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Legal writing takes off at Mitchell Hamline – News and Events

The program has added full-time faculty and is rising in national rankings

The Mitchell Hamline legal writing program has special reasons to celebrate this fall.

First, it has the largest number of full-time faculty — 10 — it has ever had. This means more individual attention for students in the two required first-year legal writing courses, and more capacity for faculty members to do research and serve the field.

Second, the program ranked in the top 40 this spring in the US News & World Report rankings. It has jumped 88 places over the past three years and is tied for 39e. Director Tom Cobb calls the rise in ratings “wonderful; it is an honor to be recognized for the hard work of our entire team.

Prior to the 2015 merger that brought the two schools together, Hamline Law had staffed its legal writing program with full-time faculty — as nearly all 186 programs nationwide do — but William Mitchell relied more on adjunct faculty. Mitchell’s model persisted for the first few years after the schools joined, but the goal was to transition to a full-time faculty model, which not only offers increased support for students, but also academic expertise and a involvement in the field of legal drafting. The model still uses a few add-ons, which provide valuable real-world experience and perspective, but much less.

Professor Tom Cobb is Director of Mitchell Hamline’s Legal Writing Program.

As they built the legal writing curriculum for the combined school, Mitchell Hamline teachers were “working with rich soil,” Cobb said. They were able to build on “powerful programs” that existed at the two legacy schools, developed in Mitchell by Christina Kunz and Deborah Schmedemann and led in Hamline by Mary Trevor. Dean Raths provided outstanding leadership for the program after the schools merged, Cobb said, supported by dynamic faculty including Steve Aggergaard and Lisa Needham. President and Dean Anthony Niedwiecki, who took over in 2020, is a recognized specialist in legal writing and has supported long-term change at the school.

The next big step, Cobb said, was to “hire incredibly talented and well-known core teachers who have great reputations in the field.” These came from academia, but also from a variety of backgrounds, including private legal practice, non-profit organizations and public service.

Two professors, Wendy Shea of ​​the Southern University Law Center and Melissa Shultz of the University of North Texas Dallas College of Law, were hired, along with a practitioner, Hetal Dalal, who co-founded and served as in-house counsel for the Center for Popular Democracy. The following year, 2021, a prominent scholar in the field, David Cleveland, came to Mitchell Hamline to serve for a year as the school’s first Emeritus Professor and Scholar.

The team was bolstered by longtime instructors Peggy Kline Kirkpatrick and Erica Strohl and visiting assistant professors Maikieta Brantley and DeShayla Strachan. The Visiting Assistant Professor program was designed to recruit accomplished lawyers of color into teaching positions for 2-3 years and then launch them into permanent teaching positions at the law academy. The first recruits were appointed to support legal drafting.

This spring, the school announced the hiring of another tenure-track faculty member, Jared Mollenkof, to teach legal writing. Mollenkof served as an assistant public defender in the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office from 2019 to 2022. And a new visiting assistant professor, Octavia Carson, who founded a nonprofit to help black bar candidates pay fees bar exam, also joined the team in July.

Having a cadre of full-time faculty teaching in the program has several advantages. “Students get more personal attention,” said Shea, deputy program director. “This program really revolves around a lot of one-on-one support.”

And faculty have more ability to contribute to the field more broadly, Cobb said. He cited Dalal and Kirkpatrick’s recent work in the Minnesota Court of Appeals and Shultz’s recent article on the evolution of the bar exam which has positioned her as a leading voice on the subject. “When you have 10 teachers invested, you can really have a lot more impact.”

And the experienced faculty enable Mitchell Hamline to train the next generation of legal writing teachers. “Our Visiting Assistant Professors are strong teachers and promising leaders in the field,” Cobb said. “I’m really proud to help create an environment where they can thrive.”