Prof. Firestone on the early days of VLS

[Editor’s Note: This piece originally ran in the May 3, 1976 edition of The Forum under the headline “Retrospective—Prospective.” We republish it here in full.]

By Prof. David B. Firestone

A hot, dry summer day in South Royalton—1973. Lunch in a dimly lit storefront restaurant—the Pappagallo. Quiet whispers among people meeting each other for the first time. Yes, to some of the original cast of players, it seemed like a scene from a movie we knew but whose title we couldn’t recall. Listen to, or remember, the words of those whispers: “This is South Royalton?” “Where is the library?” “Who are the teachers?” “Where are the teachers?” “Who is Doria?” Thus began Vermont Law School. Something over 100 students; two full-time faculty members; many other faculty members, some of whom seemed to appear nowhere other than in the school catalogue; and its founder and dean, Anthony N. Doria.

The motivation for the existence of Vermont Law School was a question about which reasonable minds differed, but one thing was clear—Vermont Law School did exist. My purpose is not to delve into that motivation nor to dwell on nostalgia, but rather to make brief note of the progress and direction of the school since its founding.

The discussions in the early days of Vermont Law School centered around questions such as would the school continue to exist beyond its first year, would American Bar Association approval be obtained, and would the students be able to take bar examinations and practice law. Today’s parallel questions are on a far different plane—what are meaningful legal writing programs for students, and how soon will the school achieve the stature to quality for approval by the Association of American Law Schools.

With respect to legal writing, the faculty has recently devoted a substantial commitment of faculty time to the creation and implementation of a strong legal writing program. The regular faculty members will each be working with small numbers of students to provide close, personal supervision of the first-year moot court competition as well as the preparation of a first-year legal memorandum. Other plans are also being formulated to ensure that Vermont Law School students will be provided with the opportunity for superior training in legal writing. Concerning approval by the Association of American Law Schools, the faculty and dean are committed to AALS approval as soon as possible. To this end, the library collection is being expanded rapidly and new facilities are being designed to house that expanded collection. Thus, while this year’s graduation class will remember writing in notebooks held on their laps because we had no desks for a large part of the school’s first year, subsequent graduating classes will likely see an addition to our present library which is itself less than one year old.

Besides having moved into an era of striving for excellence rather than merely for continued existence, Vermont Law School has shifted away from its early proclamation of specialization in international law. Vermont Law School should, as its first priority, achieve excellence in basic legal education. It can and should, however, go beyond basic legal education to make a further significant contribution to the legal community. Since this school cannot be all things to all people, it would appear that the choice of one area of specialization, at least for the present, is a wise decision which will bring credit to the school and provide a benefit to society. The choice of environmental law also appears to be wise in view of the State of Vermont’s involvement with environmental matters and the state’s small size which makes it accessible to movements for change as well as a manageable laboratory for analyzing the effects of change.

From a very unstable beginning, Vermont Law School has come a long way—certainly not to a position of great accomplishment, but, I believe, to a position of great expectations. How so far, so fast? Certainly no one can deny that Vermont Law School is where it is today because of Dean Thomas Debevoise. While some may disagree with his decisions from time to time, this spring’s graduation, if it had come to pass, would not be much of an occasion to celebrate without his efforts. Much credit for the school’s transformation is also due to the students who had the courage to speak and act when major change was necessary in order for the school to survive. With the students’ past contributions having been so vital to the viability of Vermont Law School, the future success of the institution will be even more dependent on those who receive their legal education in South Royalton. That dependence begins this year with our first graduating class—our first ambassadors. One hopes that they will approach their opportunities with their best efforts and a high degree of competence, but, as our ambassadors, one thing is to be hoped for able all else—professional integrity. By combining honesty, diligence, and competence in their work, our students will contribute to the growing educational excellence of Vermont Law School. The future of Vermont Law School ultimately depends on the future of its students.

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