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Discover What You Do Best: We All Have Something
published September 01, 2014
The Thomas M. Cooley Law School's history in Lansing, Michigan makes it a young school by most measures. Nevertheless, its 18,000 graduates speak to a robust law program. Contributing to this number are the satellite campuses located in Auburn Hills, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor and the newest one, opened in 2012, in Tampa, Florida. The school is named after Thomas McIntyre Cooley, a 19th century justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. It was founded as a private institution by another Michigan Supreme Court justice, Thomas E. Brennan, who worked in conjunction with other lawyers and jurists to incorporate the school in 1972. Brennan left the bench to become its first Dean in December 1973. His role changed in 1978 when he was named President of the school.
Though private, Cooley is non-profit, with an emphasis on practical skills, and fully accredited by the American Bar Association. Cooley began publishing its own law review in 1980. The addition of Westlaw Terminals in Cooley's libraries came in 1983. Westlaw Terminals allow students access to 40,000 databases of case law, public records, news sources and more. Growth at the school continued with the opening of the multi-storied Cooley Law Center in Lansing in 1999. In 2002 Cooley began offering classes on the campus of Oakland University. Don LeDuc, the school's Dean, also became President that year. He continues in the Dean's post to the present day, and is the recipient of the Legal Writing Institute's Golden Pen Award. The Auburn Hills campus, opened in 2003, has a close affiliation with nearby Oakland University, using that campus for some student housing and keeping proprietary slots open for Oakland graduates, or early admission candidates. Grand Rapids classes began in 2003 at Western Michigan University before moving to their own campus in 2004. Located in an urban environment, Cooley-Grand Rapids has many community-based programs where students can experience practicing law with real clients. In 2006 the Oakland and Grand Rapid schools were granted full accreditation by the ABA. The Ann Arbor campus started classes in 2010 and became ABA accredited in 2012, also opening its Immigrant Rights and Civil Advocacy Clinic that year.
Rankings and reputation
Though not highly regarded among the upper echelon, Cooley does have one of the more "hands on" programs, requiring students to ground themselves in basic practices they are liable to encounter in the real world. Contracts, torts and estates are among the prescribed coursework during the first two years. Cooley's five campuses contribute to its being the largest law school in the U.S. Critics also point out that their 80% acceptance rate contributes to a student body that is less qualified for the rigors of law school. Michigan residents receive an automatic 10% boost in their LSAT scores, and the median score for all new entrants is well below the average. Ranked at just a 1.4 by U.S. News and World Report for a peer-review score, and 1.8 by lawyers and judges (both out of 5), Cooley finds itself on the third or fourth tier of law education. The reputation may be unjustly deserved, since the grade curve is steep, leading over 22% of first year students to drop out. TLS Wiki points out that Cooley, using some esoteric criteria, routinely ranks itself in the top 20 of the nation's law schools, but this may have more to do with marketing than objectivity.
At 80%, Cooley admits by far the highest percentage of applicants. The formula for admission is published as the undergraduate GPA multiplied by 15 and added to the highest LSAT score the student achieved. This is the "Cooley Admission Index" score. Almost 100% of the students receive some grant or scholarship, with the median grant at just over $7,700. Entrance requirements are lower than most schools, with the median LSAT most recently pegged at 146.The undergraduate GPA, according to various sources ranges from 2.99 to 3.02. Total enrollment is currently 3,727; the student-faculty ratio is a little high at 23 to 5, including part-time faculty.
Cooley claims its grading system ties students to how they are expected to perform in the bar exam. They are described as follows: A = Excellent; A - = Very Good;B = Good;B - = Satisfactory;C = Adequate;C - = Deficient.
Cooley recently received an "A" and ranked 17th out of 93 schools in National Jurist Magazine's best practical training category. The American Bar Association awarded the school the E. Smythe Gambre ll Professionalism Award in 2006. The award recognizes Cooley as outstanding in creating a culture of professionalism.
Many newly admitted students can earn Honors Scholarships based on higher admission rankings. A 100% tuition scholarship is awarded to those with an LSAT of 160 or higher, or a Cooley Admission Index of 217. The scholarships are tiered based on scores, but nearly all students can earn a minimum of a 15% tuition waiver.
77.8% of graduates find employment nine months or sooner after graduation. Just above 80% pass the Michigan bar the first time. Cooley graduates are less successful on other state bar exams. Currently Cooley graduates practice in 39 states, with a scattered few overseas.
Externships at Cooley receive a strong emphasis and are a source of pride at Cooley. All students who have completed 57 course credits are eligible to participate. Ten credit hours toward the degree are allowed. Attorneys at large are invited to supervise externships and students may submit their own proposals to the curriculum committee. Students must be approved for field placement for a minimum of four hours per week per credit hour for the entire 14 week term. Hours on the field site for most externships range from twelve to forty.
The Career and Professional Development Office oversees the internship program. The office handles volunteer, work-study and part-time employment as well as summer internships. The office is geared more toward employers finding students, rather than vice-versa. Students can search the database for employer offerings.
A minimum of three credit hours in a clinical setting is required for Cooley graduates. Forty credit hours are required before students may apply to a clinical program. Cooley spotlights the program as one of its great advantages over other law schools, contributing to graduates who already have usable real-world experience. There's the Justice Clinic at the nearby Kent County Courthouse, the Family Law Assistance Project, a Debt Relief Clinic and an Estate Planning Clinic. Cooley is also a participant in the Innocence Project and additional clinics including Public Defender and Immigration Rights.
Cooley is a vigorous competitor in Moot Court competitions regionally and nationally, as well as intra-school competitions. Students learn appellate court procedures, litigation skills and gain the ability to think fast in an ongoing mock procedural. Debate and public speaking practice also impart practical knowledge and the demonstrable skills that may help them get hired. The Moot Court organization is among the largest and most popular on Cooley's campuses.
Thomas M. Cooley Law School established their Law Review in 1980 and publishes three times a year. They are currently trying out a paperless law review and considering other non-traditional types of offerings, like publishing a "legal conversation" as an alternative to a formal article. Best practices on leadership, editing, standards of publication and soliciting for outside articles are featured. The Law Review conducts annual symposiums, a lecture series and awards a prize for most distinguished brief.
A law degree can open doors to many opportunities. Few of these jurists take their talents into professional sports, but that's what Jon Cooper did. Born in Canada in 1967, he is now best known as the head coach of ice hockey's Tampa Bay Lightning.
Two other alumni have risen to state-wide prominence. Class of 1981's John Engler was elected Michigan's governor in 1990. And 2004's graduate, Rashida Tlaib, was the first Arab-Muslim woman elected to the Michigan House of Representatives.
Anthony "Tony" Gair came from a family of legal professionals in New York. He graduated from Cooley in 1980 and became one of the most noted criminal defense attorneys of the era. His representation of the family in the death of Amadou Diallo against the New York City Police Department drew national headlines in 1999.
Cooley's graduates are known to practice in 23 countries all over the world. Ruby Makiyama is a member of the House of Councilors of the National Diet of Japan, the equivalent of a U.S. Senator.
Major Eric J. Jonker has been with the Army's legal arm, J.A.G., for eleven years. He specialized in international law, and is now senior legal advisor currently deployed in Afghanistan working with the Afghan Ministry of Justice.
In the news
The year 2011 was tough in some respects for Cooley, with defamation and class action law suits centeredon their published statistics of graduates obtaining gainful employment. The defamation suit was brought by Cooley and was basically successful, with the defendant retracting the offending statements. However, the judge, even though dismissing the case, noted anyway that the accusation that Cooley inflated statistics "was substantially true."Former Cooley students brought the class action suit, which resulted in the judge reminding all parties of the first lesson in law: caveatemptor.
A New Affiliation and a New Name: Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School
Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo is a state-run university founded in 1903. It is known as a research university with strong programs in engineering, aviation, physics, business marketing and psychology, among others. Now they have a law school.
WMU President John Dunn announced in April of 2013 that they would be affiliating with Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan. Although Mr. Dunn has been quoted as saying that accreditation bodies had approved the partnership, not everything fell into place right away. According to one of our sources, the Higher Learning Commission and the American Bar Association jointly gave their approval to the affiliation between Cooley and WMU on July 28, 2014. The Higher Learning Commission is the accreditation body for Midwestern and South-central colleges. A call to WMU's front office yielded the information that not all accreditations have been granted.
In a brief interview with Jim Robb, Associate Dean of External Affairs, we learned that Cooley Law School will still retain its independence as a non-profit 501(3)c entity. Though WMU is a public institution, Cooley will remain private and continue the same fiduciary responsibilities apart from its new affiliation. As an affiliate of WMU, Cooley will enjoy many advantages of combined resources and research programs. Once all operations are merged, WMU will become the only Michigan school with both a medical school and a law school.
A press conference on August 13th announced the Higher Learning Council and the ABA made the new affiliation effective. As noted, the project had been in the works for over a year. First year law classes will begin on WMU's campus in Kalamazoo in the fall of 2015. In development is a new concept in law education, a "3+3" program that allows a minor in law for undergraduates and leads to completion of a Baccalaureate and a J.D. in just six years.
Concurrent with the WMU announcement is the news that Cooley may be closing one of its campuses in 2015. The Ann Arbor campus is experiencing low enrollment, but will continue to hold classes through December of this year. A final decision on the possible closure awaits analysis by the school's executive and board leadership.
Terms begin January, May or September. There is no fee for submitting an application. The candidate is informed of their status as soon as a review of all admission materials is completed. The J.D. degree requires a total of 90 credits; 63 knowledge and skill based and the rest elective. Current tuition rates for 2014-15 are $1,550 per credit hour for the first 30 hours (JD Level I) and $1,475 for 31 and more hours (JD Level II). Full time tuition, room, board, activity fee and books for JD Level I at 15 hours per semester for two semesters comes out to $64,124. A surprising 80% of enrollment study part-time, with the schedule of classes conveniently geared toward these students. Morning and afternoon curricula are offered as well as week night and weekend classes. The average LSAT score of students is 145 and the undergraduate grade point average is 3.02. The LSAT score must be no older than five years from date of admission.
The degree programs offered at Cooley include the Juris Doctor (J.D.) of course, as well as Master of Law (LL.M) degrees in corporate law, insurance, finance and tax. A special LL.M is available in U.S. laws for foreign attorneys. Areas of concentration include general practice, environmental law, litigation, constitutional law and civil rights, intellectual property, international law and Canadian practice. A degree in a self-directed LL.M is also available for students wanting to further specialize in an area of law. The self-directed degree proceeds under the direction of a faculty advisor, and must consist of a series of mandatory and elective course-work, co-teaching and a master's thesis. Examples of an LL.M are climate change law or land use laws.
A complete course listing is not published on Cooley's website, but enrolled students may access it through their Cooley portal. Fifteen subject areas are required for the degree. Chief among them are civil and criminal procedural, evidence, constitutional law, torts, business, estates, research and writing. A minimum of three credits in an externship or clinic is also required.Each year Cooley matriculates and graduates three separate classes. For this reason each class is designated by the year the J.D. is awarded and the name of a prominent state or federal judge to differentiate when graduation took place; e.g., the Thomas Todd Class of 2014, which graduated this last May. Cooley has 131 full-time and another 196 part-time faculty on staff, and a current enrollment of 3,227 covering all five of its campuses. According to its own rankings page, this places Cooley's student-faculty ratio at 23 to 5. Many of the faculty are experienced career professionals, logging decades of practice before coming into the classroom. Notable among them are Associate Dean Nelson Miller and Professor Philip J. Prygoski, named as two of the twenty-six best law teachers in the U.S. by a 2013 publication of the Harvard University Press. The school is especially proud of its law libraries - each campus with its own, all updated and digitally wired, and totaling well over half a million volumes. Case law from both Michigan and the U.S. Supreme Court is available back to the 1870's. There is a reciprocal agreement with the libraries of Western Michigan University and Oakland University. The entire "CoolCat" catalogue is available online.
Cooley partners with other universities in Michigan to offer joint degrees. With Oakland University, Cooley awards the J.D. /M.P.A. for public administration, and the J.D. / M.B.A. for business administration in concert with Western Michigan University. Cooley is involved in the Innocence Project on its Lansing campus, helping inmates to obtain DNA testing. Under the supervision of faculty advisors, students have the opportunity to work directly with clients in areas of family law, estate planning, public defenders, immigrant rights and performing pro bono work for low income and senior clients.
International study is also made available at Cooley. Programs exist in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and are approved for ABA credit. Students may also participate with Cooley partner law schools, Notre Dame, Florida State, Penn State and the College of William and Mary for study abroad in London, Paris, Madrid and Muenster, Germany.
The Bottom Line
The Thomas M. Cooley Law School fills a niche in Southern and Western Michigan for a law school that is accessible to working adults. Most of their students on the four Michigan campuses are part-time. Cooley promotes their modern campuses as providing the latest in technological learning assistance, with wifi and comfortable, fully stocked library facilities. Their faculty comes from varying backgrounds as practicing attorneys, judges and state and federal administrators. The Cooley-Lansing campus is a short distance from the state capital, while the Grand Rapids campus offers an urban setting. Ann Arbor and Auburn Hills have been consistently ranked among the nation's best small cities to work and raise a family. The Auburn Hills facility is LEED certified green. Cooley recently launched a web ad campaign, popping up in margins and banners on internet screens.
There's a big emphasis on skills and working in surrounding communities. Cooley has over 3,000 externship and clinic assignments. They also have the largest percentage of minority students of any law school in the country - 29.2%, and just over 50% are women. The Brennan Law Library on the Lansing campus is one of the largest in the U.S. All campus libraries are staffed from 8 a.m. to midnight seven days a week. Adding to Cooley's flexibility are the rotating terms. Students may start anytime after admission in January, May or September. Three semesters are offered per year, with two semesters constituting one year of the three-year course of study for the J.D. designation. Students may take between two and five years to complete the degree requirements. The school's culture seems to be strongly based on providing practical experience over a wide range of disciplines for a smooth entry in to the modern legal environment.
Michigan Law School Directory