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Cathryn "Cappy" Nunlist

A photo of Cathryn "Cappy" Nunlist
Practicing law means resolving problems on a principled basis, and that is a useful skill in many areas of life.”

Assistant Director of the General Practice Program
Associate Professor of Law

Lex Pro Urbe et Orbe? VLS Professor Cathryn "Cappy" Nunlist has the Urbe well covered. Her law ambitions were nurtured while working at her father's general practice office, about an hour south of the Hanover, New Hampshire, offices of Stebbins, Bradley, Harvey, Miller, & Brooks, where she practices now. An interest in learning by doing drove her to apply to the General Practice Program (GPP) in the fall of 1988, the first year this unique four-semester program was offered. In 2000, she accepted the position of assistant director and began teaching two GPP courses. She is delighted to offer to a new generation of students the same "hands-on" experience she had.

Maintaining what she describes as a "close to full-time practice" in family and education law as well as a VLS faculty position sounds like a balancing act, but Cappy's had experience: the youngest of her three children was in kindergarten when she entered law school in 1987. "I bypassed the angst a lot of law students seem to have," she recalls. "I didn't have time for angst!" Such "think on your feet" flexibility is important for lawyers, she feels, as is a sense of perspective. "Practicing law means resolving problems on a principled basis, and that is a useful skill in many areas of life."

The GPP excels in giving students the tools with which to resolve those problems. Unlike practice programs that rely on whatever cases might present at a clinic, the GPP simulates legal problems and can be tailored to cover important hands-on skills. Students learn to interview, write complaints, and draft contracts and wills, and engage in other exercises designed to put theory into practice.

"Very few cases wind up being fully litigated today," Cappy says, citing the cost in both time and money. "And many transactions don't involve litigation. Law school generally gives you the blocks of knowledge but not how to use them," which is where the GPP comes in. As part of the program, each student is also assigned a mentor, a practicing lawyer with whom to attend court hearings or other legal activities outside the classroom. The result of GPP participation, Cappy hopes, is less "combat" litigation and better problem-solving. "We train our students to avoid problems by being more careful with their contracts and advising clients earlier on potential conflicts," she says. "It's a much more satisfying way to practice." And it's a satisfying way to learn. The GPP has just expanded its reach from 16 to 24 students from each of the second and third years, while keeping each class size small and responsive.

As for flexibility, Cappy and her husband, a family doctor in White River Junction, have a bit more of it lately. "The kids are off, we've paid for their college," she notes, and that leaves more opportunity for skiing, biking, tennis, and the occasional trip to trek in the Himalayas and hike the trail to Machu Picchu.