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History & Mission

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our Mission statement

"To educate students in a diverse community that fosters personal growth and that enables them to attain outstanding professional skills and high ethical values with which to serve as lawyers and environmental and other professionals in an increasingly technological and interdependent global society."

our motto

Law for the community and the world


Vermont Law School was established in 1972 and held its first classes in the summer of 1973 with 113 students in what was then known as the old South Royalton schoolhouse (and today is Debevoise Hall). The law school hadn’t yet been approved by the American Bar Association—a factor of great concern, since most states require graduation from an ABA-approved law school for admission to the bar.

In December 1973, VLS was certified by the Vermont Board of Education as an institution of higher learning. Provisional ABA approval came in February 1975. Bells rang when the news arrived, and classes were cancelled. The law school's charter class graduated in spring 1976. Full approval by the ABA came in 1978, and the law school was accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) in 1980. VLS became a member of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) in 1981.

The Environmental Law Center opened its doors in 1978 with eight master's degree students. The Environmental Law Center now offers the most comprehensive environmental law and policy curriculum in the nation. Its program is consistently top-ranked by U.S. News & World Report, and confers both the Master of Environmental Law and Policy (MELP) and Master of Laws in Environmental Law (LLM) degrees.

The South Royalton Legal Clinic was established in 1979 for the area's low-income residents. Student clinicians provide help for persons otherwise unable to afford counsel in areas such as family law, juvenile law and children's rights, civil rights and civil liberties, consumer protection, bankruptcy, and immigration. In the 2009–10 academic year, working under state and federal student practice rules, 53 of our student clinicians represented clients in over 220 court and administrative hearings in 21 different venues.

The General Practice Program was created in 1987 and quickly grew. The GPP is an important VLS program and is recipient of the American Bar Association's prestigious E. Smythe Gambrell Award for Professionalism. This national award is presented to law schools and other organizations in recognition for advancing professionalism in the practice of law.

The Julien and Virginia Cornell Library opened in 1991. Today, the library contains 149,000 titles and over 349,000 volumes; wireless and remote access, and a full staff of information professionals who are experts in teaching, providing reference services, and selecting legal resources.

The James L. and Evelena S. Oakes Hall building was constructed and dedicated in 1998. Incorporating "green building" techniques along with the latest classroom technology, Oakes Hall is an energy-efficient and modern teaching facility.

In 2005 the old South Royalton schoolhouse, where that first Vermont Law School class studied in 1973, was renovated and renamed Debevoise Hall, after one of the first deans of the law school, Thomas M. Debevoise. Renovations balanced historical preservation with design efficiency and environmental awareness. Debevoise Hall was the first LEED Silver Certified building in Vermont. The Hall continues to serve as classroom space and now also houses administration offices, the Environmental Law Center, and the Yates Common Room—a gathering place that serves as the campus's "living room."

In 2012, a new home was created for the Center for Legal Services, South Royalton Legal Clinic, and Environmental and Natural Resources Legal Clinic from a revitalized building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Located on the edge of campus in the heart of the South Royalton Historic District, the building was purchased by Vermont Law School in 2009 after having served the South Royalton community as a commercial site since 1869. The new building is the 16th of 19 historic properties on the VLS campus that have been repurposed, and continues the our tradition of undertaking award-winning historic preservation projects that are also models of energy efficiency. The building also includes the campus book and coffee shop, and was dedicated on May 21, 2012, with remarks given by Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin and Vermont Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Reiber.

In 2013, we celebrated the grand opening of a new fitness center for students, faculty, and staff. The 4,100-foot, one-story fitness center includes a spinning and yoga studio, as well as an exercise room with a mix of free weights as well as cardiovascular and weight training machines, including new treadmills, ellipticals, and bikes for spinning. The facilities also include men’s and women’s locker rooms with showers and restrooms, and storage for yoga mats and clothing. In addition, equipment from the VLS student gear shed –which includes kayaks, canoes, tents, fishing poles, mountain climbing equipment, cross country skis, poles, and boots, and ice skates -- has been relocated to a new storage facility adjacent to the fitness center.

The fitness center has a contemporary, environmentally sustainable design compatible with the historic architecture of South Royalton and Vermont Law School. Naturally sited in the slope of a hill to take advantage of constant soil temperatures, the VLS fitness center is highly energy efficient and uses low-maintenance materials with a natural feeling. The roof, walls, and high-performance windows are extensively insulated, and the southern roof has the potential for photovoltaics. The interior design features bamboo flooring, high-efficiency lighting, and natural cross-ventilation. Best management practices for storm-water runoff, including permeable pavement and rain gardens, have been followed. Large windows with a high R-value exist throughout the building and provide a view of the White River.