The program has added a full-time professor and is expanding to national levels
The Mitchell Hamline Legal Writing program has some special reasons to celebrate this fall.
First, he has the most full-time teachers—10—that he has ever hired. This means that students will be more focused in the first two years of legal writing courses, and that faculty members will be more active in research and field work.
Second, the program broke the top 40 this spring on the US News & World Report list. It has jumped 88 spots over the past three years and remains in a tie for 39thth. Manager Tom Cobb called the awards “amazing; it’s an honor to be recognized for all of our team’s hard work.”
Before the 2015 merger that brought the two schools together, Hamline Law staffed its legal writing program with full-time faculty—as did nearly all of its 186 programs nationwide—but William Mitchell relies on additional teachers. Mitchell’s model was maintained for the first few years after the schools joined, but the goal was to change to a full-time teacher model, not only to increase student support but also academic expertise and participation in the legal writing program. The model still uses some extras, which bring in real world experiences and perspectives, but less so.
When creating the charter for the integrated school, Mitchell Hamline teachers were “working with fertile soil,” Cobb said. They were able to use the “power projects” that existed in the two traditional schools, developed in Mitchell by Christina Kunz and Deborah Schmedemann and led in Hamline by Mary Trevor. Dean Raths provided excellent leadership for the program after the schools merged, Cobb said, supported by dynamic professors including Steve Aggergaard and Lisa Needham. President and Dean Anthony Niedwiecki, who took over in 2020, are experienced policymakers and advocates for long-term change at the school.
The next big step, Cobb says, is “hiring the most experienced and well-regarded experts in the field.” These are drawn from academia but from a variety of backgrounds including private law practice, nonprofits, and the public sector.
Two professors, Wendy Shea from the University of Southern California School of Law and Melissa Shultz from the University of North Texas Dallas College of Law, were hired, as was expert Hetal Dalal, who established and in-house counsel for The Center for Popular Democracy. The following year, 2021, a renowned expert in the field, David Cleveland, came to Mitchell Hamline to serve for one year as the school’s first Permanent Professor.
The team was bolstered by longtime instructors Peggy Kline Kirkpatrick and Erica Strohl and assistant professors Makieta Brantley and DeShayla Strachan. The Visiting Assistant Professor program is designed to recruit qualified lawyers into teaching positions for 2-3 years and then to permanent teaching positions in a law school. The initial costs were determined to support the drafting of the law.
This spring, the school announced the hiring of another faculty member, Jared Mollenkof, to teach legal writing. Mollenkof served as an assistant public defender with the Hennepin County Defender’s Office from 2019-2022. And a new visiting assistant professor, Octavia Carson, who founded a nonprofit fund to help Black bar candidates with bar exam expenses, joined the team in July.
Having a team of full-time professors teaching the program has many advantages. “Students are more interested,” said Shea, the program’s assistant director. “This program revolves around a lot of one-to-one support.”
And teachers are more likely to contribute to the field in broader ways, Cobb said. He cited Dalal and Kirkpatrick’s recent work at the Minnesota Court of Appeals and Shultz’s recent paper on bar test reform that made him a leading voice on the topic. “If you have 10 invested teachers, you’re going to be very productive.”
With experienced teachers Mitchell Hamline has the opportunity to train generations of legal writing teachers. “Our guest assistant coaches are strong coaches and former leaders in the field,” Cobb said. “I’m very proud to help create an environment where they can thrive.”