William Mitchell and Hamline to merge

William Mitchell College of Law and Hamline University School of Law announced plans to merge after the American Bar Association acquiesce’s to the move.

The combined school will be named Mitchell|Hamline School of Law and will be located on William Mitchell’s existing campus. Both are private law schools in St. Paul, Minn., located only three miles apart.

Mitchell|Hamline School of Law will be an autonomous, non-profit institution governed by an independent board of trustees, with an affiliation to Hamline University. The new board of trustees will include trustees from William Mitchell and Hamline University. The schools are hopeful the ABA will acquiesce by August 1, allowing the combined school to start with the Fall 2015 semester. 

While several law schools have merged with universities in recent years, this is the first time two law schools have merged. It underscores the serious challenges that law schools face given the drop in enrollment nationwide.

"Obviously, enrollment was a factor," said Jean Holloway, dean of Hamline University School of Law. "But the two came together more for the strategic benefits. The mission and commitment to community are very similar for both." 

Both schools have seen enrollment plummet during the last four years. Hamline University’s enrollment has dropped from 652 in 2010-2011 to 321 in 2014-2015. Only two other schools have seen their enrollment drop by a higher percent. William Mitchell has seen enrollment drop from 1,013 in 2010-2011 to 665, making it the tenth larges decline among law schools in terms of actual numbers. 

If approved, the new law school will have an enrollment less than what William Mitchell had four years ago.

The two schools began merger discussions in September. But they have previously discussed merging several times during the last 15 years. Both schools have very similar tuition, and entering LSAT and GPA scores, making the merger easier. Hamline charges $39,536 and William Mitchell charges $38,660. Hamline's median GPA is 3.27 and median LSAT is 151. William Mitchell's median GPA is 3.25 and LSAT is 152. Both schools have seen their median LSAT scores drop three points since 2009-2010. 

The Mitchell|Hamline School of Law will offer more enrollment options than any other school in the country, including full-time, weekend, and part-time programs, as well as a hybrid, on-campus/online JD option. In addition, students will be able to earn dual degrees through the school’s affiliation with Hamline University, and they will have access to Hamline’s athletic facilities, library and cultural programs.  

“This is a bold move at a time when students and the legal profession are calling on law schools to do things differently,” said Eric Janus, William Mitchell president and dean. “It will leverage the best of two outstanding institutions to create a stronger law school with the ability to put a greater focus on helping students prepare for the new realities of the profession, which is increasingly competitive, specialized, and technology-based.”

Janus has been president and dean since 2007 and oversaw the school's launch of the ABA's first hybrid online/on-campus program.

The president and dean of the combined law school will be Mark C. Gordon. Gordon brings nearly 30 years of experience in higher education. He is currently president of Defiance College, a private college in Defiance, Ohio. Previously, he served as dean of the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. He was announced as dean designate of William Mitchell in January, but was hired to oversee the combined school. 

Both schools have right-sized in recent years, offering voluntary incentive programs to faculty and staff. 

"We are in the early stages of integration planning, but our goal will be to retain as many faculty as we can," Holloway said. "There will probably be some attrition. But I am not sure if we will need to ask [people to leave]."

Holloway said there was a lot of discussion about the new name, and it was decided to keep both school names in order to honor the legacy of both institutions.

Holloway, who has only been dean at Hamline for one year, is unsure of her future role, but hopes to stay at the law school. She was previously general counsel of a corporation.

“This move brings the best of each existing school together and is a win for Hamline, for William Mitchell, for the legal community both regionally and nationally, for alumni, and most of all, for all of our students,” said Dr. Linda Hanson, president of Hamline University.