Vermont Bar Journal
THE VERMONT BAR JOURNALVolume 35, No. 3Fall 2009 PRESIDENT'S COLUMN An Interview with VBA President Eileen BlackwoodBy Robert M. Paolini, Esq.On September 25, 2009, at the VBA Annual Meeting at the Lake Morey Inn, the presidential gavel was passed to Eileen Blackwood. Recently, VBA Executive Director, Bob Paolini, sat down with Ms. Blackwood at her offce in Hinesburg to learn more about her background and her goals for the coming year.
Bob Paolini: I am sitting with Eileen Blackwood, who, by the time you all get to read this issue of the Journal, will be the president of the Vermont Bar Association. Good afternoon, Eileen, and thanks for taking time for this conversation. I have been doing this for a number of years, maybe ten years now, always trying to have a conversation with the president-elect/new president of the bar, just to get some background information and to inform our members that may not know you, who you are, and how you became president of the Vermont Bar Association. We know that you are a partner in Kohn Rath Blackwood and Danon in Hinesburg, but let's go back to college and law school and to how you came to Vermont.
Eileen Blackwood: Ok, sure. I grew up in Virginia, and I came up north to go to Dartmouth College as an undergrad. Then I taught school. I wrote a special major in Women's Studies in Education, and taught school in Vermont for a few years, and decided that it wasn't where I wanted to stay. So I went to Cornell Law School. After law school, I decided to come back to Vermont, and got a clerkship with Judge Billings in the U.S. District Court down in Rutland-one of his frst few years, maybe his third or forth as U.S. District Judge.
BP: What years would tat have been?
EB: That was 1986-1987. After clerking for him, I went to work for Paul Frank and Collins in Burlington, particularly because I was interested in doing education law. I wanted to stick to my interest in education, and they were representing some school districts and trying to expand their practice in that area. I worked there for about fve years, and then I decided to start my own practice with a law partner; we founded Blackwood and Kraynak at that point, and since then I have had my own practice. My frst partner left the practice of law, and I did a small practice with a couple of associates for a few years, and then Beth Danon joined me and she and I merged with Kohn and Rath in January of this year.
BP: I have always associated your name with education law. But what else have you done during your years in practice?
EB: In addition to education law, the other area that I have done a lot of work in is employment law, partly because they go together really well. Both involve discrimination issues. In the education feld, a lot of it is in special education and that got me working with families that have kids with disabilities. So we do a lot of practice in the area of disability law, a wide range of things. My law partner, Beth, has some experience in doing disability law as well. I also do a fair amount of estate planning.
BP: So you brought those disciplines to your new frm here. What do Roger and David do? Mostly real estate?
EB: David does a lot of banking work and real estate, and Roger does a lot of real estate, but he also does employment law. I have known Roger for a long time, mostly through our work in the employment arena, representing employees who have had issues with their jobs, mostly being fred, but also other issues on the job. For a long time I represented both employers and employees in matters; most employers that I represent are small businesses or non-profts, and I represent a lot of employees in employment matters.
BP: You have had a pretty extensive trial practice.
EB: Yes, though in the civil arena, since the time I started practice, you just don't try cases as much in civil court. Mediation started within the frst fve or six years that I was in practice. I got on to the ENE panel in the federal court, got trained as a mediator, and started doing mediations. We also started doing a lot of mediating, generally, in our civil practice. It hasn't been a heavily trial practice, in terms of actually trying cases. But I love to try cases; I just haven't had the opportunity.
BP: You raised this issue about federal court. Do you practice more in federal or state courts?
EB: A lot of the employment law practice has been in the federal court over the years, because there is a lot of federal law related to employment issues. In addition, the education practice, in special education law, is an administrative practice with an appeal to the federal court, so it is primarily a federal court practice.
BP: You said you were on the ENE panel. I know you are also doing some work on the disciplinary panel for the Second Circuit, volunteer work, I should say. Tell us a little bit about that.
EB: I think I got on that panel two or three years ago, as there is always one Vermonter on the panel. This is a panel set up by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to handle attorney discipline matters; I think it's called the Second Circuit Committee on Admissions and Grievances.. It has been very active in the past two years, and we hold hearings in New York City involving attorneys with whom the Second Circuit has disciplinary concerns. It's been a very exciting panel to be involved in, and has allowed me to see a lot of different practices and at different levels of practice...