How the legal slump has hit William Mitchell College of Law

Janus (MPR/Benson)

Hamline University’s cutbacks in its law school aren’t the only ones happening in Minnesota.

William Mitchell College of Law Dean Eric Janus says the slump has hit his campus, too.

He said he’s expecting about 220 students this next term — a figure that’s down about 15 percent from last year’s fall enrollment of 260, and 30 percent down from the average in years past.

(Update: Janus had originally estimated an 18 percent drop.)

Compared to other schools nationally, he said:

“We’re in the middle of the pack. Some law schools are down 50 percent.”

To cope, the college has cut faculty and staff.

Janus said he won’t replace three faculty members who are leaving this year — two who are retiring, and one who has accepted a job at another school.

The college has also thinned the staff ranks by about 20 percent over the last two years — mostly through attrition, but also through layoffs, he said.

Janus told me:

“We’re trying to get staff down to a size that’s more commensurate with the student body numbers we have here.”

He said the college is trying to fight the slump with initiatives such as a new child-protection program, a center for law and business, and a beefed-up externship program.

In explaining those, Janus echoed one sentiment I’ve been hearing: These days, just teaching the law isn’t enough. Law schools need to offer students more practical skills.

He told me:

“Our focus always been on accessibility and practical legal education, and we’re doubling down on those strengths. So we’re increasing the amount of experiential education that our students have available.”

I’m hoping to hear from other colleges soon.