New hires at Husson boost law school bid

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff
Posted March 18, 2009, at 9:07 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Husson University has renewed its quest to open a law school by hiring three experienced law school professors, President William Beardsley announced Wednesday.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court in June denied a request from the Bangor institution that the graduates of its law school be allowed to take the state bar exam, citing concerns about accreditation and staffing plans. Without the court’s approval, students who graduated from the program would not be able to practice law.

If the high court approves Husson’s second proposal, the university would accept students to its law school in fall 2010. The school would need to enroll between 40 and 50 students a semester to make the program financially viable, the president said.

“We have carefully read the recommendations of the Maine supreme court concerning our law school,” Beardsley said. “We have hired three outstanding law academics to serve, along with some of our current faculty members, as the core of the Husson University law school faculty.

“With their help, we are now addressing all the issues suggested by the court,” he said. “This summer we plan to submit an expanded, upgraded plan to the court and once again request authorization for our graduates to sit for the Maine Bar Exam.”

Michael Mullane, a professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville, will begin working as dean of Husson’s proposed law school in August, Beardsley announced. Mullane previously taught at the law school in Portland.

Judy Potter, who taught at the University of Maine Law School for more than 30 years, also will join the faculty, Beardsley said. Potter of Cape Elizabeth is now in private practice.

The third law professor will be Peter Murray, a founding partner of Murray, Plumb and Murray in Portland. He is the author of the textbook “Maine Evidence,” now in its sixth edition.

Mullane said Wednesday that a recent Carnegie Foundation report about educating lawyers for the next century dovetailed with Husson’s mission and teaching philosophy.

“What is truly exciting about helping to create a new law curriculum here at Husson,” the new dean said, “is the opportunity to make use of the latest and best thinking in legal education to create a first class 21st century program of legal education for the Maine legal community free of some of the burden and strictures of a tra-ditional model that may be outmoded … while building on other traditional pedagogy that have borne the test of time. Throughout, Husson is committed to high quality and cost-effective delivery. Our job is to make it happen.”

The state’s only law school is located in Portland and affiliated with the University of Southern Maine. It currently does not offer distance learning or on-line classes.

Beardsley said that more than 130 people have expressed interest in attending a law school at Husson since the idea was first announced more than a year ago.

Under current rules, graduates of a law school accredited by the American Bar Association or state bar accreditation team are allowed to take the bar exam in Maine. Attorneys who have passed a bar exam in another state and been in practice for several years also may take the Maine test.

Beardsley said at the press conference that Husson would not seek ABA accreditation because its model is designed for large law schools that don’t fit with the needs of law schools such as Husson’s designed primarily for nontraditional students seeking to study the law as a second career.

In its 12-page decision issued in June, the state supreme court focused on accreditation issues because Husson had not planned to seek ABA accreditation. The justices found the requirements of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, which would have to accredit a new law school, were “not adequate to ensure a minimum standard for quality for legal education.”

Mullane said after the press conference that in its next proposal Husson would suggest a way the quality of the school’s legal education could be monitored without seeking ABA accreditation. He declined to outline details Wednesday.

Peter Pitegoff, dean of the law school in Portland, said Wednesday he wished Husson well but was not convinced the need for lawyers in rural and Down East Maine meant there is a need for a second law school in the state.

“There are certainly talented people involved,” he said of Husson’s announcement. “My question is whether it can be a sustainable enterprise with the model they are proposing.”

Pitegoff predicted there would be more distant-learning opportunities in the state in future due to possible changes in accreditation requirements.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/03/18/news/new-hires-at-husson-boost-law-school-bid/ printed on December 18, 2014