As the University of St. Thomas officially dedicates its new $34.6 million law school building this month, applications for admission to all four Twin Cities law schools are booming.
The reasons for the increased interest in legal education have little to do with the addition of a fourth law school into the marketplace, school officials said. Instead they attribute the increase to several factors such as increasing numbers of college graduates, scarce job opportunities for those with undergraduate degrees, and a downturn in the popularity of MBA programs.
Adding St. Thomas to the local law school mix two years ago has helped raise awareness of education options available here, officials said. And it has helped increase the on-campus activities and donations of local law firms and alumni.
"That has been healthy for all four of us," said Jon Garon, dean of Hamline University School of Law, who said the four law school leaders meet periodically to discuss common concerns and issues.
Tom Mengler, dean of the University of St. Thomas School of Law, agreed: "We all have somewhat different missions, and my understanding is we are all flourishing in those missions."
When St. Thomas announced its intention to add a law school to its downtown Minneapolis campus, many questioned whether the area could support four law schools. The long-established law schools are Hamline and William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, and the University of Minnesota Law School in Minneapolis.
All four programs appear to be prospering.
"Our applications have gone up every year for the past couple of years," said Sharon Reich Paulsen, associate dean of the University of Minnesota Law School.
The University of Minnesota Law School has 830 students, including 786 students working on their juris doctor, 17 visiting foreign students and 27 foreign lawyers working on their master's of law degree. The school's first-year class totals 281 students. Its median LSAT score has risen to 163 out of 180.
Applications to Hamline University's law school have increased approximately 30 percent during the past two years, officials said. The school's 260-member 2003 class is the largest in its history, and the median LSAT test scores of incoming students have increased two points during the past two years to 153. Hamline has 650 law students.
Hamline, which touts its alternative dispute resolution training and recently increased its international programming, attracts about half of its students from Minnesota. That has stayed consistent even with the arrival of St. Thomas in the marketplace, Garon said.
William Mitchell, the Twin Cities' largest law school with an enrollment of about 1,000, had an entering 2003 class of 359 students with a median LSAT score of 156, officials said. Applications to the school this year increased by about 28 percent, said Tina Proctor, director of admissions.
William Mitchell highlights its flexible schedule of classes -- daytime, evening, full time and part time -- in marketing itself to prospective students. As a result, the school attracts older students, many who work. "Only about 25 percent of our class is straight from undergraduate school," Proctor said.
The school hasn't changed its recruiting approach with the arrival of St. Thomas, Proctor said.
Even at St. Thomas, applications for admissions have increased. The school has 123 first-year students for 2003-2004 with a median LSAT score of 155. In 2002-2003, the school enrolled 110 students. In 2001-2002, the school enrolled 120 students, said Tim Busse, the school's director of external relations.
"We really consider ourselves a niche market," Busse said. "We want to be a national faith-based law school. We are looking for the people who are serious about law but also serious about their faith, and that doesn't appeal to everybody."
Recruiters for area law firms said it may be too soon to tell what impact St. Thomas may have on the local legal employment scene.
"It's pretty early in the game to be discussing the changes it may make in the legal landscape here," said Bill Joyce, chair of the legal personnel committee for Faegre & Benson, a 312-lawyer firm based in Minneapolis. Faegre has recruited law students for its summer program from St. Thomas but has yet to hire one, Joyce said.
Schwegman, Lundberg, Woessner & Kluth, a 54-attorney Minneapolis firm specializing in patent prosecution, participates in on-campus activities at St. Thomas but has not yet hired anyone from the new school, said Kurt Okerson, a human resources generalist for the firm. However, firm members are helping form a Students of Intellectual Property Legal Association group on the campus.
The University of St. Thomas opened its law school in August 2001. It was housed until this fall in Terrence Murphy Hall, the university's original downtown building at 1000 LaSalle Ave. The new 158,000-square-foot building is located on Harmon Place between 11th and 12th streets.
St. Thomas has raised $82 million in gifts and pledges during the past four years to support the school, and the university will confer juris doctor degrees on students for the first time in 70 years this spring.