Saturday, July 11, 2020
The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed a decision to deny an applicant an opportunity to sit for the bar examination.
Vermont has an alternative to law school
Vermont is among a limited number of states that, as an alternative to law school attendance, “permit candidates for admission to the bar to qualify to take the bar examination on the basis of four years of study” supervised by an attorney or judge.
Applicant successfully completed Vermont’s Law Office Study (LOS) Program in April 2000. Thereafter, applicant sat for the Vermont bar exam four times between 2002 and 2004, failing each time.
As to the present application
Nothing in the rules provides any waiver of the five-year time limitation for previously unsuccessful applicants. Applicant could have continued his attempts to pass the bar in the 2004 timeframe, under the rules applicable at that time, and elected not to do so. His application to take the bar exam in 2020 must be governed by the rules currently in existence. See Boutin, 153 Vt. at 565, 572 A.2d at 909. The five-year limitation under the current rules is clear and it applied to the applicant.
The time limitation in Rule 9(b)(1) may be waived by the BBE upon a showing of good cause. Applicant’s argument that good cause exists for the BBE to grant a waiver of the time limitation is unclear, but appears to be based upon applicant’s assertion that, between 2004 and the present, he has engaged in work providing him with ongoing experience in the law. In considering the application, the BBE concluded applicant had not had significant contact with the law and with legal matters since he completed his LOS Program.
We agree with the BBE’s finding that there was no cause to extend the five-year limitation. Applicant has not had any formal legal study since 2004. Applicant’s employment history as set forth in his application shows that, since 2007, he has worked as a musician for several years, as a residential real-estate manager for a church, as a teacher of paralegal studies at a for-profit school at some point between 2009 and 2014, and, since 2016, as a court reporter taking notes and assisting Social Security Administration judges. The later supplement to his application briefly stated that he also taught paralegal courses at a second for-profit school, performed temporary legal assignments of an unspecified nature, and assisted others with their legal issues. Applicant indicates his work as a court reporter has given him constant daily exposure to legal terminology, case theories, hearing strategy, hearing procedure, and the law. Applicant bears the burden to establish good cause. V.R.A.B. 9(c)(4) (“Before taking the [UBE], the Applicant must prove fulfillment of the education requirements.”). Although applicant’s most recent employment touches on some aspects of the law, on this record we cannot say the BBE abused its discretion in finding no good cause and denying applicant’s request for a waiver of the five-year time limitation between completion of his LOS Program and his attempt to take the 2020 bar exam. See, e.g., In re Hart, 2008 VT 26, ¶¶ 3, 5, 183 Vt. 602, 949 A.2d 447 (mem.) (adopting BBE’s recommendation not to award applicant credit toward LOS Program for studies “occur[ing] between eight to sixteen years earlier” at unaccredited law school because this education was “stale” and “outdated”). Absent such a waiver, applicant was ineligible to sit for the 2020 bar examination because he did not meet the requirements of Rule 9(b)(1), and his application was properly denied.