As two St. Paul law schools merge, why are fewer students studying the law?

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Two of Minnesota's four law schools have announced they will merge in the wake of a nationwide decline in students choosing to study law.

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

"This is a bold move at a time when students and the legal profession are calling on law schools to do things different," William Mitchell president and dean Eric Janus said of the merger, which will need to be approved by the American Bar Association before it can go through.

It 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.

The Star Tribune notes that both Hamline and Mitchell had seen a dramatic decline in enrollment in recent years, with Hamline's student numbers dropping by a third in the last five years, while Mitchell's dropped 17 percent in the same period.

Currently, the two colleges have a combined 1,248 students, but the merged school will have around 900 students, the newspaper notes.

Why are fewer students going to law school?

The two schools are not alone in having to take unusual steps to ensure their futures in the wake of plummeting interest in law degrees.

The reason for this, according to this piece in US News, is that there has been a decline in job prospects for law graduates, and prospective students don't want to burden themselves with higher student debts when there are few guarantees when they graduate.

The Boston Globe says that 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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