Vermont Law School opens immigration, criminal justice legal aid clinic downtown
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Vermont Law School opens immigration, criminal justice legal aid clinic downtown

Vermont Law and Graduate School now has a larger presence in downtown Burlington.

The school received a $975,000 federal grant, secured by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to combine their immigration legal aid clinic and broader justice reform work into the Center for Justice Reform Clinic, which will be in their new downtown Burlington office.

The office, on the fourth floor of 126 College St., officially opened June 22, a milestone marked by a ribbon cutting and speeches by the mayor, the president of Vermont Law and Graduate School and the dean of the law school.

Mayor Miro Weinberger and Rod Smolla, president of Vermont Law and Graduate School, cut the ribbon to officially open the school's downtown location.  The office will be the home of the school's new Center for Justice Reform Clinic, which will offer legal aid to people in the criminal justice system and immigrants.

Mayor Miro Weinberger and Rod Smolla, president of Vermont Law and Graduate School, cut the ribbon to officially open the school’s downtown location. The office will be the home of the school’s new Center for Justice Reform Clinic, which will offer legal aid to people in the criminal justice system and immigrants.

“This will be an opportunity for us to provide free services to Vermonters and to help them with various aspects of the criminal justice system and it also provides us the opportunity to bring our students here to help represent those clients,” said law school Dean Beth McCormack.

Vermont Law School’s South Royalton Legal Clinic began taking immigration cases for the first time in 2014, but the law school has never had free legal aid based in Burlington, making it difficult for many immigrants to access services. The new office will expand access to the large concentration of immigrants living in Burlington as well as people involved in the criminal justice system.

McCormack said their broader justice reform work involves helping people with expungements and pardons as well as using restorative justice practices.

“Sen. Sanders believes that we must put an end to the prison industrial complex and invest in solutions that prioritize human life and seek real justice, not greed and profit, and this new center is an important step in that direction,” said Haley Pero , outreach director for the office of Bernie Sanders, at the press conference.

Rod Smolla, president of Vermont Law and Graduate School, speaks at the grand opening of the school's downtown Burlington location.  The office will be the home of the school's new Center for Justice Reform Clinic, which will offer <a href=legal aid to people in the criminal justice system and immigrants.” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/346DkzmdJKuDZ1tjno0nHg–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTUyOQ–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/the-burlington-free-press/50c65df1addda4c9713b3e66b67e734a”/>

Rod Smolla, president of Vermont Law and Graduate School, speaks at the grand opening of the school’s downtown Burlington location. The office will be the home of the school’s new Center for Justice Reform Clinic, which will offer legal aid to people in the criminal justice system and immigrants.

The school opened a small office downtown in 2020, but it was not big enough for students to work in or attend a class, McCormack said. In addition to being the home of the legal aid clinic, the new location is large enough to host classes for students participating in their online hybrid law degree program. Online students will come to the downtown Burlington location three times during their three-year program to take in-person classes and network with faculty, staff, other students and the larger legal community in Burlington.

The location will also host community events, continuing education programs, training programs, networking opportunities and will be the liaison between undergraduate institutions in the Burlington area and the law and graduate schools.

“We really want to be in a place where we have access to the very rich undergraduate population that’s here in Burlington,” McCormack said.

Contact Urban Change Reporter Lilly St. Angelo at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @lilly_st_ang.

This article originally appeared on Burlington Free Press: Vermont Law and Graduate School: Law school opens Burlington clinic

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