Maine Business Journal: On the Record
I had the privilege of being interviewed by Renee Cordes for the November 1, 2021 edition of the Maine Business Journal.
Janene Oleaga is a Portland-based attorney and entrepreneur who launched boutique law firm Oleaga Law LLC in September 2020 to help clients in Maine and New York with assisted reproduction, third-party reproduction and family formation law matters.
Mainebiz: What services does Oleaga Law LLC offer, and who are your clients?
Janene Oleaga: My clients are anyone growing their family through assisted reproduction or adoption, including LGBTQ individuals and those navigating infertility. I represent adoptive parents, intended parents, surrogates, sperm donors, egg donors and embryo donors.
MB: What sparked your interest in this niche?
JO: As I was growing my family, many of my friends were struggling to do the same, whether due to infertility or by nature of being a same-sex couple. One gay couple I am close with experienced years of challenges while starting their own family through egg donation and surrogacy. Their determination, the compassion of their surrogate, and the medical and legal intricacies of surrogacy fascinated me.
This fascination combined with my inability to imagine life without my two daughters left me little choice: I needed to help others experience that joy.
MB: How did you go about setting up your own firm, and what were some of the hurdles?
JO: I knew there was a need for surrogacy lawyers, and while I brought enthusiasm and energy to this niche, I needed a mentor. Instead, I got two: Kathleen DeLisle, a prominent assisted reproductive attorney in Massachusetts, and Joe Michaud at SCORE, who helped me develop the business aspects of my law firm. I am forever grateful for their support and guidance.
MB: To what extent did starting a business during the pandemic present challenges or opportunities?
JO: Besides the obvious challenges, COVID presented some unexpected opportunities. Travel restrictions meant more time at home for everyone, so I hosted webinars about surrogacy and family building. As courtrooms went remote, I represented clients via Zoom, allowing me to be in multiple courtrooms across the state in one day.
MB: How does Maine compare to other states in terms of legal rights surrounding surrogacy?
JO: Unlike many other states, Maine has inclusive laws that apply regardless of gender, marital status, sexual orientation or genetic relationship. Maine’s laws are protective of intended parents and surrogates, providing clear requirements and certainty around who is a legal parent. People from other states and countries specifically plan surrogacy journeys in Maine for these reasons.
MB: What are some examples of contentious cases you’ve been involved with, and any lessons that stand out from those experiences?
JO: I have one case now in which we are seeking to declare legal parentage postmortem, and I expect to have more of these cases in the future. There will continue to be litigation concerning parental and proprietary rights to frozen embryos, particularly in the context of divorce. There will also be more litigation concerning the separation of same-sex parents in a state that recognizes only one parent as the legal parent.
I also expect more cases surrounding sperm donation arrangements among friends without adequate contracts and necessary procedures.
MB: What do you find most rewarding about what you describe as a “happy” area of law?
JO: I get to play a small role in helping people become parents — watching children who are deeply wanted brought into loving homes. The magnitude of that is not lost on me.
MB: Longer term, what are your plans for the practice?