BURLINGTON — Vermont Law School opened a new office in Burlington Tuesday that will focus on supporting immigrants.
School and city officials cut the ribbon outside the office on the newly redeveloped St. Paul Street. The new space will offer legal assistance to local residents, expand educational opportunities for students, and house an admissions office.
Vermont Law School and city officials said the location in Burlington has been long sought after and will focus on supporting immigrants in Vermont’s largest city and most populous county.
Through the South Royalton Legal Clinic, a poverty law division of the school, lawyers and students work with Vermonters across the state who may be dealing with immigration issues, or are domestic violence survivors or veterans. The clinic has represented clients from 71 countries since its founding in 2003, according to its director, Erin Jacobsen.
“We have multitudes of cases like these, with more coming in the door every day,” Jacobsen said.
The new clinic will allow for VLS students to get hands-on experience with clients who are currently going through some kind of immigration law litigation.
Mayor Miro Weinberger said he was excited to welcome VLS to the city, adding that the school was a recent recipient of the Mayor’s Prize for supporting growth in the city.
Weinberger said Burlington has been a refugee resettlement community for more than 30 years, and has aimed over the decades to create a welcoming city for people around the world fleeing violence or other tragedies in their home countries.
“One of the calamities of the current federal administration is that the number of new Americans coming to Burlington has dropped dramatically in recent years,” Weinberger said. “It is really exciting that there is going to be this clinic here to be kind of a counterweight to that to be fighting for people who are looking to make Burlington their home.”
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Beyond immigration law, Weinberger said he is hopeful the clinic can help support economic development in the city. Most startups are really energetic about their company but may ignorant about laws that apply to new companies, he said. Weinberger hopes the new clinic will create another local option for Burlingtonians to get clear answers about the law and to support more growth in the Queen City.
President and Dean of VLS Thomas McHenry said the school had been talking about an expansion in Burlington “for a long time” with a focus on immigration services. McHenry said the South Royalton clinic is already the leading provider of legal services in Windsor County, providing more than $1.5 million in pro bono services to Vermonters every year.
“This is the most immigrant rich community in Vermont here in Burlington,” McHenry said. “This is the natural place for us to be.”
McHenry said the multi-use space will also support students at the University of Vermont and VLS through UVM’s “3+2 Program,” where students can earn a bachelor’s degree followed by a juris doctor degree in a total of five years. The main area of the new office is set up much like a classroom, and McHenry said this can be used to facilitate classes or set up video call-in classes with the VLS main campus in Royalton.
VLS would also like to continue expansion of its Entrepreneurship and Legal Lab Program. The program provides opportunities for entrepreneurs to work with VLS students to learn more about how to successfully start a company, navigate the legal challenges and have a focus on sustainable environmental impact, all while providing the services pro bono, McHenry said.
“I have yet to learn of any business in Vermont that doesn’t have some positive environmental impact associated with it,” McHenry said.
The new office, at 162 St. Paul St., is now taking appointments for clinic services.
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