The University of St. Thomas School of Law (St. Thomas Law) was originally established in the early part of the 20th century but was forced to close due to the economic hardship of the great depression. The school reopened in 2001 under the guidance of Notre Dame Law School Dean David Link. Under Dean Link’s guidance, the school soon received accreditation by the American Bar Association and today enrolls approximately 150 students per class. Since reopening, the law school has cultivated a reputation for its emphasis on educating practically trained lawyers who share in the school’s mission to promote social justice. The law school also maintains multiple centers that focus on the integration of Catholic teachings into the study and practice of law. In 2003, the law school moved into a new downtown location that houses a 40,000 square foot law library and offers students close access to downtown Minneapolis.
The first-year curriculum at St. Thomas Law blends the traditional academic subjects of American Legal education with practical courses and studies in ethics. Three of the core academic subjects–civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law, property, and torts–are taught in the first two semesters. In the first semester, students are introduced to the fundamental skills of lawyering as well as the moral reasoning behind the various decisions a lawyer makes during their careers. In their second semester, student continue their education in laywering and take courses on the business aspects of practicing law as well as strategies to serve their clients. The first-year curriculum emphasizes the school’s focus on practical skills and relationship building while maintaining traditional legal foundations.
Substantively, students are required to complete three additional academic courses: business associations, evidence, and professional responsibility. Practically, students continue building fundamental skills with a third semester focused on lawyering. Students also take part in a required mentorship program with a mentor outside of the law school. True to its commitment to social justice, St. Thomas Law also requires students to complete 50 hours of service to the community.
St. Thomas Law offers all J.D. candidates the option to earn a certification in the school’s organizational ethics and compliance program. Students focus on the practice area and demonstrate a mastery of core subject matter and skills necessary to practice in this field.
St. Thomas Law also offers a part-time program that requires the same coursework spread out over additional semesters. Generally, part-time students take 11 to 12 hours per semester allowing them to complete the degree program in eight semesters.
St. Thomas Law offers a number of additional programs for both attorneys and non-attorneys. For internationally educated attorneys, the law school also offers a Master of Law (LL.M) program with a concentration in U.S. Law. The program requires students to complete 24 hours of coursework of which 18 are elective. LL.M students are required to complete a skill-based course in lawyering and participate in the school’s external mentoring program.
For non-attorneys, St. Thomas Law offers an online Master of Studies in Law degree that is focused on ethics an compliance. The program is designed for working professionals whose careers are faced with challenging issues involving ethics or compliance. Students complete 30 hours of coursework over the course of five semester.
Juris Doctor candidates at St. Thomas Law also have the option of combining their legal studies with another professional degree. Students have the option of pursuing both a J.D. and an LL.M degree at St. Thomas Law. The LL.M allows students an additional year of study to develop mastery of a particular subject matter and build their professional resumes. Outside the law schools, students may combine their J.D. with a masters from the school of business (an M.B.A. degree), the school of social work (M.S.W.), or the school of theology (a Masters in Catholic Studies). The joint degree programs approach the study of law from an interdisciplinary viewpoint. Also, by combining programs, students are able to share credits between both programs allowing them to complete both in less time.
Career and Career Placement
Over 90% of all graduates from St. Thomas Law are employed within 10 months of gradation. Moreover, 72% of all graduates are employed in careers that require a license to practice law. Of those employed, graduates chose a broad range of careers more often opting for careers in public service than in private practice. Judicial clerkships were the most common career choice for graduates (23%) followed by careers in government or public interest positions (22%). A substantial number of students also opted for positions in the business sector (20%). Law firms under 25 attorneys accounted for 22% of all employed graduates’ career choice. Over 80% of all graduates choose to start their careers in the state of Minnesota.
The St. Thomas Law Career Center stresses the importance of its graduates finding meaningful employment. The Center puts an emphasis on helping students connect with employers that not only provide a career but also help enrich a graduates life through their work. The primary method for achieving this goal is through the J.D. Compass program that pairs students with a career strategist after graduation. The career strategist works closely with their graduate to review and oversee all aspects of their career search. In addition to the compass program, the Career Center also provides yearlong programming that helps student plan their professional goals and build their professional network.
Experiential Learning/Distance Education
Through one of the nation’s top clinical programs, external field placements, skill-based coursework, and its unique mentor program, St. Thomas Law provides its students with a wide array of options to learn practical skills. The clinical program has expanded by over 300% over the past decade and now includes 14 different practice areas where students can work with real clients under the supervision of practicing faculty experts.
St. Thomas Law’s externship program also provides students with an opportunity to work in a legal office through an external placement in a variety of legal offices around the Minneapolis area. Students have options to pursue additional private and public law externships that allow them to build critical job skills over the course of a semester as well strengthen their professional network.
In addition to working in the clinic or an external legal office, St. Thomas Law also provides a host of skill-based courses that provide students the opportunity to master more advanced skills while under the supervision of a faculty member. Practicum courses range from transaction courses to negotiation and dispute resolution.
Finally, St. Thomas Law’s mentorship program is a unique opportunity for students to be guided by a practicing attorney in the local legal community. Mentors engage with students on wide level to help influence their academic and professional lives.
St. Thomas Law is a deeply Catholic school that also welcomes students of all faiths and backgrounds. Mass is celebrated daily at the school and each day includes a period of reflection. The school’s Catholic heritage also encourages students to practice social justice and utilize their education to create a more just society. The student body is also full of non-Catholics who are free to practice their faiths in formal and informal ways. The law school also places an emphasis on students’ health and wellness through a number of programs focused on overall well-being. St. Thomas Law offers a robust student organization program, two student-run journals, and a competitive moot court program.
Minneapolis is one of America’s most unique cities. Located near the headwaters of the Mississippi river, the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are steeped in Midwestern history, art and theater, and professional sports. The city is famed for its culinary and arts scene that includes the St. Paul Chamber orchestra. Students at St. Thomas law enjoy close proximity to the vibrant life of downtown Minneapolis. The city’s sports team provide year round entertainment. Housing is affordable in the general area and the law school is accessible through Minneapolis’ robust public transportation system.