A small but growing number of Maine students are choosing a fast route to earning their law degrees—Maine Public | Team Cansler

For most of his adult life, Portland native Armand Lucier didn’t have time for college. After graduating high school, he joined the military and then became a state trooper in Maine for 25 years while raising a family. After retiring from that job, he decided to take a few courses at the University of Southern Maine while working as a private investigator for attorneys.

“Often they would give me cases and say, ‘These are the issues you should look at.’ And I looked at it and I was like, ‘Okay, you want me to look at this specific part of the case. But what about this part of the case? And I realized I had a lot to offer,'” Lucier said.

He decided to become a lawyer and says the University of Maine School of Law’s accelerated 3+3 program, in which students complete three years of undergraduate studies and three years of law school, was a major factor in his decision.

“Because I’m a senior student, and you know, if I can shave a year off school and save that time and get into the workforce earlier for me, that was certainly key,” he said.

It was also important to Andy Almonte to complete a bachelor’s and law degree in six years instead of seven. He’s a first-generation college student from New Hampshire and says he’s known since childhood that he wanted to be a lawyer.

“I’ve never liked being wrong,” he said. “I’ve always liked to argue.”

Courtesy of Andy Almonte

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Andy Almonte is a first-generation college student from New Hampshire and said he knew since childhood that he wanted to be a lawyer. Almonte, who is a freshman in law school, said he chose USM’s accelerated program for financial reasons.

Almonte, who is a freshman in law school, said he chose USM’s accelerated program for financial reasons.

“When I look at how much credit I’d need to take out in undergraduate school and then compare that to credit from law school, I just didn’t think I could afford it. So a six-year instead of a seven-year apprenticeship just seemed more logical to me,” he said.

Students pursuing an accelerated degree must apply to Maine Law in their junior year. If accepted, they will begin law school in their senior year. Law school dean Leigh Saufley said students can apply to any UMaine campus, as can students from Husson University, St. Joseph’s College and the University of New England.

“The goal is really to help the students who know what they want to do during their studies to reach that goal as quickly as possible with the lowest cost and the greatest chance to go to school in the world and make a difference ‘ Saufley said.

When Maine Law’s program first started, school officials also hoped it would boost enrollment, which has oscillated between 80 and 90 students for years. Total enrollment remains somewhat static, and the number of students pursuing accelerated degrees is small but growing, Saufley said. Eight have graduated since it began about five years ago, and eleven students are currently enrolled.

“When I started, I started with the law school pipe dream,” said Lizzie Cantey. She just started her law degree this fall after three years of majoring in sociology. Originally from Ohio, Cantey says she dropped out of school in the 10th grade and later earned her GED in juvenile detention. She tried a variety of jobs, including early childhood education and elder care.

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Courtesy of Lizzie Cantey

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Lizzie Cantey just started law school this fall after three years with a sociology major.

“With all the work that I’ve been doing, I’m really spending a lot of my personal, you know, even free time, and I wanted my career to be about helping people,” Cantey said. “But I felt that a lot of positions were frustrated by the system that we were operating in.”

She decided that a law degree would equip her with the skills she needed to make change happen. And she says graduating with less debt will make it easier for her to pursue meaningful work.

“It might not pay that well,” Cantey said. “But I wouldn’t be forced to work in a position that I wouldn’t be happy with to pay off all the debt.”

Similarly, Andy Almonte said graduating with a lighter financial burden will give him more flexibility to serve the Latino community in his hometown, where many people don’t speak English.

“Our access to the legal community was already quite limited,” he said. “And then just having someone who can translate that from the legal and into more lay language so everyone can understand that it was something I was really missing and that was sort of my call to action, going to school .”

Armand Lucier, the state police officer and law student, was the first graduate of the 3+3 program. He recently passed the bar exam and was sworn in as a lawyer last month at the age of 59. He plans to become a criminal defense attorney.

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