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November 30, 2018

Maine Law's Rural Law Fellowship project delivers on its promise in Skowhegan

Courtesy / University of Maine School of Law
Courtesy / University of Maine School of Law
Third-year law student Ryan Rutledge has accepted a position as an associate attorney with Mills, Shay, Lexier & Talbot in Skowhegan. Rutledge is a two-time recipient of the Maine Law Rural Law Fellowship and worked at the firm this past summer during his fellowship placement.

Maine School of Law announced today an early success in its initiative responding to the state's looming shortage of rural lawyers.

The Portland-based law school said third-year student Ryan Rutledge has accepted a position as an associate attorney with Mills, Shay, Lexier & Talbot in Skowhegan. Rutledge is a two-time recipient of the Maine Law Rural Law Fellowship and worked at the firm this past summer during his fellowship placement.

In 2017, Maine Law launched the Rural Lawyer Project in response to the access to justice crisis in rural Maine. The program pairs students with rural lawyers who serve as mentors, and provides students with direct exposure to rural practice to inspire them to consider pursuing careers in these communities.

It is the result of a collaboration between the law school, the Maine Justice Foundation, the Maine State Bar Association and the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar. The funding for these fellowships is provided by the Maine Justice Foundation.

Rutledge, who is from Savannah, Ga., participated in the Rural Lawyer Project for the past two summers. His first fellowship placement during the summer of 2017 was at Bemis & Rossignol in Presque Isle. For this past summer, he wanted to work in Skowhegan in order to gain rural experience in a different part of the state.

"Having the opportunity to observe attorneys of all ages from all over the state has allowed me to develop a sense of what kind of advocate I want to be when I start practicing," said Rutledge. "I am thrilled that I will be returning to Skowhegan after I graduate to join the firm of Mills, Shay, Lexier & Talbot."

Goal: Increase access to justice in rural Maine

Rural Law Fellows are selected each year through a competitive application process. The three other 2018 Maine Law Rural Law Fellows were: Brittanie Bradley '19 (Hayes Law Office, Dover-Foxcroft), Amanda Bridges '20 (Bemis & Rossignol, Presque Isle), and Kathryn King '20 (Fletcher, Mahar & Clark, Calais).

During the 10-week fellowship period, the students learned about the wide variety of legal matters that lawyers serving in rural communities manage. Fellows gained hands-on experience in legal research and drafting, dispute resolution, general practice case management, real estate transactions, criminal law, and trial practice.

To qualify, mentors must practice in communities that have fewer than 10,000 residents and are outside of Cumberland and York counties.

The ultimate goal is for the Rural Lawyer Project to be endowed permanently and expanded, thus increasing much-needed access to justice for communities throughout Maine. Funding, at present, is only guaranteed for one more year.

The program's popularity is clearly reflected in both the interest by potential mentors at rural law firms and in applications by Maine Law students: In 2017, Maine Law received four times as many mentor applications as there were funded fellowships. The number of student applications also greatly exceeded the number of fellowship spots.

"Rural communities are vital to defining Maine's identity," said Danielle Conway, dean and professor at the University of Maine School of Law. "With the Rural Lawyer Project, my goal is to make sure Maine Law has a role — among several other partner organizations — in contributing to the growth and sustainability of rural communities, while at the same time preparing Maine Law's Rural Law Fellows for leadership and service. I am thrilled that exceptional students, like Ryan, have the desire and capacity to succeed the lawyers and leaders who currently serve the legal needs of Mainers, especially those hailing from rural communities."

Rutledge's practice will include municipal law, family law, workers' compensation, real estate, business formation, estate planning and land use.

The University of Maine School of Law is the state's public and only law school and is committed to providing an accessible and affordable student-focused program of legal education and achieving the highest standards of ethical behavior.

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