AUGUSTA — A small bipartisan group of lawmakers would like to see Maine join four other states that allow a person to take the bar exam to become licensed to practice law without attending law school.

Maine currently requires anyone taking the bar exam to have graduated from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association, or who graduated from a foreign law school that meets the association’s standards.

This group would like to expand eligibility to allow a person who studies law for a minimum of two years under the supervision of a licensed attorney to take the bar exam.

Maine law also allows a person who completes two-thirds of law school graduation requirements and then studies law for another year with a licensed attorney to take the bar exam, but the most common path to the bar in Maine is graduation from law school.

The University of Maine School of Law began holding classes at its new location at 300 Fore St. in January. A bill before the Legislature would allow a person who studies law for a minimum of two years under the supervision of a licensed attorney to take the state bar exam.  Gregory Rec/Press Herald file

Vermont, California, Washington and Virginia allow people to take the bar exam without a law school degree.

The bill, LD 1352 titled “An Act to Remove Barriers to Becoming a Lawyer” will be heard before the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.


The primary sponsors are Rep. David Boyer, R-Poland, and Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn. They are joined by Democrats Rep. Grayson Lookner of Portland, Rep. Nina Azella Milliken of Blue Hill, Rep. Laura Supica of Bangor, Rep. Lynne Williams of Bar Harbor and Rep. Benjamin Collings of Portland, and Republicans Rep. John Andrews of Paris and Rep. Jennifer Poirier of Skowhegan, and Aaron Dana, an independent Passamaquoddy Tribal representative.

According to Boyer, the bill would not only help Mainers desiring a career in law to pursue it without acquiring an expensive three-year degree, but would help lighten a considerable backlog of criminal cases.

He pointed to Chief Justice Valerie Stanfill’s recent State of the Judiciary address when she highlighted the high number of backlogged cases that exist mostly because there is a lack of legal representation for defendants awaiting trial.

“With this bill, we don’t want to lower the bar to becoming a lawyer, but I think we should lower the barriers,” Boyer said.

Since Boyer’s bill was filed, he said several Mainers originally from other states and countries have reached out with their stories, including former Bangor City Councilor Angela Okafor, who emigrated in 2008 from Nigeria where she learned and practiced law.

She applied to take the bar in Maine and New York and, despite having taken five out of many law classes that qualify for evaluation in both states, only New York would recognize her law degree.


“I sat and passed the New York bar exam all in one sitting, months after arriving to America, but Maine would not recognize my law degree,” Okafor said. “In 2016, I went to get admitted to the federal court in Bangor so I can practice bankruptcy, which my New York license allows me to practice federally, but was denied because I am not licensed in Maine.”

Okafor applied for the Maine bar again in 2019-20 after practicing immigration law under her New York license, but Maine would still not acknowledge her as a lawyer, she said.

Williams, the only attorney among the bill’s sponsors, earned her law degree at Golden Gate University and started her career in California before coming to Maine to “hang out the shingle,” she said.

Williams said she was a good student, but learned much better hands-on. She had the option in her third year to engage in attorney-supervised legal work as an alternative to classes and it was the greatest learning experience she got during study. The traditional path to law practice often puts those experiences off until after graduating and passing the bar, she explained.

“What I learned in year three was invaluable to allow me to start my own little business … but practically everything I learned about the law I learned once I got out” of school, Williams said. “I actually liked law school a lot, but I was older, I was a single parent raising a little boy. So, I think this is a great idea.”

Boyer said the bill’s requirement that a lawyer candidate fulfill two years of work supervised by an established attorney is reasonable. The ideal future attorney would go on to pass the exam and add to Maine’s diminished pool of legal representation, Boyer said.

“We just need some newer ideas,” to address Maine’s backlogged court cases, Boyer said. “Just throwing money at this problem won’t fix it. It’ll help for sure, but we need some alternative solutions and I think this could be one.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.