From March 25, 2019, Mainebiz:
The shortage of lawyers in rural Maine will be tackled next month at a symposium hosted by the University of Maine Law School, part of the school’s ongoing effort to address the issue.
The “Ensuring Equal Access to Justice in Maine’s Rural Communities Symposium” will include attorneys, judges, doctors and legal scholars. It will be presented by the Maine Law Review at the University of Maine School of Law in partnership with Colby College on Friday, April 26, and Saturday, April 27.
The symposium will also discuss access to health care in rural areas.
More than 60% of Maine is rural. “Its rural communities are facing a well-documented lawyer shortage,” said a news release from Maine Law. “While some work is underway to address this vexing problem, the absence of legal representation remains a constant challenge to the quality of life experienced by all communities.”
The national average is 40 lawyers per 10,000 residents, in Maine it’s 30 lawyers per 10,000 residents. The numbers don’t present the full picture — more than half of the state’s lawyers live or practice in Cumberland County, in southern Maine.
“This situation looks to worsen because of the average age of Maine’s lawyers,” the release said.
As of 2017, approximately 1,000 of the 3,700 practicing lawyers in Maine were 60 or older. In rural parts of the state, 65% of lawyers are older than 50. As they retire, and with fewer younger practitioners replacing them, Maine’s rural residents “face an increasing lack of access to justice,” the release said.
“This symposium represents a capstone achievement for the University of Maine School of Law. First, the symposium is an explicit statement about the Law School’s commitment to serving all of Maine, with special emphasis on addressing the pressing legal service needs in rural communities,” said Danielle Conway, dean of the University of Maine School of Law. “Second, the symposium provides an excellent example of the resolve of Maine Law students and alumni to continue a tradition of service to the people and institutions of Maine.
“Finally, the symposium showcases the nationally recognized scholarship and activism that Maine Law faculty and staff have contributed in furtherance of redressing these tough issues.”
Symposium participants will take a strategic look into Maine’s rural realities with two days of panel discussions and presentations.”
The second day of the symposium will focus on access to health care.
The keynote address will be by Lisa Pruitt, Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of Law at University of California-Davis School of Law.
Pruitt is a national expert on the intersection of law with rural livelihoods.
The symposium is the latest in a series of rural-focused initiatives at Maine Law.
In 2017, with funding from the Maine Justice Foundation, the law school launched the Rural Lawyer Project, a three-year program that aims to respond to the lawyer shortage by awarding paid summer fellowships to students who work in Maine’s most rural communities.
The Rural Law Fellowships, which pair students with rural lawyers who serve as mentors, are designed to provide students with direct exposure to rural practice and inspire them to consider pursuing careers in these communities.