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William Mitchell and Hamline law schools get OK to merge

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Two St. Paul law colleges have been given the final go-ahead to merge, creating the "largest independent law school in the region."

The 110-year-old William Mitchell College of Law and the Hamline School of Law revealed earlier this year they intended to join forces to create the Mitchell Hamline School of Law, primarily based at the Mitchell campus in St. Paul.

On Wednesday they got the seal of approval of the American Bar Association, which means that the merger should be completed "within days."

"We couldn't be more excited to launch Mitchell Hamline School of Law, which we are confident will retain and extend the best of each predecessor law school and become the pre-eminent institution in the region for practical, problem-solving legal education," said Dan O’Keefe, the soon-to-be-chair of Mitchell Hamline's board, in a press release.

"At a time when other law schools are cutting back, we are adding faculty, classes, and clinical opportunities and creating a combined alumni network that will be unmatched in the region," William Mitchell President Mark Gordon said.

At the Mitchell (at 875 Summit Ave.), officials will now begin revamping the buildings to reflect the new, combined school in time for when students return on Jan. 2.

Declining law student numbers

The merger means the number of law schools in Minnesota will be reduced to three, with Mitchell Hamline competing for students with the University of Minnesota’s and the University of St. Thomas’s law schools.

It has been brought on in part by declining student numbers, with Hamline having seen enrollment drop by a third in the last five years, while Mitchell's dropped 17 percent in the same period. The new school is expected to have 1,000 students.

It's been reported the decline in law students at the national level comes amid a more challenging employment environment for graduates, with law firms hiring fewer new workers than in previous years. This in turn is discouraging prospective students from taking on hefty debts to get a law degree.

The Boston Globe says law firms cut back on hiring during the recession and began outsourcing more work, while at the same time, advancing technology reduced the need for certain support roles.

The newspaper notes that there were 39,675 law school enrollments in 2013-14, the lowest seen since 1977-78 and way down from the record high of 52,488 in 2010-11.

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