September 18, 2019
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Maine law school graduates see an opportunity to do great work close to home

Grant Whelan always wanted to be lawyer but put off going to law school while he worked for a company that sold international educational programs.

“I traveled the world taking people out to dinner and attending conferences, he said last week in an email. “We did great work and that company has a great mission, but eventually I wanted to work more with my local community rather than the global community.

“By that time we had two kids and my attention was drawn more to home,” Whelan, 38, of Portland continued. “Also, having two kids made traveling the world and taking people out to dinner a lot less glamorous. When your infant child has a 103 fever, its harder to enjoy dinner out in Moscow.”

Whelan was one of 75 students to graduate Saturday from the University of Maine School of Law in Portland.

He will work in the Cumberland County district attorney’s office while studying for the bar exam.

Another graduate, Cyrus Cheslak, 34, of Portland, also put off going to law school even though his father was an attorney.

“Dinner table conversation was about due process and equal protection,” he said last week. “I see the law as equalizing force because all have to follow the same rules. Lawyers help people navigate that.”

Cheslak graduated from college in 2007. He’d planned to go to law school, but accepted an office to work in U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ office in Washington, D.C.

“I honestly think I got more out of law school having had a prior professional career,” he said. “You get a better understanding of the world and yourself if you are out in the world for a few years.”

Cheslak plans to study for the bar the next few months and pursue a career as a litigation specialist. He doesn’t plan to run for office any time soon, but he continues to be interested in politics.

About half of the 2018 graduating class were women, U.S. District Judge John Woodcock noted in his address Saturday at the ceremony held at Merrill Auditorium in Portland. Woodcock, who graduated from the law school in 1976, said only 17 of his 78 classmates were women.

“During my time as a lawyer and judge, it is the presence of women in the bar that stands apart as the most far-reaching change for the better in the legal profession,” Woodcock said Saturday. “And we have been taught a lesson — that so-called women’s issues are in fact human concerns.

“I stake to the proposition that since 1973, women lawyers have played an outsized role in making this country a fairer, more balanced, more just and freer society than the one we inherited.”

Nicole Mason, 32, of Gardiner is the first member of her family to earn a graduate degree. Before going to law school, she worked for the Maine Department of Human Services. Her job was to get non-custodial parents to pay court-imposed child support.

“I looked around the courtroom and decided that I could do that,” she said.

Mason, who will begin a year-long clerkship the Maine Superior Court in Augusta, spent an internship where she spent one week at a different law firm around the state. She also worked at the Cumberland County Legal Aid Clinic at the law school.

“What stuck out after that internship is how good the Maine bar is,” she said. “Everybody treats everybody well, despite the stigma that lawyers are terrible people. Lawyers have a job to do and that’s to advocate for their clients, but they can be nice to each other while they do it.”

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