ST. ALBANS — Senior Vermont legal professionals are doing a different kind of bar hopping. Representatives from the Vermont Bar Association and the Vermont Supreme Court are visiting each county in the state, listening to locals’ perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of their legal system.
None of the general public attended the listening tour’s stop at the St. Albans Museum Monday night, but local judges, attorneys and court personnel easily spent an hour and a half sharing their perspectives, mostly on problems plaguing law practices in rural Vermont.
The listening panel included Paul Reiber, the Vermont Supreme Court’s Chief Justice, Gary Franklin, the Vermont Bar Association’s president, Judge Robert Mello, Franklin County’s presiding judge, and Vaughn Comeau, president of the Franklin-Grand Isle Counties Bar.
Local practitioners and legal workers expressed concern about attracting young lawyers, the loss of court discretion, blocking access to justice and how rotating workers, including judges and attorneys, detract from legal efficiency.
Shane Clark, an attorney at St. Albans’ Kissane Associates, said he’s aware of one other practicing Franklin County attorney under the age of 40.
Clark didn’t ask why any young attorney would come to Franklin County. He asked how any younger attorney could afford to. Clark estimated a new lawyer would pay about $1,500 a month in loan debt, on top of Vermont’s other costs of living.
The Vermont Law School is, as its name suggests, the state’s lone law school. One year there, full time, costs just under $50,000, compared to just over $30,000 for the nearby State University of New York (SUNY) Buffalo.
Comeau echoed Clark. Comeau, who has his own practice in Enosburg Falls, plainly stated that a lawyer can’t come to Franklin County for law school, with debts, and expect to make a living.
Comeau said being a small-town lawyer is a public service, comparable to working in the medical or education fields, both of which, he said, receive more financial assistance.
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