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Independent Law Schools Finding Refuge at Universities

Prospective law students typically consider rankings, admissions policies, and personal factors to decide on a law school, but now they really have to look deeper.

They have to look at a law school's financial stability. Too many law schools have been failing, leaving students saddled with debt and scrambling for somewhere else to go.

It's a big problem because many law schools have felt a financial crunch in recent years, but some are dealing with it better than others. One way seems to be working for independent law schools: merge with larger institutions.

Merger Factor

Increasingly, independent law schools are becoming part of larger universities. It may not be the law schools' first choice, but for many it is better than the alternative.

Michigan State University College of Law is joining the ranks, and will become part of Michigan State University. According to officials, it was a financial decision.

"Everybody recognized that sooner or later this was going to happen," said Dean Lawrence Ponoroff. "This action will stabilize us."

Likewise, John Marshall School of Law recently found a way out of its financial problems by folding into the University of Illinois. The post-recession mergers started about three years ago when William M. Mitchell and Hamline University Law School joined resources.

Merger Fracture

The transitions are not always perfect, and sometimes they don't work at all. Valparaiso University Law School is learning that lesson the hard way.

The law school was poised to become part of Middle Tennessee State University. Everybody wanted it -- the law school, the university -- but then the state's higher education commission axed the deal.

Law school failures -- not student failures -- have become a new normal. For prospective students, it means fewer choices and perhaps more educated ones.

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