A committee charged with exploring the future of the University of Maine School of Law and coming up with long-term recommendations for how to best serve students is expected to release its findings this week.

“We hope this is helpful to the board of trustees, to the chancellor’s office and to the whole system and the law school in terms of moving the law school forward and meeting the needs of the legal profession, legal industry and the state of Maine,” Deirdre Smith, a professor at the school who is co-chair of the committee, said at a meeting of the University of Maine board of trustees Monday in Orono.

UMaine law school Professor Deirdre Smith, co-chair of the study committee Photo courtesy University of Maine School of Law

The committee was charged in February with looking at the strategic direction of Maine’s only law school while taking advantage of a leadership change with the departure of  Dean Danielle Conway.

Smith said the committee report will address several key areas, including a plan for specific action to help Maine meet the 21st century needs of law school graduates and other professionals who could benefit from legal education.

The report will look at opportunities to partner with the Maine Center for Graduate Professional Studies and ways the law school can provide supports for key faculty positions, students and graduates, especially in rural and underserved communities.

Finally, it will touch on the best ways to attract and enroll high quality students and will include a review of operational functions such as salaries, the best metrics for performance reviews and recommendations for the search for a new dean to lead the school, Smith said.

For the last several years the law school has operated on a deficit, with the University of Southern Maine and University of Maine system investing $2.67 million in budget stabilization support into the school over the last three years. The school’s total spending in 2018-2019 was $6.6 million.

At the same time, state allocation for the law school has remained stagnant at about $850,000, though the USM president has pledged to increase those funds — which flow through USM from the state to the law school — by 50 percent in fiscal year 2021 to bring the new allocation to nearly $1.3 million.

Enrollment in the law school as of October 2018 was 239 students, but the school is anticipating an incoming class of 90 or more students this fall, an increase of about 10 percent over the size of last year’s incoming class.

Board of trustees Chair James Erwin said in a written statement Monday that while the law school is in a period of transition, it is a critical asset to the state and the board is committed to strengthening its fiscal and strategic positions.

“The committee on the future of the law school has identified that leadership and investment are going to be critical to strategically meeting Maine’s 21st century needs,” Erwin said.

He said the board has tasked trustee Lisa Marchese Eames, Chancellor Dannel Malloy and Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Ryan Low with reviewing the report after it comes out and making recommendations to the full board on next steps in September.

In other items Monday, the board received an update on the Maine Aqua Ventus project, which the university is working on as part of a collaborative to build a floating offshore wind turbine that would be the first of its kind in the United States.

Jim Thelan, general counsel and chief of staff to University of Maine Orono President Joan Ferrini-Mundy, said the project is approaching an operational phase that will include planning, design and permitting, the latter of which could take at least one year.

“This is an extremely exciting enterprise for us here at the university,” Ferrini-Mundy said. “It’s a chance for the university to take an idea from research to full-blown development and for students to see that. It’s quite groundbreaking to have that opportunity.”

Rachel Ohm — 791-6388

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Twitter: @rachel_ohm