Lawyers are problem-solvers, so when the number of students applying and enrolling at law schools started to decline quite dramatically in the last several years as a result of the economic downturn, the lawyers who run these schools had to figure out a way to solve the problem.
The Twin Cities’ four law schools have not been immune to this nationwide issue. Since 2010, the number of law school applications has declined, and enrollment is down anywhere from 15 to 42 percent in just the last three years.
Simply put – not as many students are choosing law school as they once did. And so, law schools had to get creative.
Ok. Full disclosure here.
I am a graduate of a William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul. While I feel loyal to my alma mater, I can be equally critical. And no, I am not on the Mitchell payroll. So I write with as little bias today as possible when I tell you that I think Mitchell is paving an interesting path toward the next generation of legal education, especially for students who may not have otherwise been able to access law school.
Mitchell will soon offer the nation’s first accredited hybrid law school program - a 4 year option that students can take online and in-class. The program will be accredited by the American Bar Association, which means it has the same requirements, difficulty, rigor and cost as a traditional 3-year law school program which is taught mostly in the classroom. Mitchell will continue to offer its long established 3-year and part time law school programs as well.
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Half of the new hybrid program, which will launch in 2015, will take place in a digital learning environment, with pre-recorded lectures and live online lectures and discussions students can take part in from anywhere. The other half of the program will bring students together on campus in groups at least one week each semester for intensive real life legal simulations in settings like a mock courtroom or mock negotiations.
But Mitchell is not alone in finding innovative way to address a drop in law school enrollment. I interviewed Deans at all the local law schools and applaud them for their efforts.
Hamline Law School has increased its hands-on legal opportunities for students, and its certificate programs. Students can get a JD and a certificate in health law, business law or dispute resolution to make them more marketable.
The University of St. Thomas Law School froze law school tuition. The school has also increased its legal services clinics for students and introduced a master’s program in corporate compliance.
And at the University of Minnesota’s Mondale School of Law, the school has revamped its curriculum with a new law and practice class for first year students, among many other initiatives.