Help Wanted: Vt. needs to lawyer up

Published: May. 17, 2022 at 2:30 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont attorneys are expected to be in demand in the coming years. The Vermont Bar Association says the state has the same amount of lawyers over the age of 80 as under the age of 30, likely leaving a big gap in the workforce in the years to come. As part of her ongoing series on high-demand jobs, Kayla Martin reports on efforts to attract younger lawyers.

It’s a typical morning for Justin Brown, a partner at the Burlington firm of Sheehey Furlong & Behm. He’s able to work from home with his cat, Toby. It’s a fairly flexible schedule that he didn’t have when working in a larger city.

“I moved back to Vermont because I wanted to have a good work-life balance. I didn’t want to work seven days a week, 12-hour days like I was putting in in Boston,” Brown said.

The Vermont native practiced law in the city to help pay back student loans. The pay was higher than jobs in the Green Mountains but Brown says the tradeoff was burnout. It’s a sacrifice he says many young lawyers make and part of why Vermont has trouble attracting young attorneys.

“We have an aging practice,” admitted Samantha Lednicky, an attorney with Catamount Law in Burlington. “We don’t have a huge population of lawyers to take over, so there is going to be a crisis if we don’t have a lot of young lawyers move to Vermont and learn from those attorneys before they retire.”

That mentorship is key to success according to James Spink, who runs a mediation practice in South Burlington. “My first trial in the ‘80s -- and I remember it well -- because one of my senior partners handed me a file and said the trials in a week, so I had to get ready and do it,” Spink said. Now, he says he can share his experience to help the next generation grow. “This is really a supportive atmosphere where you can learn and thrive.”

“It’s a small community in Vermont of lawyers, very collegial. The Vermont Bar Association has a new mentor program where they assign seasoned practitioners to younger lawyers to work with and help them develop and grow,” Brown said.

Spink and Brown agree that Vermont law firms offer more opportunities to advance in the field compared to a larger city. “Instead of being in the city and being a second chair for a trial for 10 to 15 years, by the time I was 15 years into my practice, I had dozens of trials under my belt,” Spink said.

“The pace at which you can become a partner at a small, medium, or large firm -- by Vermont standards -- I think is a lot quicker,” Added Brown.

Lednecky offers this advice for young attorney’s trying to make a decision on where to practice after law school: “Consider the burnout and consider the stressors you’re going to be under if you are seeking a really high-paying, corporate law firm type position.”

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