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]
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
Bar pass rate 61% (February 2018 first time takers)[3]
Website cooley.edu

Western Michigan University Cooley Law School (WMU-Cooley) is a private American law school located in Lansing, Michigan, and established in 1971.

It has four campuses. Its main campus is in Lansing, Michigan, and the satellite campuses are in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Auburn Hills, Michigan, and Tampa, Florida.[4][5] First year courses may be taken at Western Michigan University's Kalamazoo campus.[6]

WMU-Cooley admits c. 86% of applicants and new entrants average a median GPA of 2.90 and median LSAT of 141. WMU-Cooley's average school bar passage rate is around 50%. The cost of attendance for an academic year averages at $64,000.


Thomas E. Brennan, 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. It is named in honor of Thomas McIntyre Cooley (1824-1898), also a former Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice, who was a prominent 19th-century jurist. Cooley was a dean of the University of Michigan Law School and visiting faculty at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

On July 28, 2014, the ABA and the Higher Learning Commission gave their approval to the affiliation between Cooley and Western Michigan University.[7] 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."[8][9][10][11] Cooley Law School classes are offered on each of Western Michigan's four campuses.


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.)[12] Concentrations include: general practice, litigation, business transactions, administrative law, international law, environmental law, taxation, intellectual property, Canadian practice, and focused studies.[13]

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.[14][15]

Clinical programs[edit]

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.[16]

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.[16]

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.[17]


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. 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".[18]


The total cost of attendance (indicating the cost of tuition, fees, and living expenses) at Cooley for the 2013-2014 academic year was $63,772.[19] Around that time, Law School Transparency estimated the debt-financed cost of attendance for three years to be $258,232.[20]

Bar passage[edit]

Cooley graduates have struggled to pass state bar exams, a requirement to practice law.[21] In recent years, the average school bar passage rate has been about 50%.[21] The average school bar passage rate was 51.86% in 2015, 52.73% in 2014, and 51.45% in 2013.[21] Cooley's bar passage rates have averaged about 20% less than the state average pass rates.[21]

According to disclosures required by the American Bar Association (ABA), 27.4% of graduates from the class of 2015 obtained full-time, long-term, bar-passage-required employment nine months after graduation,[22] 23.8% of graduates were unemployed 9 months after graduation.[22] 53% of graduates passed the Michigan bar exam on their first attempt in July 2017, below the 83% average for other Michigan law schools.[3]

Ranking and reputation[edit]

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.[23]

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).[21] 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).[21] 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."[24]

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."[25] 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.[26] 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."[27]

In 2017, Cooley was sanctioned by the American Bar Association's Section of Legal Education and Admissions due to its lax admissions standards.[28][29] That same year, the school was ranked the "worst" law school in the country by law website Above the Law,[30] referring to a list of the "bottom 10 least selective law schools in the U.S. (excluding Puerto Rico)".[31]

After having found in 2017 that Cooley was one of ten American law schools out of compliance with the American Bar Association's requirement that schools only admit students who appear capable of earning a Juris Doctor degree and passing a bar exam,[32] the ABA announced in April 2018 that the school was now in compliance with that requirement.[33]

According to the organization Law School Transparency, Cooley is considered one of the most at-risk law schools for exploiting students for tuition.[34][35]

Post-graduation employment[edit]

According to data provided by Cooley to the American Bar Association, 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 nine months after graduation.[36] Only 27.4% of graduates obtained full-time, long term, bar passage required employment.[36] 5% of graduates worked in non-professional jobs.[36] 10.1% of graduates worked in part-time jobs.[36]

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.[37] 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.[38] 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.[39]

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.[40]

ABA Employment Summary for 2013 Graduates[41]
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[edit]

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.[42] 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.[43][44]

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.[45] 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.[46][47][48] The Ann Arbor campus was subsequently sold in 2015 to Concordia University Ann Arbor to house Concordia's School of Nursing.[49]

Since the Michaelmas term in 2015, Cooley has offered first year classes at Western Michigan University's Kalamazoo campus.[50]

Ranking and Judging the Law Schools[edit]

Cooley is shown as "Rank Not Published" in the U.S. News & World Report listing of law schools.[51] Cooley is ranked second in the twelfth edition of Judging the Law Schools, which is published by Cooley.[52]

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.[53] 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.[54][55][56][57]

Defamation lawsuit by Cooley[edit]

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.[58] The firm retracted the statements, but maintained the school used "'Enron-style' accounting techniques" to manipulate their jobs-placement data.[59] 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."[60]

Class action against Cooley[edit]

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[61] fraud and misrepresentation about Cooley's published employment information concerning its graduates. The school responded by filing a motion to dismiss.[62] 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."[63]

Faculty and staff layoffs[edit]

In August 2014, Associate Dean James Robb announced that Cooley had begun laying off faculty and staff at all its campuses.[64] A JD Journal article claims that the layoffs will exceed 50%, but James Robb denied this claim.[65] Cooley had experienced a drop in enrollment of over 40% in recent years and had raised tuition by 9 percent.[66]

Notable faculty[edit]

Notable alumni[edit]


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External links[edit]