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Updated: March 20, 2023 / 2023 Business Leaders of the Year

Business Leaders: Leigh Saufley leads Maine Law with an entrepreneurial bent

Photo / Tim Greenway Leigh Saufley, dean of Maine Law, led the law school’s move to new quarters that will serve as a recruiting tool for faculty and students.
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As much as Leigh Saufley loved being a judge, the former Chief Justice of Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court couldn’t be happier leading the University of Maine School of Law. By choice, she does so from a second-floor office rather than with faculty on the fifth floor so that she can be near the student services suite and where students gather.

Saufley led the $13.5 million effort to move the law school from an outdated building on the USM campus to a newly refurbished downtown building that will double as a recruiting tool to find students and faculty. From the school’s modern new Old Port home, she is forging new ties with the businesses community and expanding experiential learning opportunities for students not just close to home but also in rural Maine, through the Rural Lawyers Fellowship Program and new Rural Practice Clinic in Fort Kent.

Mainebiz: What does it mean to be in this new location?

Leigh Saufley: The new location is everything we had hoped for and more. There’s government, there’s courts, there are lots of waterfront businesses, but the thing that has surprised me the most is that it’s already a community. The folks who have come to welcome us — and we’ve done as many tours as we can — are all very interested in how they and we can work together.

MB: And the proximity to law firms and other work opportunities?

LS: The opportunity for experiential learning, which is what lawyers need more than ever, and the opportunity for lawyers to be involved in cross-disciplinary work in a variety of different ways. So, they’re in business, they’re working with startups, they’re in government, they’re working in municipalities, and then doing some of the traditional work in law firms and with judges. The variety of experiential opportunities that the law students and business students have in this building is just really terrific. And the collaboration that the Graduate and Professional Center has really catalyzed here has really made a huge difference.

MB: What’s the significance of having all of Maine Law’s law clinics here, in one place?

LS: It’s a substantial improvement on accessibility — people can take the bus from anywhere in the Greater Portland area and get right to the building. Now all of the clinics are together, and the faculty can help each other and back up the students. There are two really pretty rooms where clients can come to have a conference with their student lawyers. The clients feel respected, they understand we value them, and that we are here to help them solve problems. It makes all the difference in the world how people feel about access to justice, and students get an opportunity to have direct relationships with real clients, which is one of the reasons they come to law school.

MB: What opportunities are there today for women interested in becoming judges?

LS: Right now at Maine Law, about 60% of the students are women, and they are going out into really amazing jobs on a regular basis. There’s lots of opportunity for women to find the right pathway to whatever it is they want to do. What I tell a lot of the students, male and female, is that in your first years of practice, try everything, get out there, figure out what it is that lights you up from within, and then find a way to do that.

MB: You’re frequently out and about chatting with students. What do you get out of that?

LS: The reason I’m here is the students. They bring a fresh look at law and justice, they’re excited, they’re hopeful — and they’re funny. The opportunity to spend time with people who are thoughtful and really care about the world — it doesn’t get any better than that!

MB: Are you proactively trying to recruit more students from out of state?

LS: Absolutely! We want more students, and we actually have room now to have more students, so we’re doing everything we can to let people know that the programs at Maine Law — in privacy, environmental sustainability, and the only Arctic law program in the country — are here, along with programs that will help you practice in rural areas, and an expanded opportunity to get out there and do experiential learning. We are out there telling the world that Maine Law is the place to be.

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