Maine State Bar Association, June 25, 2015

While you are here, you’ll get some CLE credits, learn some tools that will help you take advantage of future opportunities, hone your skills and reconnect with old friends.

I would ask you also to spend some time thinking about how we train and educate lawyers and other professionals in our Maine community, and whether, in light of what we are seeing in Maine today, it’s time to rethink some of what we do.

Our Maine community is facing a raft of challenges.

To try to sum them all up in one sentence is itself a real challenge, but let’s try this: Beset by one of the slowest growing economies in the nation and facing a demographic winter, Maine is losing too many of its young people to schools and opportunities they find elsewhere, while those who stay are too few and too often ill prepared for jobs in the new economy.

Our graduate programs in business, law and public service are not delivering the new professionals that Maine needs, where Maine needs them, rendering our economy less able to grow and leaving too many Mainers to fend for themselves.

To put a finer point on it, in 2013 there were over 378 job openings in Maine requiring a graduate business degree, but in 2012 the University of Maine’s and the University of Southern Maine’s MBA programs each produced only 33 2 graduates, and the total number of MBA graduates from all of Maine’s programs numbered only 244 graduates – 134 fewer than needed to fill the jobs.

It’s no wonder that we’ve seen too many big employers pick up stakes and leave Maine and that we’ve largely failed to grow or import others to take their places.

We’re not doing any better in the lawyer production business: In vast areas of our state, Maine is under-lawyered, and far too many of our lawyers are as old as I am.

In all of Piscataquis County, there are only 6 active lawyers in private practice. In seven counties – Aroostook, Franklin, Oxford, Piscataquis, Somerset, Waldo and Washington – with a total population of 298,000, there are 206 lawyers, of whom about half are 60 or older. By contrast, in Cumberland County, with a roughly equivalent population of 285,000, there are 1,345 lawyers, of whom fewer than a third are over 60.

If we lawyers are going to fulfill our core duties to the people of our state, we need to figure out what we can do – collaboratively and imaginatively – to fix this. And while we’re fixing our own house, perhaps we can help our clients – the businesses of Maine – repair theirs, too.

We need more and younger lawyers, we need more and younger MBA’s and we need more and younger professional managers for Maine’s towns and cities, where retirements are taking an extraordinary toll.

These are among the most important responsibilities of Maine’s public universities, and those challenges have become more urgent just as our University 3 System has been mired in daunting financial difficulties, and just as the number of young Maine people pursuing JD, MBA and MPA degrees has been shrinking.

The Alfond Foundation has invested $2 million in the initiative to create within the University of Maine System the Maine Center for Graduate Professional Studies.

The Center is a demand-driven response to both student needs and Maine’s economic challenges. It will be a consortium initially comprised of the Maine Law School, the System’s single MBA program, and possibly the Muskie School of Public Service graduate programs in public health and in policy, planning and management. It will be located in one building in Portland, along with researchers and an incubator/accelerator facility that will marry innovation to the classrooms.

The Maine Center doesn’t start with any of the characteristics it needs to succeed – not with the scale, flexibility, physical space, capital or integration with external legal, business and public service communities.

It’s my job to make all that happen, and I am starting with three objectives: develop with the deans and the faculties a credible blueprint for the Center; demonstrate the value of a more collaborative approach with innovative courses and programs; and engage advice and support from the business, legal and public service communities in Maine that have a significant stake in the Maine Center’s success.

The central idea behind the Center is this: Our law school, our MBA program and our school of public service will do a far better job in meeting Maine’s needs and students’ needs if the schools work together in a true consortium, practicing the 4 very collaboration and relationship-building that is increasingly valued in the economy.

Chancellor Page and I believe that the graduate schools that will comprise the Maine Center can get better and bigger, can expand their markets, and can become more competitive and productive.

We are confident that if we do this right, the Maine Center for Graduate Professional Studies will be profoundly important for Maine. It will strengthen and transform graduate and professional education in Maine. It will broaden professional opportunities for Maine citizens, attract entrepreneurs and businesses to Maine, and help drive statewide economic growth.

Here are some of the questions that Chancellor Page and I hope the faculties in the Center will consider as they work on their curricula:

• Shouldn’t every JD graduate have taken accounting, so he can read a balance sheet and help a small business owner make her best case for a loan, or help a family manage an estate?

• Shouldn’t Maine’s town managers have learned the basics about contract negotiation and labor law and the Administrative Procedures Act?

• Wouldn’t an MBA graduate be better equipped to help a Maine business grow if he or she understands environmental regulation?

• Should Maine doctors who want a one-year executive MBA be paying a Massachusetts university more than $50,000 each for a course taught in Brunswick and online?

• Could the Center programs attract more students if the faculties offered a 5 summer semester where qualified students could take courses for credit that would introduce them to all three programs, mitigating the paralysis that afflicts so many millenials and permitting them to make a more informed choice among a wider variety of single, dual and joint degree programs?

The central challenge is how to maintain the quality and rigor of accredited programs while at the same time expanding the schools’ competitive advantages, reaching broader markets, and doing a better job of meeting Maine’s needs.

Let me explain what I mean. For example, there are persuasive arguments for preserving the traditional, immersive first-year law school curriculum.

At the same time, by far the two top reasons that respondents in the 2014 Bar Overseers Survey gave for avoiding solo practice – which of course is the norm in many of Maine’s under-lawyered counties – were “income instability” and “lack of knowledge and skill.”

Justice Donald Alexander has observed that newer lawyers are reluctant to engage in smaller practices because they aren’t comfortable with the business aspects of it, and he and many others believe that a dose of business education as part of the JD education not only could better equip lawyers to assist their clients, but could also better equip them to help themselves.

So the right thing to do to may be to leave the first-year program largely intact, but take a very close look at the second and third years – even asking whether one of those years, at least for some students who want to practice in rural Maine, ought to be spent in a largely business-focused curriculum.

I know that our faculties can meet the Chancellor’s mandate – to collaborate and to innovate – in ways that will make the Center unique and valuable and that will excite the imagination of both prospective students and the Maine business, legal and policy communities.

The faculties from all four of the current programs already have begun to offer new cross-curricular courses that will be offered for credit in all the graduate programs this coming year. Faculty from the Law School and from the business schools are collaborating on a course in Negotiations.

Faculty from the Law School, the USM Business School and the Muskie School, assisted by a remarkable group of guest lecturers, will teach a course on Environmental Law and Policy. And faculty from the Law School and the Muskie School will offer a course on Health Law, Policy and Management.

Maine’s graduate professional programs will be better and more productive

• if we gain scale, distinction and a common focus; if we break down the walls and silos in our graduate programs that already are vanishing from the real world of work;

• if we practice in graduate studies the character of a collaborative culture and workforce;

• and, if we maintain an unrelenting focus on Maine’s competitive advantages, economic opportunities and employment needs.

The Maine Center for Graduate Professional Studies is an opportunity to gain an edge for Maine by being collaborative and innovative. We can boost Maine’s 7 economy and gain real distinction in graduate professional education. We can be – will be – not just good, but great!