After a three-year hiatus, the popular “Celebrate Pro Bono Conference” was back on Sept. 20, live and in-person, at the State House in Montpelier. The conference, which drew 100 participants, occupied the heart of the building all day long. Attorneys came to learn about pro bono and low bono opportunities in Vermont and to get training in some of the areas where needs are great. The House and Senate Chambers were the backdrop for a total of seven CLEs. The Supreme Court arrived in the late afternoon to cap the day off with a ceremonial swearing-in of new attorneys. (More on that below).
There was no registration charge for the conference, but attendees were asked to donate $75 to the Vermont Bar Foundation. Donations were cheerfully made and a total of $4,000 was raised for the Poverty Law Fellow program, far surpassing expectations.
While tourists and the occasional Vermont legislator were sprinkled around – Bernie Sanders was spotted by the registration table – conference participants made the most of their statehouse takeover: learning, catching up with one another, and, of course, eating (only in the cafeteria, naturally).
The day started with continental breakfast but moved quickly to an ethics program led by Bar Counsel Mike Kennedy. Mike gave an overview of the ethics implicated in pro bono and low bono work, and reminded those assembled of the aspirational goal set in the attorney rules for 50 hours a year of pro bono work. He also led the applause for Mary Ashcroft, the VBA’s longtime Legal Access Coordinator and conference organizer, who will be retiring from her VBA service at the end of this year.
After Mike’s educational and thought-provoking presentation, concurrent panels were offered. These were, “Building Low Bono Work into A New Law Practice,” which featured Mary Ashcroft, Prof. Nicole Killoran of Vermont Law and Graduate School, and two current participants in the lawyer incubator program run by the VBA and VLS: Daniel Timm and Andrew Marchev. Those with an interest in family law had the option of attending, “The Custody Primer: How DO Judges Decide Who Gets the Kids.” That session was led by Laura Bierley of Vermont Legal Aid.
After that it was off to the cafeteria where the VBA-provided a bagged lunch and an opportunity for more conversation. The menu nudged school-days nostalgia for many (sandwich, apple, chips) and fueled all for the afternoon programs. Those were: “Landlord/Tenant ABCS,” led by Maggie Frye and Bradley Showman of Legal Service Vermont. The alternative program was, “Protective Orders: RFAs and No-Stalking Order Basics,” given by Harrison Drapo, a Legal Clinic Attorney at the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence also a former VBA/VLGS Incubator lawyer.
The educational part of the day closed with concurrent sessions on “Seeking Asylum: Preparing an Asylum Claim” scheduled alongside, “Post Adoption Contact Agreements.” The Asylum CLE was moderated by Legislative Counsel attorney and asylum volunteer Rebecca Wasserman. Profs. Jill Martin Diaz and Brett Stokes of Vermont Law and Graduate School were on the panel along with Kate Paarlberg-Kvam of the Community Asylum Seekers project. Attorneys Pam Marsh and Elizabeth Kruska joined with Lund Center social worker Christina Shuma to elucidate post-adoption contact agreements for their audience.
The day wasn’t over when the CLEs wrapped up. There was a raffle drawing for various prizes available to any who made that $75 donation (fun), followed shortly thereafter by the 2022 swearing-in ceremony for new Vermont Attorneys (moving). As if that weren’t enough, the VBF hosted a reception back in the cafeteria for conference attendees, the new lawyers, and the Supreme Court Justices – this time with hot food and a beautiful congratulatory cake made by state court administrator and past VBA executive director, Teri Corsones (more fun, more conversation. See that cake below).
The Swearing-In Ceremony was for 36 new Vermont attorneys. As it is a duty of the Supreme Court to administer the oath, the court was convened in the well of the house of representatives by Patricia Turley, Esq., the Chair of the Board of Bar Examiners. Vermont Supreme Court Justices, the Hon. Karen Carroll, William Cohen, Harold Eaton, and Nancy Waples were present.
The oath and welcome remarks were to have been delivered by Chief Justice, the Hon. Paul Reiber. Unfortunately, Justice Reiber was unwell and the duty was carried out by Justice Eaton. He read the remarks Justice Reiber had prepared and administered the oath. Justice Eaton invited all attorneys present to stand and renew their oaths alongside Vermont’s newest attorneys. Justice Reiber’s remarks were very well received and are available to read here.
VBA Executive Director Bob Paolini then added words of welcome and encouragement for the new attorneys to join the VBA and get involved.
Special thanks to all presenters and attendees, the State House Sergeant at Arms, Jim Knapp and Judge Dean Pineles for donating raffle prizes, and the Supreme Court for joining us at the State House for the swearing in ceremony.
To learn more about the pro bono and low bono opportunities in Vermont, click here.