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Updated: December 9, 2019

Maine law firms, school team up to 'move the needle' on diversity

Exterior of University of Maine School of Law cylindrical building in Portland File Photo / Renee Cordes Maine's three largest law firms have joined forces with the University of Maine School of Law, headquartered in the Portland building shown here, to launch the Maine Diversity Summer Associate Program.

An American Bar Association report released in August found that while the legal profession is growing, it remains 85% white and 64% male, with nearly all minorities underrepresented. The report also found that only 0.5% of lawyers have disabilities and less than 4% openly identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Seeking to bring more diversity to the profession in Maine, its three largest law firms — Bernstein Shur, Pierce Atwood and Verrill — have teamed up with the University of Maine School of Law to launch the Maine Diversity Summer Internship Program. 

The initiative, unveiled last week, aims to attract a wide pool of first-year law students from across the country for 10-week summer internships at the participating firms. The program kicks off next summer with six students, two at each firm. 

"The American bar has a longstanding diversity problem, and the Maine bar is no different," Joan Fortin, the director of attorney recruiting set to succeed Pat Scully as CEO of Bernstein Shur on Jan. 1, told Mainebiz. "This is a challenge that no one firm or legal employer will be able to overcome alone.

"Our hope is that by joining forces, our collective efforts may help to move the needle by bringing a group of talented and diverse group of talented and diverse students into the Maine legal market every summer, with the added hope that these law students will have a terrific experience and decide to pursue their legal careers here in Maine."

Courtesy/American Bar Association
A report published by the American Bar Association in August shows a lack of diversity in the legal profession nationwide.


Bernstein Shur, Pierce Atwood and Verrill are Maine's No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, on Mainebiz’s list of the state's largest law firms published in the Nov. 11 print edition. 

Diversity is equally important to smaller firms including Murray, Plumb & Murray, as partner and hiring committee chair Kelly McDonald noted in a recent interview with Mainebiz.

'Working together to accomplish more'

Bernstein Shur’s Scully said the idea for the Maine Diversity Summer Associate Program came out of discussions with his counterparts at Verrill and Pierce Atwood.

"We soon agreed that by working together, we could accomplish more to increase diversity in Maine's legal industry than any one firm could accomplish on its own," he said. “And we are very hopeful that in future years, other firms and other Maine employers or attorneys will join us and make this program even bigger and better."

His peers at the other firms were equally enthusiastic in statements emailed to Mainebiz. 

K.C. Jones, managing partner of Verrill, said: “What makes this program unique is that it is a true collaboration of three firms that have come together with the same goal — to increase diversity in the legal profession in Maine. We are excited to join forces with two of the state’s other largest law firms and the University of Maine School of Law in a program that we hope will have a positive impact on Maine’s legal community. There is still a great deal of progress to be made, and we hope that in the future others in the legal community will join in this effort.”

Pierce Atwood managing partner Dave Barry said his firm is "pleased and proud" to be part of the initiative, "the goal and purpose of which is to enhance and increase the diversity of Maine’s legal community.  We are also proud that the initiative grows out of the strong collaboration among, and the shared goals and vision of, Maine’s three largest law firms to strengthen and enrich the community of legal professionals in our state by increasing the diversity of that community.”

Courtesy / University of Southern Maine
Dmitry Bam, interim dean of the University of Maine School of Law, said the school is guided by a longstanding commitment to diversity and public service.

Dmitry Bam, Maine Law's interim dean, said in last week's news release that the school is guided by a longstanding commitment to diversity and public service.

He also said that initiatives like the planned summer associate program and existing PreLaw Undergraduate Scholars Program "help achieve diversity in the legal profession and ensure that the path to a legal education is accessible to all individuals."

Application and selection process 

Applications for the Maine Diversity Summer Associate Program will be accepted as of Dec. 15, with interviews in February and final selections made by early March.

More information about the program and instructions on how to apply are available online.

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