The Honorable Daniel E. Wathen ’65 served as Chief Justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court from 1992 to 2001. He now is Of Counsel at the law firm Pierce Atwood, where he has developed an extensive mediation and arbitration practice in Maine, Puerto Rico, and throughout the United States. Among his many activities as a civic leader, Justice Wathen is Board Chair for the Maine Turnpike Authority, former Board Chair for the Maine Community College System, former Chair of the National Judicial College, and a member of the Board of Visitors of the University of Maine School of Law. He is originally from Aroostook County and earned his law degree from Maine Law in 1965.
What is the best job you ever had?
With the exception of picking potatoes and shoveling manure, I’ve enjoyed all of them. The best job by far was being chief justice. I was given a fair amount of authority, an endless supply of interesting and important cases, and one simple instruction – do the right thing. How could you have a better job than that?
What impact did Maine Law have in your life and career?
Maine Law gave me my voice and my life’s work. In my youth I had been a rebel without a cause. I flunked out or quit college a couple times before I got married in my junior year and became a dean’s list student. Despite my early scholastic record, it appeared to Dean Godfrey and the Admissions Committee that I had an epiphany and, according to the Dean, “we went with the epiphany.”
How would you assess Maine Law’s progress since you graduated?
There are a lot more students, and there is more variety in the curriculum. There were no elective courses and no clinics or skills courses, beyond moot court. But the quality of education was exceptional, and that remains today.
What advice do you have for prospective law students?
Think carefully before developing a specialty in practice. Law today is more complex and specialists are necessary, but there is great joy and freedom in being a generalist and having the confidence to help people with different legal problems.
You are known as a motorcycle enthusiast. Have you read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig?
Yes, I have read it several times. The book somehow captures the feeling I get when I am riding my bike with no destination in mind and just picking any road that I choose. Someone, maybe Pirsig, said that when you ride in a car, you look at the scenery. When you ride a bike, you are part of the scenery.