From October 23, 2019 – MaineBiz
The University of Maine School of Law said it has received funding to continue the Rural Lawyer Project, launched in 2017 to improve access to justice in rural communities.
Danielle Conway initiated the program during her tenure as dean, in a three-year pilot with funding from the Maine Justice Foundation. She repeatedly expressed a desire to see it permanently endowed and expanded.
Conway, honored as a Mainebiz Woman to Watch in 2017, left her position at Maine Law earlier this year to become dean of Penn State’s Dickinson Law. Dmitry Bam is now the interim dean at the law school in Portland.
For the next three years, funding for the Rural Lawyer Project will come from the Betterment Fund, created for charitable purposes by the will of William Bingham II, in the areas of education, health, conservation and community support. Maine Law did not specify the funding amount in its Tuesday announcement.
“Maine Law is committed to supporting rural communities throughout Maine and beyond,” said Bam said in a statement. “The Rural Lawyer Project has been a tremendous success since its inception, and this grant will allow us to continue to place Maine Law students in small firms and solo practices in rural Maine, furthering economic and workforce development throughout the state.”
In the program, law students work under the guidance of practitioners to learn what rural practice is all about and serve clients in communities the trainees might not otherwise be exposed to. The program participants are selected each year through a competitive application process.
According to the school, the number of student and mentor applications so far has greatly exceeded the number of spots, reflecting growing interest in the program.
Students have previously served with firms in Presque Isle, Skowhegan, Dover-Foxcroft, Damariscotta, Calais and Camden.
Ryan Rutledge, a 2019 Maine Law graduate who spent two summers as a Rural Practice Fellow with different firms, now practices as an associate attorney at Mills, Shay, Lexier & Talbot P.A. in Skowhegan, where he was placed in 2018.
“There are certain things you can’t learn from sitting in a classroom,” Rutledge told Maine Law Magazine, echoing what he shared with Mainebiz after his summer in Presque Isle. “You can spend hours reading about how the law has been applied in certain factual scenarios, but nothing prepares you for your first day working at a law firm aside from actually doing it.”
Funding to continue the program comes as Maine Law prepares to become a stand-alone part of the seven-school University of Maine System network under a plan approved in September.
That vote followed a strategy report that called for expanding the school’s technology and rural-practice offerings.