Thomas M. Cooley Law School
[by Barry Perlman ] If you subscribe to the adage “bigger is better,” then Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, MI, may be the perfect place for you. Cooley boasts the largest J.D. law school program in the nation (and the second-largest overall law school), giving it a diversity among students and faculty and a breadth in academic offerings which separate it from other schools.
Cooley was founded in 1972 by a group of lawyers led by then Michigan Chief Justice Thomas E. Brennan. The school was named after Thomas M. Cooley, another former Chief Justice and leading constitutional commentator with an unrivalled record of distinction in Michigan jurisprudence history. Cooley Law School has been fully accredited by the American Bar Association since 1978 and the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools since 2001. With an entering class of more than 700 first-year students in 2003, size is certainly the most striking characteristic of Cooley’s student body. The diversity among the 2,019 students at Cooley is quickly apparent, with 38% belonging to racial minority groups. In fact, according to the school, Cooley ranks as either first or second in total minority enrollment among the nation’s law schools, in addition to likely holding the number-one spot for total enrollment of African-American law students. Cooley’s diverseness not only ensures a comfortable environment for individuals of all backgrounds, but it also provides students with a wide cross-section of cultural and societal perspectives on legal issues throughout their education. Cooley’s size allows the school to offer the most flexible course scheduling of any law school in the nation, making it a great choice for those who must coordinate their schooling with other professional or personal obligations. Cooley offers classes yearround, and students have the option of taking morning, afternoon, evening or weekend classes. While greater than 70% of Cooley
students go part-time, the school’s flexible scheduling enables eager students to complete their education in as little as two years. For geographic convenience, Cooley also offers classes at Michigan partner institutions Oakland University in Rochester and Western Michigan University in Grand Rapids. Cooley boasts a full-time faculty of 89 on its roster, in addition to at least 100 more adjunct professors who cover a wide range of elective topics. Thanks to this large team of experienced legal experts, Cooley is able to maintain reasonable class sizes and a relatively good 19:1 student/faculty ratio in spite of its size. Of course, a large school also means a large network of Cooley alumni, broadening students’ potential opportunities for developing important contacts who would serve as mentors and provide general advice that may ultimately lead to employment. Cooley recently distinguished itself as a model for promoting the integrity and reputation of the legal profession through implementation of its innovative Professionalism Plan. The ambitious plan, developed in 2002 by a joint effort of Cooley and the State Bar of Michigan, outlines 18 specific initiatives adopted to foster professionalism within the student community, focused in three key areas: teaching students to be professional and become professionals, incorporating professionalism in the law school environment, and taking successes outside the school as a model for others. The Plan’s commitment to providing students with the knowledge, skills, and ethics to succeed as legal professionals plays a key role throughout Cooley’s
academic culture. In addition to its academic course offerings, Cooley offers a number of outstanding clinics that prepare students for the practical application of law. The Sixty Plus, Inc., Elderlaw Clinic teaches students to advocate for people over 60 years old in a variety of hands-on civil law situations. The Estate Planning Clinic offers hands-on experience in counseling clients on wills, powers of attorney, and medical directives. The Cooley Innocence Project lets students work with criminal defense attorneys to seek the release of wrongly convicted prisoners; in fact, the project has been credited with the release of more than 100 of these prisoners, mainly with the help of DNA testing. These clinics supplement the 1,000-plus externship sites approved for students by the Cooley Curriculum Committee for gaining applied experience in the practice of law. As part of the school’s dedication to providing legal education to people from all walks of life, Cooley uses a fair and objective formula for determining eligibility for admissions. The formula multiplies a student’s undergraduate GPA by 15 and adds it to the student’s highest LSAT score to produce the Admissions Index. For the 2004-05 year, the minimum index for acceptance is 183 (with a minimum LSAT score of 143), though each class always includes a limited number of alternate conditional admissions spots available for special cases. Cooley makes every effort to keep tuition as low as possible, with a 2004 tuition of
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LAW SCHOOL PROFILE
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$750 per credit hour. This translates to an estimated tuition for part-time students of $17,040, and for full-time students of $21,300, ranking Cooley 11th in affordability among the nation’s 108 private law schools. Add the relatively low cost of living in the Lansing area, and Cooley turns out to be a great value. Plus, greater than 85% of Cooley’s student body takes advantage of financial-aid opportunities in the form of loans and scholarships to offset the cost of their education. Cooley’s main Lansing campus consists of the second-largest physical plant among the nation’s accredited law schools, with superior classrooms and other facilities. This includes the 440,000-volume Thomas E. Brennan Law Library, which ranks in the top third of law libraries. Cooley is centrally located in Michigan, and during their off time, students can take advantage of the many outdoor adventures the state, and its proximity to the Great Lakes, invites, including skiing, hiking, and fishing. Lansing is also a short jaunt by car from Detroit and Chicago, making for easy weekend getaways. For prospective students searching for an affordable and flexible legal education within a large and diverse student community, Cooley Law School is an excellent choice.