Trustees Form Committee To Consider Direction of 21st Century Legal Education and Conduct a ‘One University’ Assessment of Maine Law Operations and Potential For Program Enhancements

Report from leaders in the legal community and law school stakeholders to shape search for the new Dean of the Law School, identify opportunities tied to the Maine Center consortium, and offer recommendations for program and credential advancements aligned with recently adopted Declaration of Strategic Priorities for the University of Maine System

PORTLAND, MAINE — The Chair of the University of Maine System Board of Trustees and Chancellor have formed a committee of legal community experts and stakeholders from the University of Maine School of Law to consider how an innovative and properly resourced school of law can be best positioned within the system’s One University framework to play a lead role in how legal education serves students and state stakeholders.

The formation of the Committee to Advise on the Future Direction of the Law School follows the adoption of a new set of strategic priorities for the system and will help shape the search for a new law school dean.  The committee will also consider innovations to take advantage of new resources and partnerships available through the Maine Center for Graduate and Professional Studies.  Opportunities to leverage the expanding capacity of greater Portland and the system’s universities, particularly through the Maine Center, to attract talent and capital will also be among the topics for consideration.

The University of Maine School of Law is Maine’s only law school preparing those going into legal practice as well as those entering professions and occupations that benefit from elements of legal training. The school also provides vital legal services and support to the legal community and the citizens of Maine.

Maine Law has a long and distinguished history of providing access to high quality legal education in Maine.  The Maine Law Community is building on its reputation for legal education excellence through service expansions and innovations like the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic, newly formed Compliance and Information Privacy Programs, the Rural Lawyer Project, and the Pre Law Undergraduate Scholars Program.  Additionally, 3 plus 3 agreements with schools across the state are saving students time and money as they pursue a law degree. The Maine Law Community has also achieved enrollment increases despite a hyper-competitive legal education market — Fall 2018 headcount is up 5% over the prior year and credit hours have increased 7.9% (see page 4 of the Fall 2018 Enrollment Report).

The committee will be co-chaired by two graduates of Maine Law.  Deirdre Smith is a Professor of Law at the University of Maine School of Law and Director of the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic.  Kurt Adams is President and CEO of Summit Utilities and is a former University of Maine System Trustee. Under their leadership the committee will engage with faculty, the legal community, students and other stakeholders through an open meeting process to consider future opportunities in legal education.  This analysis will also examine the changing market for legal services, declining demand for legal education, and Maine’s own demographic challenges.

“The Law School is excited about the formation of this committee to advise on the future direction of the school.  Its members represent a broad collection of constituencies, bringing important perspectives to our analysis and creating opportunities for us to educate stakeholders about the ongoing transformation of Maine Law and the legal education landscape,” said Deirdre Smith, Professor of Law and Director of the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic.  “Maine Law is a small but dynamic institution with an outsized-impact on the State of Maine, training future lawyers and leaders throughout the public and private sectors. I am looking forward to working with my colleagues and the committee members to examine the current and future legal needs of the state and provide the Board with recommendations on how to best support and position the University of Maine School of Law to fulfill its potential and expand its impact.”

“The legal education I received at Maine Law has been instrumental in my work as a business leader, public servant, and as a citizen serving on public boards and commissions,” said Kurt Adams, President and CEO of Summit Utilities.  “Access to professional legal advice and services are essential to commerce and community life. However, law school also teaches us critical thinking and reasoning skills that are increasingly important in our rapidly changing economy regardless of the career we choose.

“Dean Danielle Conway, the faculty, and staff have been good stewards of the Law School’s quality commitment and Maine-focused traditions. We look forward to engaging with the entire Maine Law Community as we work to advise the Board on the future direction of the Law School.”

The committee is charged with delivering its report at the Board’s July 2019 meeting.

“Legal education has to adapt to innovations in the delivery of legal services, changes in the profession, and the evolving expectations of students.  We must create educational options that meet the demands of non-traditional students and the needs of employers. Improving access to legal services in Maine’s rural communities must also be a priority,” said James Erwin, Chair of the University of Maine System Board of Trustees.  “The legal community leaders and law school stakeholders serving on the committee will be advising the Board on issues that will help set the future direction of legal education and services in Maine. The Trustees look forward to the committee’s assessment and appreciate the time and energy the committee members will be devoting to this important review.”

The committee will also be conducting a review of the law school in the context of the One University initiative, an ongoing effort to organize and improve operations such that all University resources are aligned in focused support for all Maine learners, businesses, and communities.  The Board adopted a Declaration of Strategic Priorities last December to sustain and expand that work and to establish a cost-effective continuum of public education that provides lifelong access to flexible, relevant 21st Century learning.

Another focus of the committee’s review will be new opportunities for partnership and innovation within the Maine Center for Graduate and Professional Studies programs.  The Maine Center consortium brings together graduate and executive education programs in law, business, and public policy tailored to workforce needs.

“The One University initiative seeks to improve operations, leverage resources, and align outcomes across the enterprise in support of our students and the citizens of Maine,” said James Page, Chancellor of the University of Maine System.  “Maine Law has a proud tradition, strong programs, and a talented faculty. This is an opportune time to consider how operational improvements and partnerships can expand access to the expertise and support Maine professional, business, and community leaders need from the University of Maine School of Law.”

The Committee to Advise on the Future Direction of the Law School was chartered by Chancellor Page acting on behalf of the Board of Trustees.  An ad hoc committee to the Board, the panel will conduct its work publicly.

The committee’s first meeting will occur on February 25, 2019 at 1:15 PM in Room 216 of Abromson Hall on the Portland campus of the University of Southern Maine.

Click here for word version of this release.