Waterville, Maine

Maine Law Review to present symposium on ensuring equal access to justice and health care in rural Maine

Attorneys, judges, doctors, and legal scholars will gather in Waterville this spring for a holistic discussion on the access to justice and health care issues that challenge Maine’s rural communities. The “Ensuring Equal Access to Justice in Maine’s Rural Communities Symposium” will be presented by the Maine Law Review at the University of Maine School of Law in partnership with Colby College on April 26-27.

Maine is over 60% rural, and its rural communities are facing a well-documented lawyer shortage. 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. While the national average is 40 lawyers per 10,000 residents, in Maine it’s only 30 lawyers per 10,000 residents. These numbers are sharply skewed to the southern part of the state, with more than half of all lawyers living or practicing in Cumberland County.

This situation looks to worsen because of the average age of Maine’s lawyers. 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 these lawyers begin to retire in the coming years, and with fewer younger practitioners replacing them, Maine’s rural citizens face an increasing lack of access to justice.

“This symposium represents a capstone achievement for Maine Law,” said Danielle Conway, dean and professor at Maine Law. “First, the symposium is an explicit statement about the Law School’s commitment to serving all of Maine, with special emphasis addressing the pressing legal service needs in rural communities. 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. Day one (April 26) will focus on access to justice, and day two (April 27) will focus on access to health care. The keynote address will be presented by Lisa Pruitt, Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of Law at UC Davis School of Law, on April 26 at 4:30 pm. Professor Pruitt is a national expert on the intersection of law with rural livelihoods.

The symposium will also feature the following presentations and panel discussions:

  • Professor Maybell Romero, Northern Illinois University Law School
  • Professor Nicole Huberfeld, Boston University School of Law and Boston University School of Public Health
  • Professor Hannah Haksgaard, University of South Dakota School of Law
  • Criminal Justice in Maine’s Rural Communities
  • Ensuring Access to Justice in Maine’s Rural Communities
  • National Panel on Access to Justice Issues
  • Legal and Political Issues in Rural Healthcare

This symposium is the latest of many 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. These 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. To learn more about the Law School’s rural initiatives, please read “Tackling the Rural Law Crisis” in the 2018 edition of the Maine Law Magazine.