2014 - Thomas M. Cooley Law School’s Ann Arbor Campus: Ann Arbor was one of Cooley Law’s five branches when the school, now called the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, announced in the fall of 2014 that it would pull the plug at the end of that year. The 139 students taking classes there were told they could take classes at any of the school’s three other Michigan campuses. Interestingly, Cooley’s Ann Arbor campus opened in 2009 in space that had housed the Ave Maria School of Law, which up and moved to Naples, Fla., earlier that year. Cooley officials said the Ann Arbor location hadn’t attracted enough students.
2015 - William Mitchell College of Law and Hamline University School of Law merger: OK, so this isn’t technically a closure, but the merger between these two St. Paul, Minnesota, law schools did effectively reduce the number of ABA-accredited campuses by one. Each of the schools had seen enrollment declines in recent years. The size of Hamline’s first-year class was down 54 percent since 2011, while William Mitchell’s new class was 45 percent smaller. So in February, the schools announced they would combine in time for the upcoming fall semester into the Mitchell Hamline School of Law. So far so good. The combined campus is still open.
2016 - Indiana Tech Law School: Plenty of skeptics said that opening a new law school in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 2013—in a $15 million new building, no less—was a bad idea. They were right. University officials said in October that the current academic year would be the four-year-old school’s last, as enrollment fell far below the projections when the school was conceived. The school drew just 13 first-year student in 2016, despite the offer of full-ride scholarships. Indiana Tech won the dubious distinction of being the first ABA-accredited law school to fully close in the past 20 years.
2017 - Whittier Law School: This Costa Mesa, Calif., law school is in the process of winding down. University officials stunned students and alumni in April with an announcement that it would no longer accept new students and phase the school out as current students graduated. The reason? You guessed it—low enrollment. But Whittier also struggled with low bar pass and employment rates. Just 22 percent of Whittier graduates passed the July 2016 bar exam—the lowest percentage among California’s 21 ABA-accredited law schools. What’s more, just 21 percent of 2015 graduates had secured fulltime, long-term jobs that require a law degree within 10 months of leaving campus.
2017 - Charlotte School of Law: The slow-motion implosion of the for-profit Charlotte School of Law began back in the fall of 2016, when the ABA said it had run afoul of its admissions standard. That prompted the U.S. Department of Education to cut the school off from federal student loans—a massive blow to Charlotte’s finances. Students left the school in droves, and it limped along through the spring and summer as it worked to restore loan eligibility and appease various regulators. The school’s ownership even hired a lobbyist with ties to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But in the end, the 11-year-old school couldn’t weather the storm. It officially closed in August after failing to meet several requirements set forth by state regulators. A number of lawsuits brought by students are working their way through the courts.
2018 - Savannah Law School: As we mentioned earlier, this will be the last semester for the Savannah Law School, a branch campus opened by Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School in 2012. Administrators informed students and faculty on March 21 that the campus—a historic hospital on Savannah’s famed Forsyth Park—had been sold. The branch had not met enrollment expectations, though students said John Marshall had undermined its success with budget cuts. Current students may transfer to the main Atlanta campus, or stay and take courses at another location in Savannah.
Valparaiso University School of Law ????: We’re keeping a close eye on Valparaiso, after the Indiana school announced in November that it was suspending new student enrollment while it seeks a path to long-term viability. The school’s current first-year class is just 31 students, according to ABA data. The ABA publicly censured Valparaiso in late 2016 for violating its admission rules, though it removed that sanction a year later. University officials have said they are looking to merge with another law school or relocate the school to a different market. Meanwhile, current dean Andrea Lyon said she is stepping down at the end of the academic year. Will the school make it? Time will tell.
Is the Great Law School Contraction upon us?
Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School announced last week that it will shutter its six-year old branch campus, the Savannah Law School, due to dwindling enrollment. It’s only the latest victim in a seven-year-long downturn for legal education, that has seen a number of law school campuses close down or initiate plans to wind down. And like their counterparts at some other closed schools, Savannah students have already sued.
The failures don’t look likely to stop soon, with a least one other law school teetering on the brink of closure.
Here’s a recap of American Bar Association-accredited law programs that have closed in recent times, or may soon do so.