Western Michigan University Cooley Law School

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Western Michigan University Cooley Law School
School typePrivate
Endowment$21 million[1]
DeanJames McGrath[2]
LocationLansing, Michigan (flagship)
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Riverview, Florida
USNWR ranking146-192[4]
Bar pass rate36.36%[5]

Western Michigan University Cooley Law School (WMU-Cooley) is a private law school in Lansing, Michigan. It was established in 1972 and has campuses in Lansing, Michigan; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Riverview, Florida.[6][7]


In 1972, the Thomas M. Cooley Law School was established by a group of lawyers and judges led by Thomas E. Brennan, a former Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. The school was named in honor of Thomas McIntyre Cooley (1824-1898), a prominent 19th-century jurist, who was also a former Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice. Cooley was a dean of the University of Michigan Law School and visiting faculty at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.[8]

On July 28, 2014, the ABA and the Higher Learning Commission gave their approval to an affiliation between Cooley and Western Michigan University.[9] 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".[10][11][12][13] Cooley Law School classes are offered on each of Western Michigan's four campuses.[14]

Ranking and reputation[edit]

Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School is ranked 146-192 by U.S. News.[15]

During the 2018-2019 application cycle, the school admitted 54.94% of applicants. This is a marked decline from the school's 2017-2018 acceptance rate of 86.13%, which was the highest in the nation by almost 10%.[16] The entering fall 2019 class had a median GPA of 2.95 and median LSAT of 145.[17]

In 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the district court's dismissal of a class action lawsuit by Cooley graduates who sued over the school's allegedly deceptive post-graduate employment data. In the ruling, the court held that although the graduates' complaint showed that the statistics on which they relied were objectively untrue, their reliance on the statistics was unreasonable.[18] 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."[19]

According to the organization Law School Transparency, Cooley is considered one of the most at-risk law schools for exploiting students for tuition.[20][21]

On May 15, 2020, the council of the American Bar Association's Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar met remotely and determined Cooley was among ten law schools that had failed to significantly comply with Standard 316, which was revised in 2019 to provide that at least 75% of an accredited law school’s graduates who took a bar exam must pass one within two years of graduation. Cooley has been asked to submit a report by February 1, 2021. If the council does not find the report demonstrates compliance, Cooley will be asked to appear before the council at its May 2021 meeting.[22] Section 316 has been criticized for discouraging minority enrollment in law schools and the American Bar Association has said that the Coronavirus pandemic will be taken into account when enforcing Section 316.[23]


Cooley's curriculum is designed to prepare 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.

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: Oxford, England; Santander, Spain; Toronto, Canada; Münster, Germany.[24]

Degree types[edit]

Cooley awards J.D. and LL.M. degrees. Students may also obtain joint M.P.A. or M.B.A. degrees awarded by Western Michigan University.[25][26][27]


J.D. students are able to select from several concentrations (specialized areas of legal study):[28]

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


Cooley has been accredited by the American Bar Association since 1975 and by the Higher Learning Commission since 2001.[29][30]

In 2017, Cooley was sanctioned by the American Bar Association for violating the ABA requirement that schools only admit students who appear capable of earning a Juris Doctor degree and passing a bar exam.[31] The ABA announced in April 2018 that the school was now in compliance with the ABA standards for admissions, and the sanction was lifted.[32]

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's Innocence Project clinic has contributed to overturning four convictions.[33][34][35][36] 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.[37] 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.[37]


Cooley has a library at each of its five campuses. Its main library on the Lansing campus is the Thomas E. Brennan Law Library. 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.[38]


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".[39]


The total cost of attending (indicating the cost of tuition, fees, and living expenses) Cooley for the 2017-18 academic year was between $69,104 and $70,134, depending on the campus.[40]

Bar passage[edit]

36.36% of first-time takers passed the bar exam in any jurisdiction in 2019.[5] Previously, the average school bar passage rate had been about 50%.[41] 53% of graduates passed the Michigan bar exam on their first attempt in July 2017, below the 83% average for other Michigan law schools.[42] The average school bar passage rate was 51.86% in 2015, 52.73% in 2014, and 51.45% in 2013.[41] Cooley's bar passage rates have averaged about 30% less than the state average pass rates.[41] Cooley's bar passage for first-time takers for the February 2018 exam was 61%.[43]

Post-graduation employment[edit]

According to disclosures required by the American Bar Association (ABA), 30.6% of graduates from the class of 2017 obtained full-time, long-term, bar-passage-required employment nine months after graduation, while 20.7% of graduates were unemployed 9 months after graduation.[44]

Branch campuses and ABA accreditation[edit]

Original 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.[45] 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.[46][47]

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.[48] 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.[49][50][51] The Ann Arbor campus was subsequently sold in 2015 to Concordia University Ann Arbor to house Concordia's School of Nursing.[52]

In 2019, Cooley closed its Auburn Hills campus.[53] In 2020, Cooley announced it will close its Grand Rapids campus by August 31, 2021, pending approval by accrediting agencies, and that it had ceased providing classes at Western Michigan University's Kalamazoo campus.[54]

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.[55] Cooley is ranked second in the twelfth edition of Judging the Law Schools, which is published by Cooley.[56]

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 number 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.[57] 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.[58][59]

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.[60] The firm retracted the statements, but maintained the school used "'Enron-style' accounting techniques" to manipulate their jobs-placement data.[61] 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."[62]

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[63] fraud and misrepresentation about Cooley's published employment information concerning its graduates. The school responded by filing a motion to dismiss.[64] 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."[65]

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.[66] A JD Journal article claims that the layoffs will exceed 50%, but James Robb denied this claim.[67] Cooley had experienced a drop in enrollment of over 40% in recent years and had raised tuition by 9 percent.[68]

Notable faculty[edit]

Notable alumni[edit]


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External links[edit]