Western Michigan University Cooley Law School

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Western Michigan University Cooley Law School
Established 1972
School type Private
Endowment $21 million[1]
Parent endowment $262 million
Dean Don LeDuc
Location Lansing, Michigan (flagship)
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Auburn Hills, Michigan
Tampa, Florida
Enrollment 1,285
185 Full-Time JD
1,024 Part-Time JD
76 LLM
Website cooley.edu

Western Michigan University Cooley Law School is an American Bar Association accredited law school. WMU-Cooley has four campuses. Its main campus is in Lansing, Michigan and its satellite campuses are in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Auburn Hills, Michigan, and Tampa, Florida.[3][4] First year courses may be taken at Western Michigan University's Kalamazoo campus.[5]

An affiliation between Cooley and Western Michigan University went into effect on August 13, 2014.

According to Cooley's ABA required disclosures, only 27.4% of graduates from the class of 2015 obtained full-time, long term, bar passage required employment 9 months after graduation.[6] 23.8% of graduates were unemployed 9 months after graduation.[7] Only 51.86% of graduates managed to pass a state bar exam in 2015, a requirement to practice law.[8] In 2017, the school was one of ten American law schools found to be out of compliance with the American Bar Association's requirement that schools only admit students who appear capable of earning a J.D. degree and passing the bar examination.[9] The school was recently ranked the worst law school in the country by Above the Law.[10]


The law school is named in honor of Thomas McIntyre Cooley (1824-1898, served 1864-1885), who was a prominent 19th-century jurist, 25th justice and Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. Cooley was also a dean of the University of Michigan Law School and visiting faculty at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Thomas E. Brennan, also a former Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, led a group of lawyers and judges in establishing the Thomas M. Cooley Law School in 1972, which is now affiliated with the Western Michigan University with classes on each of its four campuses.

On July 28, 2014, the ABA and The Higher Learning Commission gave their approval to the affiliation between Cooley and Western Michigan University.[11]

On August 13, 2014, the affiliation became official and included Cooley changing its name from "Thomas M. Cooley Law School" to "Western Michigan University Cooley Law School."[12][13][14][15]


Cooley prepares its graduates for entry into the legal profession. While most students work toward a Juris Doctor degree (J.D.), Cooley also offers the Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree as well as joint degrees in Master of Business Administration (J.D./M.B.A.) and Master of Public Administration (J.D./M.P.A.). (The J.D/M.B.A. is offered in partnership with Oakland University; the J.D./M.P.A. is offered in partnership with Western Michigan University.)

Degree types

Cooley awards the following types of degrees:[16][17]

  • J.D.
  • J.D./M.P.A.
  • J.D./M.B.A.
  • J.D./LL.M.
  • LL.M. - Corporate Law and Finance
  • LL.M. - Homeland and National Security Law
  • LL.M. - Insurance Law
  • LL.M. - Intellectual Property
  • LL.M. - Self-Directed
  • LL.M. - Tax
  • LL.M. - U.S. Legal Studies for Foreign Attorneys


J.D. students are able to select from several concentrations (specialized areas of legal study):[18]

  • General Practice
  • Litigation
  • Business Transactions
  • Administrative Law
  • International Law
  • Environmental Law
  • Taxation
  • Intellectual Property
  • Canadian Practice
  • Focused Studies

Legal study outside the United States

Cooley operates programs allowing ABA-approved foreign study credit in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In addition, students are able to study at ABA-approved programs through partner law schools, including U.S. law schools operating programs in: London, England (University of Notre Dame); Oxford, England (Florida State University); Madrid, Spain (College of William and Mary); Montreal and Quebec, Canada (Pennsylvania State University); and Paris, France and Muenster, Germany.


Cooley has been accredited by the American Bar Association since 1975 and by The Higher Learning Commission since 2001.[19][20]

Clinical programs

Cooley offers clinical programs at each campus. Students who participate in any of the Michigan clinics are allowed to practice law in Michigan under the Michigan Court Rules by representing clients in court, drafting client documents, and giving legal advice under the supervision of faculty. The Innocence Project is nationally recognized in the United States for helping free persons wrongfully incarcerated by obtaining DNA evidence and providing pro bono legal advocacy to overturn their convictions. Cooley also offers an elder law clinic, Sixty Plus, Inc., which provides free legal services to senior citizens, as well as two Public Defender's clinics, which allow students to work in the Public Defender’s office with indigent clients who are accused of committing a crime. The Access to Justice Clinic provides a general civil practice, focusing on family and consumer law. Free legal help in family law and domestic violence matters is offered at the Family Legal Assistance Project. Evening and weekend students can gain experience in the Estate Planning Clinics or the Public Sector Law Project, which provides civil legal services of a transactional, advisory, legislative or systemic nature to governments.[21]

Cooley offers externships throughout the United States at over 2600 approved externship sites. Student externs work under the supervision of experienced attorneys, with the guidance of full-time faculty.[21]

Cooley is currently the Executive Office of Scribes: The American Society of Legal Writers.


Cooley has a library at each of its five campuses. Legal research can be conducted at the libraries through a variety of media, including print, electronic, and multimedia sources. Reference librarians are present at each campus. The libraries have a total of about 60 staff. CoolCat is the online library catalog. The Cooley libraries collectively house roughly 670,000 volumes with an annual growth rate of more than 17,000 volumes. Cooley Law has a reciprocal agreement with both Western Michigan University and Oakland University allowing access to the materials in each institution's collections.[22]


Cooley's Latin motto, In corde hominum est anima legis, was written in the 1970s by its founder, former Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas E. Brennan. Dean Brennan had originally described the meaning as "the spirit of the law is in the heart of man"; when a female organization called the Cooley Action Team argued that the motto should also refer to "the hearts of women", Justice Brennan agreed and changed it to "The spirit of the law is in the human heart".[23]


The total cost of attendance (indicating the cost of tuition, fees, and living expenses) at Cooley for the 2013-2014 academic year is $63,772.[24] Law School Transparency estimated the debt-financed cost of attendance for three years to be $258,232.[25]

Bar passage

Cooley graduates have struggled to pass state bar exams, a requirement to practice law.[26] In recent years, the average school bar passage rate has been about 50%.[27] The average school bar passage rate was 51.86% in 2015, 52.73% in 2014, and 51.45% in 2013.[28] Cooley's bar passage rates have averaged about 20% less than the state average pass rates.[29]

Ranking and reputation

In 2006, Cooley received the E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award from the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Professionalism for the law school's "Creating a Culture of Professionalism in Law School" program.[30]

The 2007 publication "Best Colleges for African Americans" listed Cooley as the third best law school for African Americans behind Texas Southern School of Law and Howard University and just ahead of Georgetown and Harvard.[31]

During the 2015-2016 application cycle, Cooley admitted 85.8% of applicants. The entering fall 2016 class had a median GPA of 2.90 and median LSAT of 141 (15th percentile of test takers).[32] The 25th percentile GPA of enrolled students was 2.60 and the 25th percentile LSAT of enrolled students was 138 (9th percentile of test takers).[33] Law professor David Frakt described Cooley's 2015 entering class as "statistically the worst entering class of law students in the history of American legal education at an ABA-Accredited law school."[34]

In 2012, Cooley was noted, by a plaintiff's attorney in a civil lawsuit regarding false advertising, for having "the loosest admissions standards of any accredited or provisionally accredited American law school... the employment prospects of its graduates are grim, even compared to the generally dire state of the legal job market."[35] In 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the district court's dismissal of the plaintiff's lawsuit because although the graduates’ complaint showed that the statistics on which they relied were objectively untrue, their reliance on the statistics was unreasonable.[36] Judge Quist noted that "it would be unreasonable for Plaintiffs to rely on two bare-bones statistics in deciding to attend a bottom-tier law school with the lowest admission standards in the country."[37]

In 2017, Cooley was sanctioned by the American Bar Association's Section of Legal Education and Admissions due to its lax admissions standards.[38][39]

According to Law School Transparency, Cooley is considered one of the most at-risk law schools for exploiting students for tuition.[40][41]

Post-graduation employment

According to data provided by Thomas M. Cooley Law School to the American Bar Association (ABA), Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, for purposes of adhering to accreditation standards set forth by the ABA, 23.8% of graduates from the class of 2015 were unemployed 9 months after graduation.[42] Only 27.4% of graduates obtained full-time, long term, bar passage required employment.[43] 5% of graduates worked in non-professional jobs.[44] 10.1% of graduates worked in part-time jobs.[45]

Only 311 out of 1079 (28.8%) 2012 graduates obtained full-time, long term positions requiring bar admission (i.e., jobs as lawyers), 9 months after graduation.[46] According to Cooley's official 2013 ABA-required disclosures, 22.9% of the Class of 2013 obtained full-time, long-term, JD-required employment nine months after graduation.[47] Cooley's Law School Transparency under-employment score is 46%, indicating the percentage of the Class of 2013 unemployed, pursuing an additional degree, or working in a non-professional, short-term, or part-time job nine months after graduation.[48]

Additionally, 215 of the 311 (69.1%) were employed in firms consisting of one to ten lawyers, 44 were employed as solo practitioners, and 171 were employed in firms of two to ten lawyers. A total of 13 graduates (1.2%) had found employment in firms of more than 100 lawyers, and two graduates (0.2%) had secured federal judicial clerkships.[49]

ABA Employment Summary for 2013 Graduates[50]
Employment Status Percentage
Employed - Bar Passage Required (Full-Time, Long-Term)
Employed - Bar Passage Required (Part-Time and/or Short-Term)
Employed - J.D. Advantage
Employed - Professional Position
Employed - Non-Professional Position
Employed - Undeterminable
Pursuing Graduate Degree Full Time
Unemployed - Start Date Deferred
Unemployed - Not Seeking
Unemployed - Seeking
Employment Status Unknown
Total of 1143 Graduates

Branch campuses and ABA accreditation

Main Building in downtown Lansing

In 2002, when Cooley was expanding, Cooley filed a lawsuit against the American Bar Association for delaying the accreditation of its satellite campuses in Grand Rapids and Auburn Hills.[51] Cooley was working to gain ABA accreditation since the satellite schools opened in June 2002, but had faced delays caused by disagreements on standards, resolved by a settlement of Cooley's lawsuit with the ABA, resulting in the ABA's acquiescence.

In May 2012, Cooley opened a new branch campus in Riverview, Florida, in the Tampa Bay region.[52][53]

After suffering a 35% decline in enrollment across its five campuses between 2012 and 2013, Cooley announced on July 2, 2014, that it would not be enrolling first year students on its Ann Arbor campus for the Michaelmas term in 2014, but that current and transfer students could continue their studies at that campus. The announcement also called for cuts in faculty and staff.[54] On October 3, after having outlined a transition plan in June, Cooley announced the Ann Arbor campus would permanently cease operations on December 31, 2014.[55][56][57]

Since the Michaelmas term in 2015, Cooley has offered first year classes at Western Michigan University's Kalamazoo campus.[58]

Ranking and Judging the Law Schools

Cooley is shown as "Rank Not Published" in the U.S. News & World Report listing of law schools.[59] Cooley is ranked second in the twelfth edition of Judging the Law Schools, which is published by Cooley.[60]

Cooley relies heavily on its library statistics in its own Judging the Law School rankings. Specifically, Cooley has 10 library-based statistics in its 2010 rankings, which included separate entries for the total square footage in the library, the seats available in the library, the amount of hours the library is open, the total number of volumes in the library, the total number of titles in the library, the number of librarians, the total hours that staff works in the library, and several other library-based criteria.[61] Cooley has been subject to intense criticism and backlash for assigning equal value of these library-based statistics to far more important factors such as bar passage rate and percentage of graduates employed following graduation.[62][63][64][65]

Defamation lawsuit by Cooley

In July 2011, Cooley filed a defamation lawsuit against the law firm Kurzon Strauss, LLP and four anonymous bloggers after they claimed the school was inflating its post-graduation employment statistics and was under federal investigation for its student loan default rate.[66] The firm retracted the statements, but maintained the school used "'Enron-style' accounting techniques" to manipulate their jobs-placement data.[67] In September 2013, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Jonker dismissed the lawsuit, stating that Cooley was a limited purpose public figure and did not provide adequate evidence the defendants acted with actual malice. The court further noted "the statement that 'Cooley grossly inflates its graduates' reported mean salaries' may not merely be protected hyperbole, but actually substantially true."[68]

Class action against Cooley

In August 2011, a class-action lawsuit by 12 Cooley graduates was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan, alleging[69] fraud and misrepresentation about Cooley's published employment information concerning its graduates. The school responded by filing a motion to dismiss.[70] On July 20, 2012, Judge Gordon Jay Quist granted the motion, concluding: "The bottom line is that the statistics provided by Cooley and other law schools in a format required by the ABA were so vague and incomplete as to be meaningless and could not reasonably be relied upon. But, as put in the phrase we lawyers learn early in law school—caveat emptor." The judge further noted that "it [was] unreasonable for Plaintiffs to rely on two bare-bones statistics" in deciding to attend Cooley as it is "widely accepted that American law schools, Cooley included, employ all sorts of legerdemain to boost employment rates in a contracting legal market."[71]

Faculty and staff layoffs

In August 2014, Associate Dean James Robb announced that Cooley had begun laying off faculty and staff at all its campuses.[72] A JD Journal article claims that the layoffs will exceed 50%, but James Robb denied this claim.[73] Cooley had experienced a drop in enrollment of over 40% in recent years and had raised tuition by 9 percent.[74]

Notable faculty

Notable alumni


  1. ^ Thomas M. Cooley Law School - Federal Education Budget
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  3. ^ Cooley Law School Campuses
  4. ^ "Law School Transparency - Thomas M Cooley Law School Profile". 
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  6. ^ "Cooley Employment Stats" (PDF). 
  7. ^ "Cooley Employment Stats" (PDF). 
  8. ^ "Cooley ABA Required Disclosures" (PDF). 
  9. ^ Frakt, David (2017-12-15). "The 2017 Bottom 10 Law Schools in the Country". The Faculty Lounge. Retrieved 2017-12-30. 
  10. ^ "The 10 Worst Law Schools in the Country". 
  11. ^ Zipp, Yvonne (July 28, 2014). "Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School affiliation receives approval from Higher Learning Commission, American Bar Association". MLIVE.com. Western Michigan University. Retrieved July 28, 2014. 
  12. ^ Pinho, Kirk (August 13, 2014). "Cooley Law School adds Western Michigan University to name — any objections?". Crain's Detroit Business. Retrieved August 14, 2014. 
  13. ^ "Cooley name change to Western Michigan was long time in planning". National Jurist. August 14, 2014. Retrieved August 17, 2014. 
  14. ^ The New Western Michigan University Cooley Law School
  15. ^ Western Michigan University - Law
  16. ^ http://www.cooley.edu/jointdegree/
  17. ^ http://www.cooley.edu/gradprograms/
  18. ^ Cooley: Concentrations
  19. ^ http://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_education/resources/aba_approved_law_schools.html
  20. ^ http://www.ncahlc.org/component/com_directory/Action,ShowBasic/Itemid,/instid,2830/
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  22. ^ Cooley: Library
  23. ^ Cooley: About
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  25. ^ "Thomas M Cooley Law School Profile". 
  26. ^ "ABA Required Disclosures" (PDF). 
  27. ^ "ABA Required Disclosures" (PDF). 
  28. ^ "ABA Required Disclosures" (PDF). 
  29. ^ "ABA Required Disclosures" (PDF). 
  30. ^ Cooley: Gambrell Award
  31. ^ http://www.bestcollegesforblacks.com//lawschools.html
  32. ^ "ABA Required Disclosures" (PDF). 
  33. ^ "ABA Required Disclosures" (PDF). 
  34. ^ "Disgraceful Developments at Cooley". 
  35. ^ "TORTS — FRAUDULENT MISREPRESENTATION — SIXTH CIRCUIT FINDS LAW SCHOOL APPLICANTS COULD NOT REASONABLY RELY ON SCHOOL-PROVIDED EMPLOYMENT STATISTICS. — MacDonald v. Thomas M. Cooley Law School, 724 F.3d 654 (6th Cir. 2013)" (PDF). Harvard Law Review. 127: 1017–1024. Retrieved 29 April 2016. 
  37. ^ "Class Action Lawsuit Dismissed". 
  38. ^ Rasmussen, Kristen (November 21, 2017). "10 Law Schools Sanctioned by ABA for Lax Admissions". Law.com. Retrieved November 29, 2017. 
  39. ^ Currier, Barry (November 13, 2017). "2017 November Public Notice of Adverse Actions on WMU Thomas M. Cooley Law School" (PDF). American Bar Association. Retrieved November 29, 2017. 
  40. ^ Ward, Stephanie Francis (February 2, 2017). "LSAT scores at high-risk schools getting worse, according to analysis by law school reform group". ABA Journal. Retrieved March 2, 2017. 
  41. ^ "Comments on Proposed Revisions to Standards 316 and 501" (PDF). Law School Transparency. July 27, 2016. Retrieved March 2, 2017. 
  42. ^ "Cooley Employment Data" (PDF). 
  43. ^ "Cooley Employment Data" (PDF). 
  44. ^ "Cooley Employment Data" (PDF). 
  45. ^ "Cooley Employment Data" (PDF). 
  46. ^ http://www.lstscorereports.com/?school=cooley&show=ABA -- For the latest Employment Summary Reports from the American Bar Association, Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, see http://employmentsummary.abaquestionnaire.org/
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  48. ^ "Cooley University Profile". 
  49. ^ http://www.lstscorereports.com/?school=cooley&show=ABA
  50. ^ "Employment Summary for 2013 Graduates" (PDF). 
  51. ^ Badger Herald: Michigan Law School
  52. ^ Cooley opens Tampa campus
  53. ^ Wittrock, Angela (May 7, 2012). "Cooley Law School expands into Florida, welcomes first class of students", MLive.com
  54. ^ "Cooley Law School Plans to Cut Jobs, Halt First Year Enrollments in Ann Arbor". 
  55. ^ "Cooley Law School may close Ann Arbor campus in December". 
  56. ^ "Cooley Law Plans To Shutter Ann Arbor Campus". 
  57. ^ Statement of Intent to Close
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  59. ^ U.S. News and World Report: Cooley Law School
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  61. ^ http://www.cooley.edu/rankings/overall2010.html
  62. ^ http://abovethelaw.com/2011/02/latest-cooley-law-school-rankings-achieve-new-heights-of-intellectual-dishonesty/
  63. ^ http://thirdtierreality.blogspot.com/2011/08/another-look-at-fourth-tier-thomas-m.html
  64. ^ http://dailycaller.com/2012/10/29/the-top-five-law-school-marketing-failures/
  65. ^ https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130404/01213022571/thomas-cooley-law-schools-reputation-is-dumps-so-its-thinking-about-changing-its-name.shtml
  66. ^ "Cooley Sues Law Firm and Bloggers, Says Law School Falsely Accused of Misstating Grads' Success". 
  67. ^ "Cooley Law School loses 6th Circuit defamation appeal". 
  68. ^ "Thomas M. Cooley Law School v. Kurzon Strauss, LLP, et al" (PDF). 
  69. ^ Macdonald v. Thomas M. Cooley Law School, in the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan, Case No. 11-cv-00831 [2]
  70. ^ Cooley Law School, October 20, 2011, "Cooley Files Motion to Dismiss Jobs Reporting Lawsuit"
  71. ^ "McDonald v Thomas M Cooley Law School: IV. Conclusion". Retrieved 4 August 2012. 
  72. ^ "Cooley Law School cutting faculty, staff positions," Aug. 15, 2014, Detroit Free Press
  73. ^ Ostler, Andrew (August 15, 2014). "More Than Half of Staff Being Laid Off by WMU Cooley Law School". JD Journal. Retrieved August 19, 2014. 
  74. ^ Belinda Thurston, "Cooley 'right-sizing'" Aug. 14, 2014, City Pulse (Lansing, Michigan)
  75. ^ http://www.cooley.edu/leaders/

External links

  • Western Michigan University Cooley Law School website
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