May 18, 2013

'This is your time,' Maine School of Law graduates told

The 98 students include a Somali minister of oil and minerals and an Iraqi combat interpreter.

By Beth Quimby bquimby@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - It is safe to say Issa Farah had one of the more interesting resumes among those receiving degrees at the University of Maine School of Law graduation on Saturday.

click image to enlarge

Issa Farah smiles at his daughter Bilan, 7, and other family members as he and 97 other University of Maine law students enter Merrill Auditorium in Portland Saturday for their graduation ceremony.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Lana Citowsky takes a photo of University of Maine School of Law graduates in Portland on Saturday.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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After 25 years in Australia as a refugee from war-torn Somalia, Farah returned to his homeland four years ago to take the post of minister of oil and minerals in the state of Puntland. An arid region in the northern third of Somalia known as the Horn of Africa, Puntland is the most peaceful of the country's three states. But Farah still has to carry a pistol in his belt and is surrounded by bodyguards all the time. He said the country is too dangerous for his wife, Anne-Marie Treweeke, an architect, and their two daughters, Bishaaro, 9, and Bilan, 7, who stayed behind in Australia.

"They are considered infidels," said Farah, who has a degree from La Trobe University in Australia and has worked in community radio.

Farah was one of two graduates who received degrees from Maine Law's new master of laws program. The other student, Ali Farid, is an Iraqi who worked as a combat interpreter for the coalition forces during the Iraq war. The master of laws program is aimed mostly at foreign candidates who have earned a law degree outside the United States and want to learn about the American legal system.

Farah said he focused his time on learning about law and the U.S. oil and mining business so that he can apply what he learned back in Puntland, where the exploration for oil and mineral resources is just beginning. He said he learned that the private oil companies and the government need to learn to collaborate and balance ownership of resources.

"It opened my horizons," said Farah.

Collaboration and balance were also the buzz words at Farah's graduation ceremony at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, where 96 other graduates received doctorate of law degrees. Speakers advised graduates to emphasize the teamwork skills they learned, as they try to break into the dismal legal services job market.

Mara Liasson, who covers national politics for National Pubic Radio, called on the graduates to put the collaboration skills they learned at the University of Maine School of Law to work in their professional lives at a time when the world, especially Washington politics, is growing increasingly polarized.

"At Maine Law you have learned to work together," said Liasson.

Martha McLean of Greenwood, a former high school teacher, a mother of two and the student speaker, said she came to Maine Law expecting a cutthroat atmosphere where students would think nothing of stealing her notes.

She said instead she found a place where everyone helped each other.

"It was totally different than I expected," McLean said.

Other graduates agreed.

"We made such good friendships," said Paige Streeter of Salisbury, Mass.

The other big topic at the ceremony was jobs and the gloomy prospects for new law school grads both in Maine and nationally. Only a third of last year's Maine Law class had jobs to go to immediately after graduation, while 20 percent were still unemployed nine months after graduation. Law school officials said this year's class is faring a little better.

Liasson noted that law school applicants have dropped 45 percent in the last decade, from 100,000 nationally in 2003 to 55,000 this year.

James Erwin, a University of Maine System trustee, said today's lawyers will have to learn to innovate and hone their entrepreneurial skills to succeed.

"It's a buyer's market for legal services," Erwin said.

Theo Kalikow, University of Southern Maine president, said even though this may not be the best time to graduate from law school, the world still needs people with doctorate of law degrees.

"This is your time," Kalikow said.

John Woodcock, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine, received the school's annual L. Kinvin Wroth Award, which honors a Maine Law graduate who has attained professional distinction.

Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

bquimby@mainetoday.com

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