CARIBOU, Maine — Dan Umphrey had offers to work in big cities when he graduated from the University of Maine Law School in 2009.
Instead of being lured away by bright lights and night life, Umphrey, 30, returned to his hometown and went to work for the local firm Solman and Hunter.
“I did think about other places, but when it came time to make a decision, home was the best decision for me,” he said Friday.
Umphrey is typical of the young lawyers working in northern and eastern Maine, according to attorneys who recruit for law firms in those regions.
“We have our best luck with young attorneys who have strong local ties or whose spouse does,” said Bill Devoe, who recruits for Eaton Peabody.
Finding young attorneys who will spend their careers in northern Maine is becoming more urgent as the lawyers practicing in the region retire. Maine Department of Labor statistics have estimated that between 2006 and 2016 Maine will have 73 job openings for lawyers annually.
“The conventional wisdom is that the bar in northern Maine is getting older,” Devoe said. “There are younger attorneys in significant numbers, but they tend to congregate in Portland.”
In its unsuccessful effort to open a law school, Husson University officials estimated last year that more than half of the practicing attorneys in northern Maine were over 50.
At least one well-known law firm in Bangor has begun replacing several retiring partners and one who left for a judgeship with young associates as well as experienced practitioners.
Nicholas Loukes, 29, and Tracy Roberts, 35, both of Bangor, graduated two years ago from law school. Both now work for Rudman Winchell. Mikaela Wentworth, 31, of Brewer has been working for the firm since February. All three grew up in Maine and graduated from the University of Maine Law School in Portland.
Loukes and Wentworth, who worked in New Hampshire before returning to Maine, said many of their classmates, especially those from out of state or southern Maine, would not consider living north of Augusta after having spent three years in the state’s largest city.
“I grew up here so I knew what I was getting into,” Loukes said last week of living in Bangor. “But there have been a lot of changes here in the past 10 years. I live downtown and there is vibrancy that wasn’t here before.”
Wentworth, who grew up in Orrington and has a 1-year-old daughter, agreed that the Queen City now feels more welcoming for people under 35 but for different reasons.
“I like downtown more now because there’s that store [Central Street Farmhouse] with cloth diapers and a nursing mothers support group,” she said Wednesday. “There does seem to be a younger vibe downtown and that’s a change for the better.”
The associates agreed that being in a medium-size firm with experienced attorneys was an advantage.
“You get to really know your colleagues better than in a large firm and it’s more relaxed,” Wentworth said. “Mentorships happen more easily and naturally, I think.”
“There’s a lot of experience here,” Loukes said, “and that’s a good thing for a new attorney.”
Zachary Brandmeir, 29, of Old Town graduated from law school in Portland the same year Wentworth did and went to work as a tax attorney in Boston. He recently returned home to help his mother care for his ailing stepfather and opened a solo law practice.
Instead of spending most of his time on legal paperwork, Brandmeir is at the Penobscot Judicial Center several days a week representing clients in criminal cases.
“It’s been kind of a blessing,” Brandmeir said Friday of his change in circumstances. “I like it more in the courtroom instead of hiding away in a cubicle.
“I needed to go off and leave the area,” he said. “Growing up, I always felt some pressure to move south.”
Umphrey, on the other hand, felt obligated to return north.
“Given all that The County’s given me and the youth out-migration, I feel a need to give back,” he said.
“I often find myself representing folks I have prior ties with but that’s another reason to come back — to help out folks.”
Whether northern Maine’s reputation among law school students as a dull and unwelcoming place for the under-30 crowd will change as fast as the need to lure new lawyers to the region will remains to be seen, Devoe said.