD students are enrolled during summer, so they’re unavailable for summer associate programs offered by many large law firms. Typically, big firms hire only those graduates who have “summered” in those programs.

“I would love to see a sea change in this attitude. It would open things up to more deserving people in law schools across the country,” VLS Director of Career Services Abby Armstrong says.

“It’s very plausible as more schools develop accelerated programs and other creative ways of allowing students to complete school that traditional hiring practices by legal employers will change. Hopefully that will also benefit more students from a wider spectrum of law schools,” she says.

A wider spectrum of students would also benefit employers by diversifying the candidate pool.

“Anything that loosens up traditional legal hiring practices is good for students since it gives them more flexibility,” Armstrong says. “I think in the long run it will also be good for employers since many of the students drawn to the accelerated programs are very strong second-career individuals who have much to offer a firm. Some of the larger firms in Northern New England have been open to this, and I am optimistic that others will see the benefits as well.”

Graduates in this year’s inaugural AJD class have found positions they want. One student will clerk for the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, another will work for the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, and a third for a small Burlington firm where he had an externship.

Student demand ultimately may drive hiring changes, as many prospective VLS students consider an AJD.

“AJD students could effect changes in everything—how they complete law school, how employers deal with them—by pushing the envelope. They’re in the vanguard,” Armstrong says.

Donors Make it Happen: The Institute for Energy and the Environment

Solar Panels IEE Inner Circle Summer 2015“If you care about the environment, energy policy is the single most important influence; and if you care about energy, environmental facts are the most important constraint,” said Professor Michael Dworkin, Director of the Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEE), the national and international resource for energy law and policy at Vermont Law School. The motivation for the IEE’s every day work is strengthening frameworks for a sustainable future through the parallel development and delivery of energy law and policy curriculum.

Offering twelve on-campus and several online and distance learning courses throughout the year, the IEE divides curricula into three programs: the Masters in Energy Regulation and Law (MERL), the LLM in Energy Law, and a certificate in energy law and policy. To develop students’ practical knowledge and skills, the Energy Clinic offers real world energy projects to study, from the stage of conceptualization through development, contracting, financing, regulatory approval, and construction. The four-credit course (offered in the fall, spring, and summer semesters) requires student interactions with clients to meet local energy needs with reliable, clean and affordable resources. Recent accomplishments include solar energy procurement, the development of community-owned group net metering models, community solar systems on former landfills, and development of net-metered community energy projects.

For faculty, the Energy Clinic offers lead research opportunities on projects in one of six program areas, assisted by four or five student research associates. Current project areas include Smart Grids, Energy Security and Justice, Renewable Energies, Climate and Energy Decision Making, and Energy Efficiency. Research programs have varied over time depending on funding opportunities.

Through its educational programs, research reports, and training of future energy and climate leaders, the IEE demonstrates how the marriage of academic and professional training with research and policy action can promote climate change mitigation and adaptation. The IEE’s curriculum has garnered student demand and fostered a growing alumni network.

Looking ahead, beyond its success in procuring federal and state funding, the IEE seeks additional resources to expand research promoting improved laws and polices while fostering significant carbon reduction, and promoting a sustainable economy. With additional external resources, the IEE hopes to push the needle even further, pointing towards an obtainable, livable, and renewable future.

Introducing Leah Giffin

Leah Giffin Inner Circle August 2015Timing, preparation, and a fair amount of luck brought Leah Giffin to Vermont Law School in June of 2014. Now, after working in grants for the last year at VLS, Leah is the Office for Institutional Advancement’s (OIA) new Development Officer—a position that fully utilizes her range of skills in the development field.

Leah began combining her passion for the environment with development while working in the Office of Environmental Policy as an undergraduate student at the University of Connecticut (where she had been recruited by the lacrosse team). After college, she became the Director of Sustainability at a private school, leading a development effort that permanently endowed her position. She continued to meld her lifelong passion for the environment and the outdoors with a talent for networking and leadership into a career in development for environmentally-focused institutions. She traveled extensively, living for brief periods in Australia and Italy.

Prior to joining the team at VLS, Leah worked as a development officer and corporate fundraiser at New York University—her alma mater, where she earned a master’s degree in Environmental Conservation. A native of Upstate New York, she always had her eye on landing eventually in Vermont. Her partner (and now fiancé) was accepted into the Accelerated-JD program at VLS and that—along with her acceptance of a grants manager position in the OIA— was all the encouragement Leah needed to leave New York City, move to South Royalton, and start her involvement with a school that has a nationally-recognized environmental mission.

Leah wears many hats at VLS. She is a staff member, partner of a student, and a student herself. She has a unique perspective of the VLS community “much broader than only being a staff member.” With her finger on the pulse of life at VLS, she understands the wider context of the school – the clinics, programs, faculty, students, and the community itself.

In her new role, Leah will capitalize on what she loves most about relationship-building: the people – “hearing their stories and connecting about a place we both care about deeply.” She will attend alumni events, and correspond with alumni through emails, phone calls, and meetings. She is eager to visit and meet with Leaders’ Circle members to get their perspective and recommendations on how to foster a philanthropic culture at VLS. For those alumni passing through (or living in) Vermont, Leah will gladly set up a meeting or visit; she also welcomes any ideas or thoughts through emails and phone calls. Feel free to contact her by email or by phone at 802-831-1211.

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About the Inner Circle

The Inner Circle is a quarterly e-publication of the Office for Institutional Advancement at Vermont Law School. Members of the Leaders’ Circle giving society receive this newsletter in the winter, spring, summer and fall, learning about the latest news from the Dean, programs, students, and fellow donors.

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Welcome New Members

The Leaders' Circle continues to grow!

The following people have joined the Leaders' Circle since the spring of 2015:

  • Adour and Helen Aghjayan P'16
  • Bradford T. Atwood '90
  • Joshua Belcher '08
  • Cathleen M. Cameron
  • Alexa A. Cole '98
  • Torend L. Collins '09
  • Ashley Duffie '99 and Virgil Duffie '97
  • Mary E. Fletcher '92
  • Gerald W. Howe '83
  • Anthony Iarrapino '03 and Joslyn Wilschek '03
  • Jessica L. Olson '07
  • Mary J. Sheehan '87
  • Alexander D. Shriver '95
  • Brian Thompson '08 and Victoria Thompson
  • Sean B. Williams ’10 

Stephen Dycus Inner Circle

The Changing Field of National Security and Counterterrorism Law

Professor Stephen Dycus co-authored the casebook National Security Law in 2011. But in this field, materials, information, updates and decisions can change from year to year or even, of late, month to month. To that effect, a new supplement is now available, co-authored again by Professor Dycus, and will be especially useful to students and teachers, but equally informative to those staying abreast of "the ever-expanding universe that is U.S. national security law and policy."