BANGOR – Peter Pitegoff has spent his first two months as dean of the University of Maine Law School getting an earful from the state’s legal community as he’s met with attorneys, judges, civic leaders and alumni.
So far, he likes what he’s heard.
“Happily, I’m hearing that they love the law school,” Pitegoff said earlier this month in a visit to Bangor. “People have a real psychological ownership of the law school. It really is Maine’s law school. That translates into a very loyal alumni base, a very active alumni group and support from non-alumni who have chosen to practice law here.”
Pitegoff, 52, took over the reins of the state’s only law school in July. He replaced Colleen A. Khoury. She has returned to full-time teaching after heading the Portland-based institution for seven years. Pitegoff, who graduated in 1975 from Brown University and in 1981 from New York University School of Law, came to Maine from Buffalo, N.Y., where he was vice dean of academic affairs at the Buffalo Law School, State University of New York.
While the Empire State has 15 law schools, Maine has always had just one. The first opened in Bangor in 1898, but closed in 1920. The state was without a law school for almost 30 years when the Portland University Law School opened in 1949. It became part of the University of Maine System in 1962.
Since then, the 2,600 graduates have scattered to 42 states and abroad. However, a significant number of them have practiced in Maine. Leigh I. Saufley, chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court is one of them. The 1980 graduate was also one of the first calls Pitegoff made.
“My impressions of him are all very favorable,” Saufley said Friday. “He comes from a collaborate community and has real skills for bringing people together. I see a variety of ways the law school can assist the legal community from offering lectures to providing innovative forums on Maine issues.”
Pitegoff wants to do more to integrate the theory and practice of law for students and the legal community. He hopes to offer a more flexible and wider range of courses, including short course on cutting areas of the law taught by attorneys practicing in those areas. He said topics could include cyber piracy, e-commerce, intellectual property and economic development. The law school and its professors are a resource for policy discussions on important issues such as sprawl and the development of areas of the Maine woods, he said.
As the public face for the law school, Pitegoff also knows that he must make sure the institution thrives financially. Although it is an administrative unit of the University of Southern Maine, the law school receives little state funding. It relies on tuition, income from its endowment and contributions from alumni and supporters.
“We do need to grow somewhat [from the current enrollment of 260] in order to provide a more stable financial base and expand our range of course offerings in order to give an opportunity for more students outside the state to come to Maine,” he said. “It’s a careful balance because we don’t want to lower admission standards, but we need to heighten our identity in the highly competitive world of law schools.”
Tuition for Maine residents is $15,750 a year and $25,050 for nonresidents. That’s comparable to other state law schools, according to Pitegoff, but considerably less than the tuition fees at private law schools in Boston that average between $32,000 and $35,000. However, the law schools at Boston University and Boston College as well as Suffolk Law School often are able to offer more scholarship money to students.
Saufley said that for her, like many other Maine natives, the in-state law school tuition was the only financial option. After graduation, she discovered there were other advantages to the education she’d received.
“I got very well-grounded in Maine law,” she said. “Without that opportunity, I might not have had the career I’ve had. It’s a wonderful benefit for those in the state who are looking for options in higher education.”
Bangor attorney Paul Chaiken said Friday that one of the reasons Maine lawyers have a higher than average rate of doing pro bono, or, free, legal work is because so many of the attorneys working in Maine are graduates of the law school.
“A good number of the people who graduate from the law school remain in the state of Maine knowing that they owe something to the state and community,” he said. “That is part of the culture – feeling responsible to pay back the state for a great education.”
That is a culture Pitegoff said he is committed to fostering as the new dean of the law school.
History of Maine Law School
. 1898 – University of Maine School of Law opens in Bangor holding classes in the Isaac Farrar Mansion, now owned by the YWCA.
. 1900 – Law school becomes a charter member of the American Association of Law Schools
. 1908 – “Maine Law Review” begins publication
. 1911 – The law school’s quarters and its library are destroyed in the Great Fire of 1911, but it is quickly rebuilt.
. 1920 – The state’s first law school closes.
. 1949 – The unaccredited Portland University Law School opens.
. 1961 – The Legislature approves a merger of the University of Maine with the law school in Portland.
. 1966 – The Maine School of Law is fully accredited by the American Bar Association.
Student profile of 2005 fall class
Total number 82
Average age 27
Female 54 percent
Male 45 percent
Maine resident 65 percent
Out-of-state resident 35 percent
States represented 15
Class of 2004 employment
Private practice 43 percent
Judicial clerkships 25 percent
Business/Industry 13 percent
Government 9 percent
Public Interest 4 percent
Academic 4 percent
Other 4 percent
Source: University of Maine School of Law