Minnesota will soon be host to three law schools rather than four. William Mitchell College of Law, best known for producing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Warren Berger, and Hamline University School of Law, which you may know because I attended it for a year before transferring and now all my friends there hate me forever, will merge into the Mitchell|Hamline College of Law, which I challenge you type without pausing and looking at your keyboard partway through.
To know why, we have to go back to 2008. When the economy crashed, a lot of college grads, then facing a much leaner job market plus a whole load of more experienced, recently-unemployed job-seekers, stampeded to professional school. This is a smart and logical thing, to a degree (actual stampedes exist for a reason). Many law students who entered school in the worst of the recession graduated into a bull market with a graduate degree that set them up for a good job. Yet this was far from a universal experience, and hardly the real story of law school at the turn of the decade. As a Texas Supreme Court justice pointed out, "in 2013 there were, on average 3.31 bar admittees for every law job in the country." Ouch.
The rush overran the legal market, which was contracting anyway alongside many other white collar industries thanks to the coming robot apocalypse. College students got wise, and as undergraduate degree-only prospects improved, law school enrollment declined sharply. Top schools became less selective and have done fine; smaller, regional schools, like William Mitchell and Hamline, have struggled to keep their enrollment numbers up. Both schools have seen their student bodies decline precipitously in the last few years. This probably made Hamline University proper wonder how long it could continue supporting its law school, and likely made William Mitchell fear for its very existence. The merger is one of survival and necessity, a result of market contraction and over-saturation.
Will the whole surpass its parts? Who knows. William Mitchell flared up the rankings a few years ago, and has a good "practice-ready" program going to help its students come out, er, ready to practice, which is far rarer than you'd expect. And, for what anecdotes are worth, as a former Hamline 1L I can report that the actual classroom difference between law schools of vastly different ranks is not as pronounced as you'd think. A good civil procedure teacher is a good civil procedure teacher. If Mitchell|Hamline produces quality lawyers, reads the market well, and adjusts its enrollment expectations accordingly, it could pull this off, however the rankings read.
Bennett Hartz is an associate attorney at Drewes Law, PLLC who defends against debt collection and foreclosure. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.
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