A final decision on the proposed merger of William Mitchell College of Law and the Hamline University School of Law will not come in time for the fall semester, officials from the college say.
The two schools had hoped for a green light from the American Bar Association this summer so they could start fall semester fully merged, but William Mitchell Dean Eric Janus said that timeline was "aggressive."
Instead, the decision is expected in December. Janus said an approval then would enable a merger in time for the next semester, which starts in mid-January.
In the meantime, he said, upperclassmen in the fall will have the benefit of both schools.
"Returning students have access to classes of both Mitchell and Hamline," he said. "They can cross-register. They can register for whatever they want."
First-year students will still take classes at their respective campuses.
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Janus said the semester break should give officials enough time to merge the campuses without any major snags.
"We've been working hard to integrate academic programs," he said.
The schools announced in February they were attempting to merge and rename themselves Mitchell|Hamline School of Law, located at William Mitchell's St. Paul campus.
The move comes at a time of fierce competition and sliding law school enrollment nationwide. According to the American Bar Association, first-year law school enrollment is down nearly 30 percent from its high in 2010, and at its lowest point since 1973.
Law school observers have questioned whether the Twin Cities had enough students to sustain four law schools, including the University of Minnesota and University of St. Thomas.
Officials from William Mitchell and Hamline acknowledged that lack of a firm timeline for the merger has caused some concern.
"Certainly, some students have wondered what was going to happen," said Marie Failinger, interim dean of Hamline's law school. "I think now that we have a trajectory toward a decision that will ease some of the anxiety."
Janus and Failinger said it's too soon to say how the uncertainty has affected enrollment. They said they didn't have exact figures and declined to give estimates.
But Janus said he is satisfied with the numbers so far.
"I think we're going to be OK," he said.
Failinger said she didn't think the uncertainty has affected enrollment much.
"We've been very candid with our incoming students about the various possibilities here," she said. "At this point we haven't seen any impact on our incoming class."
The dean of Hamline's law school, Jean Holloway, left the school earlier this year to take a job in the private sector.
The incoming dean of William Mitchell, Mark C. Gordon, will lead the merged institution. Gordon, president of Defiance College in Defiance, Ohio, and former dean of the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, is scheduled to start July 1.