Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Maine’s Only Law School Enters A Period of Transition

Maine LogoPortland Press Herald, Maine’s Only Law School Enters a Period of Transition:

Abdirahman was studying political science at the University of Southern Maine when he got an email from the dean of the nearby law school. Danielle Conway remembered him from a campus event earlier that year, and she wanted him to apply for a new summer program designed to promote diversity in the legal profession. Three years later, the 25-year-old has completed his second year at the University of Maine School of Law and is interning at a Portland law firm this summer.

“It really pushed me to go to law school,” said Abdirahman, who was born in Somalia and came to the United States as a child.

That program is one of several that Conway has created and championed since 2015. But she leaves next month for another deanship in Pennsylvania, and her signature initiatives are in financial jeopardy as Maine’s only law school enters a period of transition.

A committee is studying the school’s direction as part of the public university system in Maine, and its recommendations will shape the search for the next dean. That person will inherit the funding battle with system leaders that Conway said factored into her decision to leave.

She said she believes those leaders have been reluctant to give more money to the law school for multiple reasons, including its small size in comparison with the rest of the system and her own efforts to get grant funding to pay for new programs. But she also said she believes implicit bias of sexism and racism made them less receptive to her message.

“You want someone to say, I had a phenomenal experience there, I learned a lot and it’s going to help me in my next leadership challenge,” Conway said of her interactions with those leaders. “I won’t be able to say that, and I’m disappointed that that’s the narrative I carry with me from this experience.”

The University of Southern Maine controls the amount of state money that goes to the law school. In a written statement, President Glenn Cummings said the university was working to get out of a $15 million budget hole while Conway was requesting money for new professors and programs.

“We are committed to identifying and overcoming implicit bias wherever it exists, but it has been our fiscal realities and cost-of-education priorities that have driven allocation decisions for the law school and USM,” Cummings said.

Based in Portland, the law school has an enrollment of fewer than 250 students and a full-time faculty of roughly 20.

Nationally, fewer students are applying to law school. From 2011 to 2018, the number of applications in Maine dropped from 988 to 574 – a 40 percent decrease. To stay competitive, the law school has increased the amount of money it spends on grants and scholarships.

In 2011, the school reported only a third of the student body got assistance on tuition, and that money almost always covered less than half of tuition. In 2018, two-thirds of students received financial aid from the school, and a quarter of them got half to full tuition. Tuition for this year is $22,290 for Maine residents and $33,360 for non-residents.

As a result, the law school has been in the red for several years, despite cuts to other spending. The university system and USM both tapped reserve accounts to cover that deficit; for the current year, that transfer is projected to be nearly $900,000. The law school’s spending for the current year is $6.6 million.

For years, however, the state allocation for the law school has remained stagnant at about $850,000. Next year, the USM president has pledged to increase that amount by 50 percent. The governor’s proposed budget includes nearly $200 million for the entire university system in fiscal year 2020, and the University of Southern Maine would get $48 million of that money. The law school’s new allocation would be nearly $1.3 million.

“The allocation agreement negotiated between prior leaders at USM and Maine Law is no longer sufficient. … The additional $425,000 in annual support for Maine Law is a starting point with additional conversations to come after the Board receives its recommendations from the special committee on the future direction of the law school,” Cummings said in a written statement.

Conway said that money is not sufficient, and she has still been asked to cut hundreds of thousands of dollars from the budget.

“I think this school and the new dean deserve an upfront investment so that these programs that I’ve started can actually turn into institutional programs that continue to attract quality students,” she said. ...

As she leaves for Penn State’s Dickinson Law, Conway said she would advise the next dean to trust his or her colleagues at the law school. “And be very, very careful of the people in your leadership chain of command,” she said.

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@Art Deco,

"1. The dense settlement around Portland has a population of 118,000."

By that rationale virtually every dying mill town in New England should have a law school. Fall River, Brockton, Worcester, Bridgeport, etc. Let's not forget that just because there are people in an area does not mean that there are people who can support a law practice in the area.

"Law schools are not high-overhead enterprises "

Did you not read the article? UMaine Law has been losing money for years.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jun 2, 2019 12:29:04 PM

This is the best part, by far,

"As she leaves for Penn State’s Dickinson Law, Conway said [...]".

Posted by: Arnold Layne | Jun 2, 2019 10:09:32 AM

There's nothing that says that a mostly rural state with a population barely over 1 million needs to have its own law school if other needs within the university are more important.

Maine's higher education system is terribly overbuilt and requires downsizing. One aspect of that should be to provide scholarships for students to study elsewhere in New England and to conclude reciprocal agreements in other states in lieu of having domestic programs.

Here's a suggestion: do that for disciplines which require an infrastructure for which the clientele is insufficient in Maine (e.g. where training requires a teaching hospital) and do that for disciplines for which you don't have a realistic expectation that you'll have sufficient interest among your locals to justify hiring the faculty. So...

Out of state you have:

1. Medical and peri-medical training (bar perhaps pharmacy or dental assistance &c.)

2. Research degree programs, bar a favored few (biology, psychology, business administration, English &c).

3. Engineering, bar the major disciplines (mechanical, electrical, civil, and industrial).

4. Odd subdisciplines of business (e.g. actuarial science or construction management).

5. Niche technologies.

6. Veterinary medicine

7. Low census undergraduate academics: foreign languages other than Spanish, art history, classics, comparative religion, statistics, linguistics, demography, astronomy, meteorology and climatology).

8. Odd subdisciplines of various academic disciplines.

Posted by: Art Deco | May 30, 2019 11:55:38 AM

Close. There's no reason for a law school to exist in Maine, the least densely populated state east of the Mississippi River. A population that is stagnant and aging, where the largest city, Portland, is barely 65,000 people

1. The dense settlement around Portland has a population of 118,000.

2. The reason for a law school in Maine is to train residents of Maine to practice law - for a break on the price. There are 1,920 working lawyers in Maine. Replenishing that population can be accomplished with a law school which has an enrollment of 235 students and a faculty of shy of 20 FTE (presuming about 15% of the state's lawyers are educated privately).

3. Law schools are not high-overhead enterprises nor do they require a critical mass of clientele the way teaching hospitals do.

Posted by: Art Deco | May 30, 2019 11:43:00 AM

I concur with the prior comments. Maine firms will have no problems finding lawyers from the many Massachusetts law schools eager and willing to relocate to Maine.

Posted by: Douglas Levene | May 29, 2019 5:25:29 AM

Times are tough in public higher education, especially for poorer states such as Maine Reading this, I'm at a loss to see where the problem at Maine Law is due to sexism and racism. There's nothing that says that a mostly rural state with a population barely over 1 million needs to have its own law school if other needs within the university are more important.

Posted by: PaulB | May 28, 2019 6:40:55 PM

Close. There's no reason for a law school to exist in Maine, the least densely populated state east of the Mississippi River. A population that is stagnant and aging, where the largest city, Portland, is barely 65,000 people, the wages are among the lowest in the northeast, the largest county is the size of CT and RI put together but barely has more people than Portland, and the largest law firm in the state is probably about 20 lawyers.* I would be shocked if there are more than a few dozen entry-level lawyering positions per year in the state, and certainly none of them are going to justify what law school costs these days. Maine's only neighbor, New Hampshire, ain't a much different story (see the saga of how Franklin Pierce Law became UNH Law) and of course Massachusetts and other points south are already far beyond capacity with highly indebted law school grads. If anything Maine Law's closure would lead to 8 or 10 or even 15 law grads from elsewhere to practice Puffin Protection Law or whatever it is Maine lawyers do with their days.

*Excluding whatever random branch office of some national insurance defense shop might be there.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | May 28, 2019 1:45:20 PM