Attorney Toby Jandreau of Fort Kent. Credit: Jessica Potila / St. John Valley Times

FORT KENT, Maine — At 45 years old, Toby Jandreau said he is one of the youngest practicing lawyers in Aroostook County.

He is also the only general practitioner of law in Fort Kent, and one of only two in the entire St. John Valley.

But Jandreau has an idea about how more lawyers can be drawn to the area — by establishing a student-operated free legal clinic in Fort Kent. The clinic would be modeled after Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic at the University of Maine School of Law in Portland, and be staffed by law students who would intern at the Fort Kent clinic for college credits during the school year, or for a stipend during the summer months.

With such a shortage of lawyers in northern Maine, people of low financial means are at a disadvantage when it comes to obtaining legal representation. That there is a shortage of lawyers is not surprising, as there are also too few dentists, veterinarians and tradesmen in the north, he said.

“We’ve really dropped the ball on being proactive and filling these positions,” Jandreau said.

Although Aroostook County lawyers are generous with pro-bono hours, there simply is not enough time to help everyone.

“I can say that a ton of people need help. For every one I do help, I turn away a bunch. I don’t think a week goes by that I don’t meet with a handful of people I don’t represent but I provide guidance to,” Jandreau said.

Jandreau shared his concerns with Maine Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, who is sponsoring a bill to help fund the three-year pilot project. LD 24 has already garnered bi-partisan support from Maine lawmakers. The bill passed the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee in February.

The law students would provide free legal services for people of limited financial means in civil, criminal, juvenile and family law matters.

Jandreau said studies have shown that the results of law students representing people are equal to when paid lawyers are doing the work.

“They may not have a lot of experience, but what they have is time so they can really delve into things in a way that a traditional lawyer can’t,” Jandreau said.

Law students who staff the Fort Kent clinic may come to realize what a wonderful place it is and return to live and practice here once they have graduated from law school, according to Jandreau.

The University of Maine at Fort Kent is willing to provide free housing for the law students during their internships at the legal clinic and will also provide building space to house the clinic.

If the pilot project proves successful, Jandreau would like to see the legal clinic become a permanent fixture, and perhaps similar programs be developed for other professions.