PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A University of Maine program that sets out to help rural sections of the state like Aroostook County has brought a new young professional to Presque Isle, a city that has long seen an exodus of residents with advanced degrees.
Amanda Bridges, 36, of Fort Fairfield is the newest lawyer at Bemis & Rossignol, a general practice law firm in Presque Isle. Bridges — who grew up in the Rockland area — is a 2020 graduate from the University of Maine School of Law in Portland.
During Bridges’ time in law school, she joined the school’s Rural Law Fellowship program — established in 2017 to give law students experience working at law firms in rural parts of Maine, where those trained to practice law are not as plentiful as in urban areas.
The Rural Law Fellowship program connected her to Bemis & Rossignol, where she first worked in the summer of 2018. She enjoyed the experience so much, she came back the next summer and decided to take on a full-time job with the firm after graduating earlier this year. She was sworn in to practice law on Nov. 30, shortly after passing Maine’s bar exam.
In an area that has seen severe out-migration in recent decades — the Presque Isle region having lost thousands of residents in the past 30 years — Bridges’ story is a positive one as Presque Isle officials strive to make the city a regional and cultural hub.
Her path to Bemis and Rossignol also points to the potential for higher education programs to connect professionals to rural communities that badly need them.
A 2018 report by Maine’s Board of Overseers of the Bar found that there were only 72 lawyers based in Aroostook County compared to 2,063 in Cumberland County. Even adjusted for population, Cumberland — which contains Maine’s largest urban center, Portland — had nearly seven times more legal professionals than The County.
Similar trends are also prevalent in Maine’s other rural counties, such as Piscataquis ( seven lawyers) and Lincoln County (69). Each of these counties also has a dearth of young lawyers like Bridges — there were six in Aroostook and just one in Piscataquis under the age of 40.
“There is just a huge need for attorneys in these super rural areas,” Bridges said.
Some of Bridges’ early work will include family cases, with the plan being for her to work on criminal and child protection cases in the future. She will also assist her law firm’s partners Frank Bemis and Luke Rossignol with cases that they take on.
Though Aroostook County is more rural than where she has lived in the past, Bridges said she was excited to “hit the ground running,” both in her work and as a member of the community.
Bridges described herself as a blunt person, not afraid to bring up difficult truths that need to be addressed. As she works with future clients, she hopes to be an honest broker as she helps Bemis and Rossignol’s clients face down a complex — and sometimes unforgiving — legal system.
“I’m not good at hiding stuff,” Bridges said with a smile. “I’m here to help you, and we’ll see what’s going on.”