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Is Hamline Law School on its last legs?

[ 60 ] July 16, 2013 |

The Wall Street Journal has a story today about law schools shrinking faculties via attrition, buyouts, and layoffs, in the face of the continuing slide in applicants (over the past three years total applicants to ABA schools have declined from 88,000 to around 59,000, and total number of LSAT takers for last month’s test was down yet again).

One school the story discussed was Hamline:

Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, Minn., for example, has shrunk its full-time faculty about 18% since 2010, and the school is exploring ways to further scale back its head count. Ten faculty members have retired since the school began offering early-retirement incentives in 2011, and four more have accepted agreements and plan to retire in the coming academic year.

That has allowed the regional law school to balance its budget amid what Hamline Dean Don Lewis calls “the tsunami effect” of declining enrollment nationwide. This year’s entering class at Hamline is expected to be about 100 students, Mr. Lewis said—a 55% drop from 2010. To lure more students, the school has ramped up financial-aid offers, a strategy that can compound financial pressures.

“I’m pretty confident about our future,” said Mr. Lewis, who is stepping down as dean next year. “But the turnaround will be slow.”

It’s Lewis’s job to sound an optimistic in these circumstances (although he himself is leaving academia to return to the law firm he helped found), but in fact there’s a significant chance that Hamline University will decide to close the law school within the next year or two.

Here are the relevant numbers:

(1) The school’s enrollment is in free fall. Until last year a typical entering class at Hamline was 205-235 students, and total JD enrollment was consequently around 650 to 715. Then last year the entering class plunged to 124. The story quotes Lewis as expecting “about 100″ matriculants next month, but a well-placed source tells me that as of last week the school had received seat deposits from between 80 and 90 applicants. Since at law schools the number of July seat deposits is less than the subsequent August enrolllment, and sometimes considerably less (schools lose deposited applicants to other schools who pull people off wait lists late in the summer; in addition some people think better of enrolling at the last minute), an entering class of 100 for Hamline seems extremely optimistic.

(2) Hamline will probably have a total of about 400 JD students this fall. This is already down 40% from total enrollment two years ago, yet fully half of those students will graduate next spring. There are only going to be about 200 total students in the first and second years, which means that total JD enrollment is likely to fall to around 300 next year — down from 716 in 2009.

(3) The numbers are actually even worse than this, however, because Hamline has been cutting real tuition. Four years ago, 43% of Hamline JD students were getting discounts off tuition, and the average discount was about $19,000 the $30,500 nominal tuition. This past year, 60% of students were getting discounts that averaged $26,000 off the $36,400 nominal tuition. In other words, Hamline is getting less tuition per student than it was four years ago. Indeed if you do the math, total tuition revenues this fall will be barely half of what they were in 2009, and will fall sharply again next year.

(4) The Twin Cities are a relatively small legal market. Hamline is one of four law schools in the metro area, which under current and foreseeable conditions is about two too many.

(5) Hamline University is a small institution, with around 2100 undergraduates, and a total university operating budget of around $120,000,000. It also has a very small endowment, that throws off just a few million per year (all this is taken from the school’s IRS tax filings). The reduction in law school tuition over the past two years alone equals something like 5% of the entire university’s operating budget. All of which is to say that Hamline isn’t some multi-billion dollar behemoth that can decide to carry a law school that’s bleeding red for a few years without doing too much damage to the university’s bottom line.

Speaking of the bottom line, if you’re one of the few dozen people currently scheduled to start law school at Hamline next month, you may want to re-think your plans — or at least do a careful head count on the first day of orientation. You might also want to make inquiries into what the school’s contingency plans are for its students should the university close the law school.

Comments (60)

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  1. Barry says:

    The big question is the attitude of the board (and whomever are the big movers and shakers behind the scenes). Given that the law school will probably operate in the red for years, in a good-case scenario, it should be closed.

  2. PaulB says:

    One factor that’s been mostly unmentioned about the financial stresses facing law schools is that many non-elite private schools are facing serious challenges with their core undergraduate program as well. Loyola NO recently announced that the incoming freshman class will be only 70% of what was budgeted. Colleges with limited endowments (most notably the Catholic colleges excluding ND, Georgetown, and BC)have no choice but to be ruthless regarding law schools, unlike the large public colleges which can hide red ink longer and are more subject to political pressure any time a hard decision must be made.

  3. Pamoya says:

    I’m a lawyer in St. Paul, and I wouldn’t be sorry to see Hamline go. There is just no need for four law schools in the Twin Cities. I think the poor employment prospects for the University of Minnesota Law School, relative to its ranking, can in part be blamed on having too many law schools in the area.

    PaulB, your comment on the limited endowments at Catholic colleges also makes me wonder about the University of St Thomas law school, also in the Twin Cities. UST opened in around 2000. I hope a lot of people are now regretting that decision. If Hamline is doing so poorly, UST can’t be doing too well either.

    Further harming both these schools’ enrollment numbers, the U of Minnesota has recently been taking a ton of transfer students each year.

    • PaulB says:

      Pamoya,

      I don’t know anything about the situation at St Thomas, but I think you’ve identified the mechanism whereby the large scale reduction in the number of law schools will come to pass. As T14 and T1 schools struggle with a declining pool of qualified applicants, the temptation to deal with declining 1L classes by raiding nearby lower ranked schools for transfers will become overwhelming. My prime candidate for leading predator is Georgetown whose Admissions Director has already said they may have to substantially reduce future class sizes. GULC exists in a target rich environment of expensive private and public schools with poor placement statistics. Slightly lowering the acceptable class ranks acceptable for transfer should put any number of Mid-Atlantic schools at great risk for collapse.

  4. LeeEsq says:

    Paul, I have an unrelated legal question. Eugene Volokh, in response to the verdict in the Martin case, said that in 49 of the 50 states, if the defendant raises self-defense than the burden is on the prosecutor to disprove self-defense rather than it being the traditional affirmative defense. Is this true? I studied criminal law at law school in Fall 2003 and was taught that self-defense was still an affirmative defense and the burden is on the defendant. When did the change occur?

    • Paul Campos says:

      I don’t actually know anything about this, but criminal defense lawyers tell me that the Florida situation is standard, which makes sense, in that not acting in self-defense is an element of the crime.

      I would be surprised if the situation has changed that drastically over the past decade.

      • LeeEsq says:

        I’m pretty big on the rights of the accused but I really don’t know if I like the idea that proving self-defense is no longer the defendant’s burden. If your saying that you had to commit an act of violence or even kill somebody than the burden should be on you to prove that it was necessary. I prefer the common law system.

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          There’s a nice discussion here including how stand your ground works:

          A hearing is held before trial. The burden is on the defendant to prove by a preponderance of evidence that stand your ground immunity applies.

          The judge weighs the facts. If the judge agrees the defendant has shown stand your ground immunity applies by a preponderance of evidence, the charges are dismissed. The defendant can’t be prosecuted.

          If the judge finds the defendant hasn’t met his burden, (including if the disputed evidence is so equal on both sides the judge can’t decide one way or the other) the case goes to trial to be decided by the jury. At trial, the defendant can still argue both self-defense and stand your ground immunity — he only has to establish some evidence of his theory, which can be just his own testimony, that he acted in self-defense.

          The prosecution must prove his guilt at the jury trial beyond a reasonable doubt. Which means, if the defendant raises self-defense or stand your ground at trial and gets the jury instruction, the state, which has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, must disprove self-defense. If the jury has a doubt, the defendant must be acquitted.

          I don’t know what level of proof you think is appropriate for the defendant, but it needs to be fairly low, right?

      • rea says:

        Generally speaking, there is a production burden on the defendant, while the persuasion burden is on the prosecution. In other words, self defense isn’t at issue ordinarily unless defendant produces evidence of self-defense, while the ultimate burden of proof remains on the prosecution.

        • L2P says:

          Yes, Rea is right. There is no self-defense instruction unless the defense puts forth some evidence that self-defense is an issue. Then the prosecution has the burden of proving that the defendant didn’t act in self-defense, because a person acting in self-defense lacks the mens rea to commit murder (or assault or battery).

          In law school, often professors sidestep the difference in crim law. It’s pretty complicated and doesn’t really matter for crim law purposes, where you want to focus more on whether self defense actually happened, not the ins and outs of proving it up in court. Ah, law school! So helpful, so useless.

          • rea says:

            Actually, my evidence professor explained prduction burdens and persuasion burdens to us back in 1977 or so, and I’ve been using the explanation ever since. John W. Reed (who used to be dean at Paul’s school, as well as teaching for many, many years at Michigan where I went) as one of the reasons law school was worthwhile for me. (He’s still listed as a professor emeritus on the U of M website, though he’s 95).

    • joshtk76 says:

      It is pretty much true. Scott Lemieux covered this in his American Prospect article.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        And I should add that while I had no way of linking to it I had access to the American Law Reports study of self-defense law at the state level. Volokh is correct that there is indeed nothing unusual about the burden of proof standards in Florida self-defense law.

    • Just Dropping By says:

      I actually was wondering the same thing because I’m 90%+ certain that I was taught in Criminal Law that self-defense is an affirmative defense that the defendant has the burden of disproving. I was thus shocked to learn that wasn’t the law in any state, let alone that it is apparently the overwhelming majority rule.

      • MacK says:

        I think the issue is that in common law murder is: (a) unlawful killing (b) of a human (c) by another human (d) with malice aforethought.

        As the burden is on the prosecutor to prove (a) unlawfulness and (d) malice. Self-defense means no crime in most statutes and the prosecutor has to overcome the possibility of self-defence to show malice. The result is somewhat circular – although self defence is an affirmative defence – the prosecutor also needs to show no-self defence to establish the elements of the crime.

        • Orin Kerr says:

          I don’t think that is right. Self-defense is an affirmative defense, and the defendant has the burden of making out a prima facie case. Mosansky v. State, 33 So.3d 756, 758 (Fla. 1st DCA 2010). But once the defendant makes out that prima facie case, the state must disprove the defense beyond a reasonable doubt. Sneed v. State, 580 So.2d 169, 170 (Fla. 4th DCA 1991).

          • MacK says:

            Orin,

            It’s the only way a burden ab initio could bo on the prosecution. I agree that the prima facie burden could be so low as to effectively shift the burden once pled.

          • MacK says:

            I think rea above addressed the issue – for practical purposes, once self defense is properly pled – some production has taken place the burden shifts. It shifts so readily the burden falls on the prosecution – I am curious though – does the burden go to the unlawful and malice elements too

  5. Sebastian H says:

    Is there a precedent for what happens to second year students when the law school closes? They seem likely to get screwed even more than usual.

    • Greg says:

      It’s very likely that the ABA will arrange to allow these students to transfer to another ABA-accredited school. It would look terrible if they weren’t allowed to transfer all of their credits, even if they are above the limit that is usually allowed for transfer students. Given that lots of schools are also facing shortages of students, it shouldn’t be hard to find a school willing to take them (and their loan money).

      • CBR says:

        I agree that schools will welcome transfers, but I do worry that students may not get credit for their 2L courses if they attempt to transfer after the 2L year. It may be that a school scheduled to close will announce it far enough in advance that they will attempt to graduate the 2Ls. (So, a school announces in the summer of 201X; students who have completed their 1L year presumably transfer, and students who have completed their 2L year will complete their third year while the school is in the process of winding down. Then the school closes in year 201X+1 or x+2. Still a problem for part time students and anyone who has trouble finishing the graduation requirements.

        • Barry says:

          This could well be done for schools attached to universities. Free-standing law schools will (I believe) keep running until the banks refuse to loan them any more money or honor their checks. I expect a couple to crash and burn in mid-semester.

    • CBR says:

      There is precedent, but it’s not particularly good for second-year students: http://www.nytimes.com/1989/04/16/nyregion/dental-school-s-closing-puts-students-in-quandary.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

      From the article:

      “The group that may suffer the most from the closing of Fairleigh Dickinson’s dental school is the current sophomores. Like students at most dental schools, they take courses in their first two years before engaging in clinical work in their final two years.

      Most schools require that both years of clinical work be done solely in their own programs. Thus, current sophomores who go through with their junior year at Fairleigh Dickinson might find that several or all of their clinical credits will not be accepted by another school, meaning a loss of money and the possible waste of an entire year.”

  6. BoredJD says:

    If a school closes before graduation, students can get their federal loans forgiven. Sucks for the ones who graduated a few years before the law school administration woke up, though. I’m sure the limitless value of their degrees is some consolation.

    • CBR says:

      Yes–more info on the “closed school discharge” is here.

      Importantly, it applies to federal loans only (another good reason to avoid private loans), and does not apply if the student transfers to a different program.

      • HTA says:

        But, IRC Section 108, as far as I recall, contains no “closed school discharge” exception, meaning you might get stuck with a tax bill on your cancelled debt.

  7. SV Bob says:

    I imagine that there’s a “snowball effect” at work here among the leading candidates for law school extinction. Enrollment falls, and negative publicity and rumors of decline and/or demise causes it to fall further. I don’t think Paul is going to be getting any Christmas cards this year from the Dean of Hamline Law School – he may have just nudged them over the edge.
    And Hamline wasn’t even at the top of the “Law School Death Watch”, as far as I can tell. I would have guessed Phoenix, Florida Coastal, Vermont, Touro, Catholic, Golden Gate, Laverne, Touro et al. But maybe he is right – the law schools attached to small colleges with little endowments might be the first go (and especially in the Midwest and Rust Belt), e.g. Dayton, Valparaiso, Ohio Northern, etc.
    I have a few questions:
    1) Can law schools demand that tenured profs double their “work load” and teach two to two and a half full classes instead of just one? That would result on some real hardship – the profs would have to really cut back on their mid-day viewing of the Discovery Channel and Seinfeld re-runs.
    2) What happens to independent law school endowments if a law school goes under?

    • CBR says:

      Teaching loads can certainly increase–and it’s probably a good idea. I think a large number of schools are doing this now. I know of schools where the faculty has voted for higher teaching loads and pay cuts in the face of declining enrollment, especially if it means avoiding tuition increases for students. But even without such a vote, I think most law school deans have the power to unilaterally raise teaching loads. (Pay cuts, if not voluntarily agreed to, are more difficult to implement–but can usually be done if the school declares financial exigency. I have not heard of any law school making an official declaration of exigency yet, though it may well have happened at some places).

      What happens to the endowment in bankruptcy is an interesting question, and I suspect that short answer is that the bulk of the money would go to another law school. We haven’t seen many university bankruptcies yet, but I would assume that they would be treated as other nonprofits with endowments, so some funds may be returned to donors, and the bulk would probably go to a cy pres distribution (more info here: http://www.exemptmagazine.com/news-articles/bankrupt-but-endowed/ ).

    • CBR says:

      Your point about law schools at colleges with small endowments is also a good one. I would add that small liberal arts colleges are financially struggling in general right now. (Eg, Colleges Struggling to Stay Afloat, from the NY Times). It is possible that a steep law school enrollment decline could put a small college into bankruptcy–especially if that college had, in the past, been using the law school as a cash cow.

  8. CBR says:

    For those curious about what school closure might look like, this is a good article discussing the closure of dental schools in the 90s and comparing the current situation of veterinary schools and law schools. (“When dental schools closed: lessons for veterinary profession?”)

  9. MacK says:

    I think I have made this point elsewhere. For a law school to close is a lot easier if there is another law school – or other law schools in the same metro area. To take the case of Hamline, it probably could broker a deal to transfer its existing students to the other three law schools with their choice of which school to go to being a function of class rank – or it could just merge out of existence with say St Thomas or William Mitchell.

    • CBR says:

      Or Infilaw could buy it. I am curious about what the plans are for the new “Infilaw Ventures.” My guess, though, is that they intend to create online LLM programs for existing law schools–so probably not buying struggling non-profits. Then again, who knows?

  10. Trollhattan says:

    Don’t know whether this has been mentioned on LGM already, but McGeorge Law is downsizing by 40%, citing enrollment and employment trends. A friend was recently laid off of her administrative job there after nearly twenty years.

    Nationwide, the numbers of students taking the LSAT and applying to law schools have declined sharply, while job prospects for new lawyers are at the lowest point since the 1990 recession. Law schools around the country are changing the way they do business in response.

    http://www.pacific.edu/About-Pacific/Newsroom/2013/May—August-2013/University-of-the-Pacific%E2%80%99s-McGeorge-School-of-Law-to-Rescale-.html

  11. dybbuk says:

    This is a very troubling development.

    You see, obscure little bottom-of-the-barrel Hamline University School of Law ranks #1 out of all 202 ABA accredited in terms of reported percentage of the graduating class placed in “JD Advantage” jobs.

    For the class of 2012, an incredible 30.0% of Hamline Law grads obtained JD Advantage jobs that were long-term and full-time. That is more than quadruple the national average of 9.0%.

    http://outsidethelawschoolscam.blogspot.com/2013/05/is-hamline-univ-school-of-law-scamming_9.html

    I hope that before Hamline draws its final breath, it shares its secret recipe for obtaining JD Advantage jobs for its graduates. The ever-widening crisis of jobless and underemployed lawyers will quickly resolve if non-law white collar employers, en masse, fall in love with JDs generally, as they have evidently fallen in love with Hamline JDs.

    • James says:

      Hamline is putting all its grads in healthcare-compliance positions.

    • Kyle says:

      It’s because of that particular classification – “JD Advantage” jobs. My guess is that many Hamline grads become reference attorneys for West at Thomson-Reuters. Awful job with poor pay, but at least it’s full time. You aren’t doing the work of an attorney, though. If the legal market wasn’t so poor, I would have my doubts they would even be able to get attorneys to do that job.

      The national average is lower because other parts of the country don’t have West 15 miles away. There is no secret for Hamline to share.

  12. Susi says:

    Well, thank goodness they got all of my money at a higher tuition in the late 2000s…

  13. [...] Paul Campos (Colorado), Is Hamline Law School on its Last Legs? [...]

  14. Mike D. says:

    1) What kind of situation is a returning 3L in in the case of closure during the year?

    2) How much does the value of a Hamline JD decline for all recent grads in the case of closure?

    • Tim says:

      2) The collapse of any one of the three lower tier Minnesota schools (or all of them, God be praised!) would do more to lift the value of the JD than harm done by holding a JD from a well-regarded liberal arts school that used to have a JD program.

  15. Shwell Thanksh says:

    Personally, I would have gone with “Hamline Anticipates Continuous Spiral of Cuts”.

  16. [...] law blog Lawyers, Guns Money asks, if the declining-enrollment issue isn’t resolved, whether Hamline’s law school can keep going in the long term. Mark Reilly manages daily and weekly coverage at the Business Journal [...]

  17. Honest says:

    Time to start flushing the TTT schools. It’s been a long time coming.

    • Kyle says:

      Absolutely. Hamline can go. St. Thomas can go, too. I’m not a WMU grad, but they seem alright. It looks like they’ve cut back on their enrollment in the past few years, although I bet that wasn’t an intentional move on their part. But the U of M and William Mitchell will produce enough attorneys out of this area.

  18. OhioDocReviewer says:

    “I’ll have a Hamline sandwich with a side of McGeorge fries, and some Golden Gate nuggets, hold the Touro.”

  19. Val Kilmer says:

    This is a bunch of bullshit. Hamline has jumped to the second best MN school according to US News and World Report. Why isn’t anyone questioning William Mitchell or St. Thomas after falling behind in the rankings to a so called “closing school.” To me I would look closer at the schools that were surpassed by Hamline in the rankings this year.

    • Kyle says:

      I would have to go back and check, but I believe Hamline has consistently been ranked behind both WMU and UST (although UST’s history is short) in years past. So this one year as it cuts out half of its students could very well be an outlier.

      Also, Hamline is ranked ahead of WMU, but is behind UST last I checked. UST was 124 and Hamline was in a six way tie for 126. Keep in mind that they only ranked 148.

      And I think most people question WMU and St. Thomas as well. Most attorneys I talk to feel that MSP can only support two law schools.

      • Tim says:

        I practice in Minnesota and believe Minnesota can only support two law schools. The top school is U of Minnesota. The job prospects for all of the remaining three schools is equally poor. Hamline has done a relatively decent job of using certificate programs such as Health Law to help its graduates move into lucrative compliance jobs, though these are not really traditional JD jobs. The pay is high enough to justify the JD, however.

        The best thing that could happen for the state bar is if two law schools shut their doors. Hamline might. St. Thomas has the endowment to stay in the red for years. William Mitchell, unlike St. Thomas and Hamline, has no other reason to exist. At best, we’ll see a decrease to 3 law schools with all three offering tailored and smaller class sizes.

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  21. Bugsy669 says:

    The

  22. [...] Diego’s Thomas Jefferson School of Law joins Florida Coastal and Hamline as prominent recent admits into legal academia’s ICU: The Thomas Jefferson School of Law will [...]

  23. Hamline 2L says:

    I remember hearing about the Wall Street Journal article and laughing. Today I find this, and laugh even harder. Hamline Law offers a strong alumni network, small class sizes, an incredibly hard working Career Services Office (see our amazing job placement rankings), and we have by far the most positive reputation among law schools in the Twin Cities area. I’ve heard from students, professors, and attorneys alike- Hamline continues to respond to the market and innovates new ways to compete.

    You all sound like a bunch of doom and gloom enthusiasts. I saw in the chain earlier a comment on the perverse cycle of negative attention fueled by fear and hype; and this is right on point. There is no way any sensible person can lump Hamline in with some of the other schools mentioned in this chain. We are simply above the rest. We are #2 nationally in Alternative Dispute Resolution, #17 nationally in Health Care Law, have fostered several international cooperative education programs, and we have an engaged student body that is faithfully served by a cadre of outstanding staff and faculty.

    It is depressing to see so many jump on the bandwagon of defeat; and all this is based on what? An article in the Wall Street Journal? Seriously? So, an indvidual sitting on the east coast (no boots on the ground) looking at sterile balance sheets and impersonal statisitcs makes a lofty accusation from his informed position of….waiting….oh that’s right he is a journalist. Not a Twin Cities professional, and certainly not intimately knowledgable about the character at Hamline.

    Reality is what you make it, and while I agree that 4 law schools may be a bit much for this particular metro area- where are the attorneys for Greater Minnesota and North Dakota going to come from? Who whill regulate, service, and litigate over the exponential growth of resource extraction and commercial development seen in that area? How many corporations are headquartered in Minnesota? But, I’m sure they don’t need legal representation. Just as the growing population of Asian and African immigrants won’t need counsel.

    I can’t help but laugh at such misinformed moanings; it sounds like the same thing I heard in 2009 in regards to undergraduate institutions. Yes, the economy has changed. The fantasy of simply graduating from a law school and stumbling into a well-paying job is over. Grow up, this was never a lottery; it is a professional graduate school. I am a top academic and a hard worker and for the last 15 years I have consistently had my choice of where to work.

    But frankly, I hope enrollment continues to decline. Because once the dust settles and all the free-loaders and sloths have found some other ridiculous notion to hang their hat on…..the only lawyers/law students left will be the driven, the passionate, and the hard-working.

    Thanks to everyone who changed their plans for law school because they were afraid of working to find a job :) All of us who are in it for the long haul, regardless of the monetary incentives, appreciate it.

    • I am a top academic and a hard worker and for the last 15 years I have consistently had my choice of where to work.

      No you are not.

    • Tim says:

      Hamline enjoys, at best, the same reputation as the other three law schools in the Twin Cities not called the University of Minnesota. As far as North Dakota is concerned, they have a law school.

  24. GovernmentyMcLawyerson says:

    Does anyone actually know how many students matriculated at Hamline this fall?

  25. Skyisfalling says:

    http://law.hamline.edu/uploadedFiles/Hamline_WWW/Offices_-_Admin/ASA/Documents/Hamline%20Law,%20Hamline%20University%20Profile%20-%20September-26.pdf

    This pdf with a search for the dean shows enrollment is down to 436 for the school as a whole. Bottom of page 11.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Yikes! However, I don’t think anyone is surprised the enrollment is worse than expected.

    http://law.hamline.edu/admissions/classprofile.html

  27. Bugsy669 says:

    What is the enrollment tipping point past which a law school would close?

  28. [...] law blog Lawyers, Guns Money offered a post asking, “Is Hamline Law School on its Last Legs?” It questions whether the [...]

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