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The Inner Circle / Winter 2016



>> High-Caliber Preparation: Bill McCoy
>> SPEAK Vermont: Promoting Powerful Voices
>> Pathways to Bar Passage
>> Paris, France: VLS at COP21


Letter from the President and Dean

President and Dean Marc Mihaly

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

I hope your holidays gave you pleasure and some rest, and I wish you and your families a new year that is productive, healthy, and happy. Here at Vermont Law, a new semester is underway and I’m excited about the way things are shaping up for the year ahead. Some of the things I’m most optimistic about: Slow and steady improvement in enrollment, nationwide and at VLS; the blurring boundary between residential and electronic learning, manifested in our consideration of a hybrid educational experience; and our deliberate, thoughtful efforts to address the issue of student debt.

Enrollment at VLS is improving.

Enrollment at law schools around the nation is slowly increasing. . Law firms are hiring again. After years of double-digit declines, the number of first-time test takers for the LSAT has risen for each of the four tests given in 2015. We think this increase will make a positive impact on the current admissions cycle for the fall 2016 incoming class.

Vermont Law is exceeding the national trend, in part because of our uniqueness, our environmental niche, and also because we have one of the very best communications and admissions efforts in the country. While national applications decreased last year, our applications increased 5 percent. Enrollments decreased nationally, while Vermont Law held its own, and was able to be somewhat more selective. While it is still early in the 2015-16 admission cycle, our applications for both the JD and the Master’s programs are up substantially from last year. This is good news for the school, and especially for our faculty and staff who have made financial sacrifices with smaller classes in the last four years.

The Master’s programs are thriving. Students are seeking blended “hybrid” combinations of residential and distance learning.

Vermont Law has lived up to its cross-disciplinary ideals. As of this writing, about a third of our students are in a master’s degree program. Many are crossing between our residential master’s and our distance learning master's, creating their own hybrid program—an idea we fully embrace. We’re planning to increase opportunities for distance learning students seeking an on-campus experience during the summer term and a potential hybrid version of the JD program. We also hope to make distance learning environmental courses available to our residential master’s students.

VLS addresses the issue of student debt.

Vermont Law is addressing the problem of mounting student debt. The faculty recently completed a student debt report that described how difficult it is for students to pay back their educational debt while pursuing careers in government, smaller law firms, or with non-profit organizations. Vermont Law has addressed the issues as aggressively as we can:

  • In the last three years, we increased tuition only once, by 1.6%. In conjunction with tuition increases, over the years, we have expanded the amount of scholarship we provide. The average student today pays about the same as she or he did a dozen years ago.
  • About 40 percent of the cost of attendance consists of living expenses. These can be cut substantially if students spend less time in school and less time out of the workforce. Our two-year JD reduces these costs by about $25,000. In 2015, 21% of our entering JD class elected this route.
  • The ability to work while studying can substantially reduce the overall cost of attendance. Our distance learning program does exactly that for over 100 master’s students. We are now studying the creation of a hybrid JD, one that will combine residential and distance learning study to enable students to earn while they learn.

Thank you and stay in touch!

You have shown your connection to VLS through your extraordinary and continuing generosity. We thank you. As always, please let me know your reactions to the developments and initiatives I describe above. Please, do not hesitate to write me at or to call me at 802-831-1237.

Very best,

Marc Mihaly signature white

Marc B. Mihaly, President and Dean

High-Caliber Preparation: Bill McCoy 

By Jess Clarke, Contributing Writer

Inner Circle Bill McCoyBefore he attended Vermont Law School, the impressions William McCoy, J.D. ’96, had of Vermont were based on pop culture.

Some themes came from the late-1980s film “Baby Boom,” which featured Diane Keaton as a high-powered executive who, disillusioned, left her career to buy a Vermont estate and eventually started a successful business.

“That movie always resonated with me. I think my life sort of panned out the way Diane Keaton’s did,” says McCoy, president and chief executive officer of McCoy Consultants Ltd., based in Melville, New York.

After earning a degree in accounting, McCoy was a tax accountant and consultant for major firms, but it wasn’t what he expected. That’s when he turned to VLS, which he says represented “the best three years of my life.”

From VLS, he was recruited for a senior tax consultant position at PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York City. In 1998, he left to start McCoy Consultants. “I haven’t looked back,” McCoy says, except,to return to VLS regularly for reunions and to visit students he has referred to the school.

McCoy recalls the friendly atmosphere at VLS and in the surrounding community—and the quality education he received.

After his first year at VLS, he interned at a Chicago law firm. The knowledge he gained from VLS courses on legal writing and appellate advocacy helped him write a section of an appellate brief for a corporate personal injury case—and coach an intern from another law school in the endeavor.

“I realized firsthand just how prepared I was at VLS,” McCoy says. VLS also gave him crucial experience that he uses in his business, which focuses on helping clients—mostly religious organizations—with tax challenges such as audits and large tax debts.

Each year at VLS, McCoy ran the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program hosted by the law school. “I gained good experience in serving regular, hard-working people, solving problems, directing them through the maze of the tax code…It was an extremely rewarding experience, which prepared me for the way I run my tax practice today,” he says.

The high-caliber education he received at VLS motivates McCoy’s support.

“The level of preparation VLS gives students helps them succeed. When you’ve had that kind of support in your life,” he says, “you should feel…inspired to make it possible for others to benefit from what helped you.”

McCoy credits VLS with preparing him in another enduring way—introducing him to ballroom dancing, a class he enjoyed each semester. It’s one of his favorite pastimes.

SPEAK Vermont: Promoting Powerful Voices

By Jessica Bullock, JD Candidate 2017, President of SPEAK 

SPEAK groupVermont Law School is committed to cultivating powerful voices. In support of this mission, Jessica Bullock and a dedicated group of VLS students founded SPEAK—an organization dedicated to promoting public speaking, debate, and advocacy throughout Vermont and the VLS community. SPEAK (Speech, Persuasion, Education, Advocacy, and Knowledge) currently directs two programs—the VLS SPEAK Organization and the SPEAK Vermont: Prison Debate Initiative.

SPEAK offers public speaking courses and hosts conferences that address current social and political issues. Last spring, SPEAK hosted a debate on the right to marriage equality prior to the United States Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. This past fall, SPEAK partnered with the Black Law Students Assocation and the Latin American Law Student Association to host a forum on “Race, Law, and Police Brutality,” and hosted “Ready to Run!” with Emerge Vermont to discuss the importance of women campaigning for political office. SPEAK has been awarded the Student Bar Association’s ProBono Award, and is looking forward to co-hosting the Solutions conference on fracking this spring.

The SPEAK Vermont: Prison Debate Initiative provides free speech and debate instruction to individuals who are currently incarcerated in Vermont’s correctional facilities. The curriculum includes an 8-week course using debate as a tool for participants to hone professional presentation skills. These skills translate directly into job interviews, dispute resolution, and employee-employer communications— helping incarcerated individuals transition successfully back into their communities following imprisonment. SPEAK Vermont has provided programs at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, Vermont’s only all-female facility, and the Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center for incarcerated youth. SPEAK Vermont’s director and founder, Jessica Bullock, received an Albert Schweitzer Fellowship to support the program in 2015 and intends to continue expanding the program.

Pathways to Bar Passage

By Jess Clarke, Contributing Writer

VLS student studyingMost law students would agree that bar exam preparation is the biggest stressor in law school. For those who ultimately don’t pass, job eligibility can plummet.

“It’s a very intense, substantively difficult process,” says Joe Brennan, director of the VLS Academic Success Program (ASP).

Couple that with significant changes in bar exams in Vermont and other states, and it may be little wonder that pass rates have dropped in recent years around the United States. “There’s been a steady decline across the country, across all schools and jurisdictions,” Brennan says.

VLS is addressing the challenge by augmenting the Pathway to Bar Passage program already offered by the ASP. In the fall, Brennan started providing extracurricular academic success workshops for torts and public law classes.

Another initiative implemented in the fall is teaching assistants—2L and 3L students—serving in 1L classes, offering mentoring and office hours. “They can provide more direct, substantive help for a specific teacher. We’re looking to expand that,” Brennan says. Brennan also plans to offer more mock bar exams and is working with faculty to incorporate bar exam-style questions into exams and midterms.

The Advanced Legal Analysis course for 3L students focuses on strategies and practice for bar exam essay questions. Brennan is revamping it and hopes to offer additional course sections.

If resources allow, the Jumpstart program on campus—which immerses 40 1L students in aspects of 1L year a week before orientation—may be expanded. These measures are in addition to mock exam sessions, one-on-one counseling and a resource library.

Ninety percent of 2012 and 2013 VLS graduates who have taken the bar exam ultimately passed it. Data for 2014 is unavailable. To accomplish ASP goals for bar exam passage, collaboration with faculty is key. “It is very beneficial for me to know who’s on their radar, so I can put them on mine and get them where they need to be for finals,” Brennan says, “and prepare them for the bar exam.”

Paris, France: VLS at COP21

By Jess Clarke, Contributing Writer

COP21 VLS delegatesTen Vermont Law School JD, MELP, MERL and LLM students gained a big boost for their careers as an observer delegation at the annual United Nations climate change summit in Paris in December.

In addition to seeing an historic, international treaty reached that regulates each country’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, students worked closely with representatives from an impoverished nation—and glimpsed some prominent attendees, including Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio.

At the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21), students in Professor Tracy Bach’s Special Topics course attended plenary sessions and side events, followed negotiations and blogged about their observations and analysis.

“Earlier in your career, you don’t usually get to watch a law being created, especially a treaty, which takes a long time to be developed,” Bach says.

The treaty could be in effect for about the next 20 years—a big chunk of the students’ careers—so they have the advantage of familiarity with the substance and process of the law.

Students helped their Least Developed Country service-learning partner, the Myanmar State Party delegation, negotiate its position. That highlight reinforces part of the VLS mission, to serve others in the community and the world.

“It really walks the talk. This small delegation from a little state like Vermont helped a struggling country that’s 12 hours away,” says Bach, delegation leader. Students also had substantive talks with environmental leaders including officials from the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency.

VLS’s delegation was among only a small number of higher education students at the conference. VLS hosted a gathering to connect students from U.S. and international law, undergraduate and graduate programs.

“VLS was punching above its weight. We put ourselves and the education of our students out there,” Bach says. “We now have 10 future graduates who understand international climate negotiations in a very detailed manner and, in particular, they understand this new agreement and how it came to be.”

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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 summer and fall of 2015:

  • Richard and Beth Ayres
  • Joshua L. Belcher ’08 and Sarah E. Belcher
  • Ingrid Busson-Hall ’99 
  • Joe Cook ’97
  • Brian Dunkiel ’96 and Leslie Halperin
  • Tom ’85 and Susan Durkin P’14 
  • Philip B. Flynn and Lois G. Golde P’18 
  • Bridgette Gallager ’11
  • Christopher ’77 and Martha Harold P’12 & ’13 
  • Edward T. Keable ’86 and Scot M. Rogerson
  • Kirk Marty ’96 
  • William L. McCoy, Esq. ’96 
  • David M. McCullough ’07 and Melissa C. McCullough
  • James A. Ostendorf ’13 
  • Joseph Perella ’88 
  • Katie Rowen ’05 and Jen Willis ’05 
  • Karen and Fernando Sotelino P’09   
  • William E. Taylor ’83

Gina McCarthy, EPA

2016 Commencement Speaker Announced

Gina McCarthy, Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, will speak at the Class of 2016 Commencement, Saturday, May 21, 2016. Administrator McCarthy, an outspoken environmental advocate, serves as the Obama administration’s point person in the use of administrative agency powers to lead the country’s efforts to address greenhouse gas emissions.

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