Maine Law program hopes to diversify legal profession

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

PORTLAND — A new summer immersion program is hoping to make students of diverse backgrounds think about a career they might otherwise have not considered.

Hosted by the University of Maine School of Law, the inaugural Pre-Law Undergraduate Scholars program, or PLUS, began last week, with more than 20 college undergraduate students participating. The program is designed to bring more diversity to the legal profession, and is aimed at students of color and immigrants, as well as low-income students and those from rural areas.

Associate Dean of Admissions Carrie Wilshusen said the program, which is funded by a $300,000 grant from the nonprofit Law School Admission Council, aims to develop leaders in under-represented parts of the community.

“We are working very, very hard to bring in different voices to the law school,” she said.

Wilshusen said educators at the school are mindful they have a responsibility to “support and develop leadership in Maine.”

The grant will fund the program for three summers.

Wilshusen said most of the 23 students participating are from Maine. The program has also drawn people who are originally from places such as Afghanistan, Brazil, China, Kenya and the United Kingdom. The application process is very competitive, Wilshusen said, and administrators are “thrilled with the response.”

The students are staying at the Southern Maine Community College campus in South Portland, where they receive housing, meals and a $1,000 stipend for the four-week program.

Curriculum Director Angie Arey said the goal is to give students a real sense of what the first year of law school is like. During the program, they learn how to read legal briefs and write legal memos, but also simulate the roles of lawyers, and meet people in the field. Students will visit courts, law firms, the Statehouse and other locations.

Arey said the program, which ends June 24, lets the students put themselves in the role of both lawyer and law student.

In a press release, Danielle Conway, Maine Law dean, called the program a “game-changer,” adding that the school has a longstanding commitment to diversity and public service.

“By encouraging young people from diverse backgrounds to explore careers in law, and by providing skills training to them at this point in their lives, we can open pathways they might have never considered or thought possible,” Conway said.

And the program seems to have a wide appeal to students.

Some, like Edward Jones, came to get a jump on a potential career in law. Others, like Liya Mindaye, don’t have a background in law but wanted to learn more.

“A lot of us come from different backgrounds and experiences,” said Mindaye, who is from Cambridge, Massachusetts, but studies at the University of Maine at Farmington.

Jones, a New Jersey native who attends college in Pennsylvania, said law is “a challenging field,” and a program like PLUS is a good way “to get a head start.”

Brody Haverly-Johndid, a student at the University of Maine Orono, said in addition to having an interest in law and politics, he wanted to participate in this program “to diversify myself with people from different cultures.”

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Twenty-three students from Maine and across the country are participating in the first-ever Pre-Law Undergraduate Scholars, or PLUS, program hosted by the University of Maine School of Law in Portland. The four-week program gives undergraduates a chance to see if a career in law is right for them.

0
Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.