Professor Deirdre Smith, Director of the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic at Maine Law, and four law students participated in Access to Justice Day, held March 7 at the State House Hall of Flags in Augusta.
The annual event highlights the work of the Clinic as well as other legal aid providers in Maine, including Pine Tree Legal Assistance, Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, Maine Equal Justice Partners, Volunteer Lawyers Project, and Legal Services for the Elderly. These agencies and programs offer help to Mainers who cannot afford to hire lawyers for assistance with matters ranging from foreclosure assistance to child custody disputes.
Smith said Access to Justice Day provides a chance for her to discuss the work of the Law School Clinic with state legislators, and to make sure the officials know that Maine Law’s Clinic is a resource for constituents.
Because it is a program of the state’s public law school, the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic plays a unique role within the framework of legal aid in Maine. Founded in 1970, the Clinic provides legal services to low-income clients. Selected third-year law students, known as “student attorneys,” are specially licensed by the state and the federal courts to represent those clients. Students work collaboratively and under the close supervision of Maine Law faculty members and other instructors.
Student attorneys who joined Prof. Smith at Access to Justice Day were third-year students Shawn Walsh and La-Qiana Adams-Perez.
The Clinic fulfills a dual mission. Law students receive intense, hands-on experience as they represent real clients and navigate the complexities of the court system. The state receives help with a critical public service: access to justice for all, regardless of wealth or status.
“Our justice system works best for everyone when all parties have access to legal representation,” Smith said.
“Many people are surprised to learn that most low-income people who need an attorney for a civil legal matter aren’t able to obtain those services, because legal aid programs don’t have the resources to meet the need. As a result, every day there are scores of Maine residents who are denied equal access to justice.”
Maine Law’s General Practice Clinic, Prisoner Assistance Clinic, Juvenile Justice Clinic, Refugee and Human Rights Clinic, and Domestic Violence Program operate under the umbrella of the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic. The Intellectual Property Clinic operates within the Law School’s Center for Law & Innovation.