By Bill Pilchak – 10/21/14
I take no glee in Cooley Law School’s ongoing reports of bad news, even though they recently announced an affiliation with Western Michigan University, bitter rival of my alma mater, CMU. After all, La Toya Palmer of our firm is an award-winning graduate of Cooley. However, as early as July, Cooley announced that it was cutting faculty and staff positions in response to decreased enrollment and that it would not be enrolling a class at its Ann Arbor Campus this year. Then, last Thursday, Cooley announced that it would actually close its Ann Arbor branch.
Unless the reader is a parent with a child aspiring to law school despite lukewarm grades, most businesspeople should be happy about the news about Cooley. One of the reasons for the current employment litigation feeding frenzy is an overabundance of lawyers. There will always be some lawyers who specialize in suing employers. Those who consult with us know that our goal when consulting on discipline and discharge is to include points that will tell successful, experienced employment lawyers that “this one” is not worth their effort. (It’s a bit like when Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi tells the storm trooper: “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”) Ideally, after a terminated employee has been referred to one or two experienced plaintiff attorneys and told they have no case, the person would stop searching out lawyers.
However, an overabundance of attorneys fouls up that strategy in several ways. If the first attorney who reviews the case has no work on his/her desk, even a bad case might be “worth their effort,” because they are not giving up better, more profitable work by turning it down. Worse, if that attorney takes any work that comes along and has no experience in employment law, he/she may not know (let alone advise the prospective client) that the client has no case. Finally, if the employee visits one or two experienced lawyers who don’t take the case and there is still a line of hungry (i.e., desperate) lawyers ready to review the file, eventually one may take the “bad” case. As all who have been sued know, it still costs money to defend worthless lawsuits.
It is worth putting Cooley’s production of lawyers into perspective. Cooley’s website states that it admitted 1129 students in its 2014 class. Assuming the Florida campus accounts for 20% of those students (although Cooley says Florida residents make up 6% of its applicants), that means Cooley admitted 903 students to its Michigan campuses in 2014. By contrast, University of Michigan Law School enrolled 318 freshmen this year, University of Detroit Mercy enrolled 331 students, and MSU admitted 501 students. For some reason, Wayne State Law School has not posted its 2014 data (as required), but it admitted 269 students in 2013. We will assume that WSU did not admit appreciably more students in 2014.
This means that the four “traditional” and mostly non-profit law schools admitted 1419 law students in 2014, and for-profit Cooley admitted 903. Not only is Cooley responsible for greatly inflating the number of lawyers in Michigan, but it extends the prospect of a law degree to students that would not qualify for admission in traditional schools. The median Law School Aptitude Test (LSAT) score for Cooley students was 145, vs 168 for U of M, 157 for MSU and WSU, and 150 for U of D. Those scores may not seem significant until one looks at the percentiles:
|Law School||Median LSAT Score||Is at the X percentile|
|University of Michigan||168||95.9%|
|University of Detroit Mercy||150||44.3%|
|Cooley Law School||145||26.1%|
Essentially, Cooley dropped the intellectual bar by 18.2% for admission to law school in order to collect tuition from its 903 (or more) freshmen. For years, it has been flooding the state with attorneys that would not have been admitted to practice if it did not exist. Thankfully, less than half of those with degrees from Cooley typically pass the bar exam:
|Law School||2013 Bar Passage Rate|
|University of Michigan||94%|
|University of Detroit Mercy||52%|
|Cooley Law School||43%|
Law school applications have been dropping in Michigan and across the country for the past decade. In fact, law schools applications dropped 61.5% since 2002-2003. Several reasons account for that. First, so many law students graduate with huge debt and no prospect of a legal job, that applicants have been scared off. Some sources attribute the decline to the disclosures required by the American Bar Association, including the bar exam passing rate.
As I noted, LaToya of our firm attended Cooley and received national recognition for her skills. Moreover, I have practiced against some very talented Cooley grads. So, my point is not that Cooley shouldn’t continue to train lawyers in Michigan. Instead, I merely suggest that they cut back to the admission levels of other schools. While that may result in ½ the tuition income it generates, Michigan businesses will not have to “feed” an extra 400-500 attorneys infused into society year after year after year. The closure of Cooley’s A² campus is a step in the right direction, a sign that market forces are prevailing.
 When MSU’s law school was known as “Detroit College of Law,” it was a for-profit institution. Its present status is unclear.