Laura’s Recap of 2011

January: Edward and I started the New Year in Oklahoma City,of all places! My mother has a house there now with her partner David, and I hadn’t yet seen her new digs. My brother and his girlfriend Gina flew in from Eugene, Oregon. In short, we converged from all over the country, had great food, drink, conversation and music, and explored OK City and the environs.

Outside the museum. A moving spot indeed.

Most notably, we visited the site of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in 1995, a place I’ve wanted to go for a long time. (I highly recommend this living museum. Not an easy museum to make one’s way through, but I’m very glad I did. Here’s the link to the museum.

January and February were bittersweet months. In January, the law firm where I’d spent most of my law clerkship underwent a major change. My two mentors, Dave Sleigh and Dave Williams parted company. For over three years, I’d had the good fortune to work at this remarkable firm and get unprecedented exposure to the hard realities of law practice. In retrospect, their breakup appears to have been for the best, and I have maintained a great relationship with both of them, but those initial weeks were a sad time: this extraordinary and near-legendary Vermont law partnership had come to an end. I was lucky to have been a part of it, but now it was over and we all somehow had to move on. I’d been planning to stop working by April 1 to start bar exam study; with the change, I adjusted my study plans and decided to plunge in a bit earlier. I was sad about something wonderful coming to an end, but looked forward to a new chapter in my life and career.

February: I began bar exam study. From February through mid-April, I studied approximately 3-5 hours a day. The rest of the time, I worked on various law research and writing projects for Dave Williams, to complete the last leg of my clerkship requirements. In February, I took an online MBE immersion course, and I designed a program of study leading up to May, when the study would then become truly high-powered and ultra-structured.

March: Our beautiful Belgian sheepdog Simone de Beauvoir passed away on March 28. She was just a few months shy of her 14th birthday. This was a devastating loss to us, but I confess it was also something of a relief. During the last month or so, her health was severely compromised; when her time finally came, I felt glad that her suffering was over. She was a unique dog, so elegant and refined. And she was the first dog I’d ever had as an adult. Happy hunting grounds, darling Simone!

Federal Building, Burlington. The location of U..S. District Court, where I more or less lived for two solid weeks during the trial

April: I spent the first two weeks of April as defense counsel trial assistant for Dave Williams on a federal conspiracy trial in Burlington. It was amazing! I learned an astonishing amount and had the opportunity to do many new things (such as draft defense counsel jury instructions!) (Many thanks to Tim and Leslie Nulty for letting me stay at their beautiful home in Jericho during much of the trial). Once it was over, I elbowed almost everything else out of my life so I could study for the bar exam.

May: On May 15, I turned in my final law office clerkship report to the Vermont Board of Bar Examiners and Supreme Court, hence “graduating” from Vermont’s unique four year alternative to law school. One of many milestones to come during 2011!

After months of spending hours each day perched in front of a laptop or with my nose in a book, I developed some serious neck and shoulder pain. I had many despairing days of panic as I wondered how I could possibly prepare effectively for the bar exam with such excruciating pain. Thank goodness for the great physical therapist Stacy Hicks, of the Carlisle Place, who put me on a strict program of exercise and instructed me on exactly how to sit when I studied. Because by this time, I was studying 7 hours per day. Thankfully, after about two weeks on the regimen, the pain cleared up completely.

At the end of May, I had the honor of being appointed by Governor Peter Shumlin to a three year term as Act 250 Commissioner for District 7, which covers the Northeast Kingdom counties of Caledonia, Essex and Orleans. For those non-Vermonters among you, Act 250 is the mechanism by which Vermont regulates development. For each district, there are a group of citizen-commissioners who act in a quasi-judicial role to mitigate the environmental costs of development. Act 250 was passed in the 1970s and in sum, is pretty much the reason why Vermont retains much of its beauty and has avoided blight. Under Act 250, Commissioners employ the now-famous 10 criteria to rule on development projects. In my politically conservative corner of Vermont, Act 250 has taken a lot of heat. But the reality is that in a rural state which must strike a balance between much-needed economic development and environmental concerns, Act 250 is beneficial to both would be developers and the environmentalists. It provides a clear and consistent framework and guidelines for responsible development. For more information on Act 250, visit the Natural Resources Board website.

One of my law study corners. When not here, I was at Weeks Memorial Library in Lancaster.

June and July: these months were a blur. I really cannot remember much during this period, except that I studied like a madwoman. In the last two weeks before the exam, I had a couple of hours-long meltdowns, but I easily could have had more, so I count myself lucky. During all of June and July, I was on a strict regimen of study, starting at 8:30am each morning, a half hour break for lunch and a short walk, then study until dinner time, then another quick walk, and then another hour of study. I took the Vermont Bar Exam on July 26 and 27 in Montpelier, Vermont, at the Capitol Plaza Hotel.

August: After the bar exam, I allowed myself one and a half days of complete rest. Then I started studying—again, for 8 hours per day—for the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam. The test was held on August 5, down in South Royalton, at Vermont Law School. Finally, the studying and exams were over and I embarked upon the torture of waiting and wondering….

In the meantime, our town and school district erupted in controversy. I’ve written on this blog many times already about that controversy, so I need not repeat details here.

The School Board controversy has divided some friends and neighbors and created some uncomfortably tense moments. On the other hand, there’s a positive side to the whole affair. For starters, there has been an amazing level of community involvement around this issue. In our town, like in many places, people get mad about things all the time and in most cases, they just complain. But in this instance, people did more than get mad—-they got constructive with their anger. Instead of just complaining behind each others’ backs, they spoke up and took action. There was a groundswell of local activism that frankly surprised even me. Even if it’s been difficult, our town has changed for the better. Conflict is never easy, but when handled through proper channels of local democracy and the legal system, conflict can also be inspiring and downright empowering. It’s been pretty exciting to watch as some normally very reticent and even shy people take a public stand against something they believe to be unjust and unfair.

Earnest judges at the Lancaster Fair Pie Contest, Day 1

September: I entered two piemaking contests, at the Lancaster Fair. And I won second prize at the Apple Pie contest! It was very exciting! My first pie contests ever! (This later flowered into to a renewed commitment to pastry skills).

On behalf of one of Dave Williams’ clients, I traveled to the Charlotte, NC area for two days to do mitigation research for an upcoming sentencing hearing. My task: to interview the client’s family members on video in order to learn more about the defendant’s childhood and background. I flew into Charlotte, NC, checked into a hotel, and then spent two full days in a rental car driving around the North Carolina countryside interviewing people and taking photos. While I’m there, I got an email informing me I passed the Professional Responsibility Exam!

September 23, 2011, I received my bar exam results in the mail—I passed! (I confess it took me about a month for the news to truly sink in; the habit of worrying about bar exam results was tough to shake.)

November: I might also call this the year that Laura got serious about pastry. I’ve been refining and working on my baking skills. In the aftermath of the piemaking contest, I decided to do a pie extravaganza for Thanksgiving. I designed a menu of six pies, carefully chosen for diversity, the season, and the individual tastes of guests. I baked all the pies the day before, so I wasn’t rushed, and was hence super-focused on technique. Each and every one turned out great. Even the one untested project—the blackberry almond tart—was very popular.

December: On December 7, I was sworn in to practice law at the Vermont Supreme Court. Amazing!

Then, of course, my job search began in earnest, until the holiday break.

Christmas at the Guildhall house

For the first time since 2006, we spent Christmas right here in Guildhall, and we even had a tree. My mother and five of our Guildhall friends and neighbors came over on Christmas Eve Dinner and Christmas Day itself.

Lay Low, at Dillon's in Reykjavik, approximately midnight

On December 28, Edward and I flew from Boston to Reykjavik, Iceland, to spend New Year’s. Shortly after I passed the bar exam, we decided on a celebratory trip to Iceland. For years, we’ve wanted to spend New Year’s in Reykjavik, the hippest city on earth! The trip was short, but sweet, and just the thing we needed. We went to a museum–sometimes two–every day we were there. We heard great live music. We had a different kind of international cuisine every night, including at a fantastic Bulgarian restaurant. We did a lot of people watching, and in a city like Reykjavik, you never tire of it! On New Year’s Eve, we drank champagne in a glass-domed revolving restaurant overlooking the city and watched the best fireworks display I’ve ever seen anywhere.

Happy New Year, to all my readers, wherever and whoever you are!

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