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VBA President Novotny Publishes Comment

VBA President Beth Novotny published a comment correcting the misrepresentations made about attorneys by the subject of a VT Digger article. President Novotny chose to praise Vermont lawyers for all of the committment and good deeds performed during this crisis and generally in her response to the article. See below for her comments or find the article and comment, here.

As published:

As the President of the Vermont Bar Association, and an attorney with 32 years of professional experience in Vermont, I would like to correct the gross misrepresentations offered by the CEO of the corporate entity referenced in the article. During this health care crisis it is imperative that Vermonters know and understand that our Vermont lawyers are:

  1. Providing people with legal advice and services remotely, and in person when necessary due to the client’s needs, in compliance with  the Governor’s “Stay at Home” Order;
  2. Going to court or participating in court hearings, to include probate court hearings, in compliance with the Vermont Supreme Court’s Emergency Administrative Order # 49;
  3. Using modern technology including cloud services, cell phones, tablets and portable computers, encryption and remote meeting platforms to better assist their clients; and
  4. Charging reasonable fees, which is their obligation under Rule 1.5 of the Vermont Rules of Professional Conduct. To my knowledge no attorney in Vermont charges “tens of thousands of dollars” for a routine will or probate matter.

In early March, before the Governor issued the Stay at Home Order, the Vermont Bar Association (VBA) started to plan for how the bar and its members could respond to the public health crisis related to COVID-19. In every discussion with the VBA, lawyers focused on how lawyers can better serve their communities and the needs of their clients. As a result, the VBA worked with the Legislature, Vermont Secretary of State and the Judiciary to secure:

  1. The creation of  Emergency Rules that permits documents to be notarized remotely.
  2. Legislation enabling the remote witnessing/execution of wills (Act 96),powers of attorney (Act 95), and Advanced Health Care Directives - the latter currently pending approval by the Vermont House and the Senate.
  3. Extension of statutes of limitations in certain circumstances (Act 95).

The VBA and its recently formed COVID 19 Committee (comprised of lawyers volunteering their time) are working to ascertain ways to ensure access to justice, provide COVID-19 legal services to low-income Vermonters, provide Vermont lawyers with the tools they need to best serve all their clients during this crisis and to support our larger Vermont community. 

In addition to the free (“pro bono”) or reduced fee (“low bono”) legal service lawyers often provide to those with limited financial means, they give back to their communities in a variety of other ways. Vermont lawyers are your neighbors and friends. They coach sports teams, serve on boards for non-profits, volunteer for good causes and show up when a neighbor needs help.  They care about Vermont and Vermonters.  And unlike a corporate entity designed to sell a product without oversight related to professional legal standards or consumer protection, Vermont lawyers are ethically obligated to meet legal professional standards embodied in the Vermont Rules of Professional Conduct. 

Even the corporate entity discussed in this article acknowledges (home webpage at the very bottom) that forms are no substitute for legal advice provided by licensed attorneys: “If you think you need legal advice please consult a licensed attorney.” Now that is sound advice:  Consulting with a lawyer about your estate is the best way for you to ensure that your wishes for loved ones are met upon your death. And in case you are wondering, despite my many years as a lawyer, I hired a Vermont lawyer to draft my will and estate plan.

Elizabeth Novotny

President

Vermont Bar Association