PORTLAND, Maine — Meghan Higgins was thinking about applying to law school 3½ years ago during the fall semester of her senior year at Boston College when her father called. He told her the LSAT, or Law School Admission Test, was being offered at the University of Maine on the upcoming weekend.
“He told me if I came up and took it, he’d pay the fee,” Higgins, 25, of Eddington said last week. “So, I did. Then, I only applied to one law school.”
Higgins was one of 88 students awarded degrees Saturday by the University of Maine School of Law in Merrill Auditorium.
“I was planning on being a speech pathologist, but I’d been told my whole life I should go to law school,” she said. “Dad thought I’d be a great lawyer. He lost a lot of fights to me.
Higgins graduated in 2005 from John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor. She majored in linguistics and contemporary ethics at Boston College.
She is expected to begin working Aug. 1, after taking the Maine Bar Exam in July, for the Child Protection Division of the Maine attorney general’s office. She will work out of the Bangor office handling cases in District Court in Skowhegan.
“When I first started law school, I had no idea what kind of law I wanted to study or pursue a career in,” Higgins said. “What I did figure out really quickly is that I wanted to be in the courtroom.”
She found her passion during her second year of law school while clerking for Charles LaVerdiere, chief judge of the Maine District Court.
“That was my first real exposure to the courtroom, and I knew immediately from observing what happened there that I wanted to be a litigator,” Higgins said.
During her third and final year of law school, Higgins was able to stand in the well of a courtroom and represent clients, under the guidance of law school professors, while working at the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic. “I found out I just love the feeling of having to think on your feet and the adversarial nature of the process,” Higgins said. “I found it challenging, and interesting and that it suited my skill set.”
But she underestimated how engaged she would become with the people she was representing.
“I thought it would be more of an impersonal academic exercise,” Higgins said. “It was so emotional to get so involved with clients and to really understand how important your role is in their lives. You’re dealing with people when they are in crisis. Working at the clinic, I found out it’s really a privilege to be able to help carry someone through that time in their life.”
Last fall, she worked as an extern in the Child Protection Division of the state attorney general’s office in Augusta. During that time, she learned how challenging her new job mostly likely will be.
“The subject matter is heavy and I’m glad I’ve already experience it for a short period of time,” she said. “I’m going in with my eyes open knowing what a toll it can take but I feel it’s meaningful work. I feel lucky to have a job where I can make a difference.
“My client will be the Department of Health and Human Service,” she continued. “My job will be to support the caseworkers, who are making the really tough calls, in court. I’m there to support them.”
Last month in Boston, Higgins and recipients from 10 other law schools received the Law School Ethics Award from the Northeast Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel. Higgins received the award for an incident that occurred while she representing a law school clinic client.
“My client stole … from another party in the courtroom,” Higgins said. “She took his notebook and threw it away in a bathroom trashcan. I had to get it back and advise my client not to answer questions so she did not incriminate herself.”
In addition to studying for the bar exam and preparing for a new job, Higgins also is planning her wedding on Sept. 1 to Chad Szylvian, 25, of Brewer at St. John Catholic Church in Bangor. Szylvian is in his fourth year of medical school at Tufts University in Boston.
Despite the fact that they grew up in adjoining towns, the two did not meet until both were students at Boston College, Higgins said. Szylvian will apply to the family medicine residency program at Eastern Maine Medical Center and hopes to practice in the area.
Higgins is the daughter of Frank Higgins, the city engineer for Brewer, and Winnie Murray-Higgins. She and her three older brothers are the sixth generation to live on the same property in Eddington, Higgins said.
Once she passes the bar exam, Higgins will be the first attorney in her immediate family but not in her extended one. One of her uncles is Superior Court Justice Robert “Buddy” E. Murray of Bangor and another is Severin Beliveau of Augusta.