A recently announced merger of two law schools has led many pundits exclaiming, “I told you so.” Two law schools in St. Paul, Minnesota announced that instead of competing for students, they would combine forces.
Hamline University School of Law and the William Mitchell College of Law will merge beginning next year, pending approval from the American Bar Association. It is widely believed the merger is happening so both schools can stay afloat. According to reports from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, William Mitchell will operate “independently” of Hamline, largely in their own facilities, suggesting William Mitchell absorbed Hamline.
Along with a combined William Mitchell- Hamline program, the Twin Cities also has the St. Thomas University School of Law and the University of Minnesota Law School. In fact, some lawyers had already thought that four schools were too many for a mid-sized metropolitan area like Minneapolis-Stt. Paul. Since 2011, William Mitchell’s first-year class had declined 45 percent to 169 students this past fall. Hamline’s first-year enrollment has dropped 56 percent during the same time to 90 current 1Ls.
According to an American Bar Association spokesperson, no one on staff at the association can remember a law school closing or two accredited institutions combining. Of course, law school enrollment has been in freefall since hitting a historical peak in 2010. Total enrollment has dropped nearly 40 percent. across the board The conversation around law school closures has shifted from “if” to “when” a law school will be forced to shut down. While this merger doesn’t technically mean an American Bar Association accredited school has closed, it might as well. There will be one less school.
This also stands as further proof that it is a dangerous time for bottom-tiered schools. Many sport tuitions that are nearly the same as the top schooll, but have abysmal job placement stats. Would-be law students simply don’t want to pay large amounts of tuition dollars with little to no guarantee of a job or a way to pay off debt.
So again, it seems more and more the question is not if or when a law school will close, but just how many will close.
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