248-409-1900 dburke@mi-worklaw.com

By:  Bill Pilchak – 11/7/14

          I recently received a letter from James D. Robb, Associate Dean of External Affairs and Senior Counsel to Western Michigan University Cooley Law School regarding my post of October 21, 2014. Readers will recall that the point of that article was that the closing of Cooley’s Ann Arbor campus was “good…for business” because (I believe) the glut of lawyers accounts for bad cases being filed against our clients.

          Dean Robb asked me to clarify some points made in the earlier post. First, he notes that I mistakenly quoted statistics regarding its entire student body of 1121 students as its 2014 incoming class. I did make a mistake and it’s easy to see why. I had taken my figures from the Form 509 that all ABA accredited law schools, including Cooley, are required to post. From other sources, Cooley reportedly had 3,931 students in 2010-2011, so the 1121 “enrollment” figure certainly looked like the enrollment for an incoming class, since 1) law school is a three year process for most students and 1121 is just less than 1/3rd; 2) Cooley’s Form 509 elsewhere reports that they made 1600 offers of admission; 3) Cooley’s Forms 509 report 851, 909 and 966 first time bar exam “takers” in 2010-2012; and 4) the form also reports grants and scholarships to 3095 students in the “prior academic year.”

          Instead, a column under the title “GPA and LSAT Scores” entitled “Number of matrics” [SIC] apparently reflects the incoming class. “Matrics” is now understood to mean matriculants, i.e., first-year students matriculated. So, in addition to the closing of Cooley’s Ann Arbor campus being good for business, the decline in Cooley’s enrollment (from 3095 students to 1121 as far as I can tell) is similarly good news – as would be a decline of nearly 2000 law students at any other school, in my opinion.

          However, whether looking at enrollments or matriculants, my point about Cooley turning out more lawyers than other schools remains valid. The Forms 509 for 2013 reflect the following “Enrollments” and matriculants of Michigan law schools. To gain a Michigan perspective, I have generously assumed that 20% of Cooley’s students are at its Florida campus, despite indications to the contrary.

Law School Enrollment Assuming 20% for Florida Campus 2014 Matriculants Assuming 20% for Florida Campus
Cooley 1121 896 582 465
U of M 399 315
MSU 301 277
Wayne State 169 117
U of D Mercy 212 191

 

          As such, Cooley is training more law students in Michigan than any other school.

          Dean Robb also referred me to a Cooley-sponsored website arguing against the impression that Cooley is flooding us with lawyers, stating that “a majority of our students are from other states and many…return…home to practice law.” I looked at the site. Readers can find it by Googling the opening line: “Of late, statements have circulated claiming that Cooley is flooding the market with new graduates, driving down employment among Michigan lawyers.”

          While I acknowledge, that many Cooley students do leave Michigan, my concern wasn’t about unemployed lawyers in Michigan. My point on October 21 was that businesses everywhere should be glad that Cooley’s enrollment is declining, not only Michigan businesses.

          As to Michigan, I have looked at Cooley’s statistics, and note they measure Cooley’s contribution to the entire population of lawyers in the State of Michigan – not the number or proportion of lawyers it has been producing since it has grown to its present size. Cooley was not accredited until 1975, and certainly did not have 3095 students or even 1121 students in its early years. Lawyers are notorious for not retiring. (For example, I understand there is no word for “retirement” in Yiddish, relevant to a large portion of the bar.) The oldest practicing lawyers – let’s say at age 72 – likely graduated from law school at 25 years of age, 47 years ago, i.e., in 1967. The “other” law schools (accredited in 1923, 1933, 1937, and 1941) were turning out lawyers before Cooley was created, and undoubtedly had bigger classes than Cooley for some time after Cooley was created. It’s thus difficult to believe that Cooley isn’t dramatically under-represented among older lawyers and over-represented among the most recently admitted lawyers.

          Another section of the Forms 509 bears this out. Each school reports the number of Bar Exam “takers” for the past three years (as well as passage rates). Here are the numbers of graduates from each Michigan law school taking the Michigan Bar Exam in the years reported on the Forms 509 currently posted by the law schools:

Law School 2013 “Takers” 2012 “Takers” 2011 “Takers” 2010 “Takers”
Cooley Not reported 447 358 336
U of M Not reported 44 54 45
MSU Not reported 146 139 152
Wayne State 148 147 169
U of D Mercy Only one year reported, but year not specified: 143

 

          There just doesn’t seem to be any question but that, even though many graduates leave the state, Cooley is churning out more graduates who desire to practice in Michigan than any other school. Hundreds more Cooley grads take the Michigan Bar Exam year after year.

          Moreover, Dean Robb did not quibble with my report that the median LSAT score for Cooley students was at the 26.1 percentile. (In case the point escapes you, that means ½ of their students scored below the 26.1 percentile.) Accordingly, the point that Cooley turns out more lawyers with lower LSAT scores seems inescapable. Moreover, it is worth noting that one page of Cooley’s website is specifically tailored to attract students with only a 2-year degree or with only 3 years of credit toward a bachelor’s degree: http://www.cooley.edu/prospective/bachelors.html.

          Dean Robb has also indicated that Cooley’s Bar Exam pass rate in Michigan was not 43% as I reported, but was 52.3%. So, I double checked my sources. The 43% passing rate I reported is the “pre-appeal” passing rate reported by the State Bar of Michigan in a post dated 11/01/13. I thus retrieved documentation from the Michigan Board of Law Examiners, which reports the following “Statistics After Appeals,” and have included a column with the Pre-Appeal statistics I reported:

Law School Feb., 2014 July, 2013 7/13 Pre-Appeal Feb., 2013 July, 2012 Feb., 2012
Cooley 65% 53% 43% 63 52 65
U of M 91% 97% 94% 87 88 80
MSU 86% 82 74% 76 69 65
Wayne State 87% 76 67% 90 72 67
U of D Mercy 66% 63 52% 64 53 72

           At least for these five most recent bar exams, Cooley was lowest in each column. However, it should be noted that in 2011 and earlier, Cooley sometimes eclipsed Wayne State University or my alma mater, U of D Mercy.

          Finally, Dean Robb asked me to clarify that Cooley is a “tax exempt, 501 (c)(3) educational institution.” Hmmm. My “mistaken” impression was based on two points: 1) comments from one of the earliest Cooley students during the 1970’s, that financial motivations prompted Justice Thomas Brennan to resign from the Michigan Supreme Court to devote full time to the law school he founded; and 2) I could discern no altruistic purpose in throwing the doors of a law school open to formerly thousands, and now still over a thousand students at, near and below the bottom quartile of aspirants, even as one who fought his way out of the projects into law school and who thus appreciates the importance of granting “opportunity.” However, I could certainly understand a financial motive for collecting tuition from thousands of students.

          So, I sharpened my pencil and took a second look at the matter. Cooley’s website reports that Justice Brennan “retired on January 19, 2002,” and “served on the Board of Directors…until 2002.” However, like all non-profits, Cooley is required to file IRS Form 990s, which are freely available from on-line sources, such as Guidestar.org.  Though retired and not on the board of directors, Justice Brennan continues to reap very significant financial rewards for starting a “non-profit” law school:

Year Base Compensation(for 2013 “reportable compensation) Deferred Compensation Non-Taxable Benefits Total
(for 2013 “estimated other compensation”)
2013 329,198 44,352 373,550
2012 329,198 19,495 24,857 373,550
2011 329,198 19,160 24,705 373,065
2010 Not presently at hand
2009 329,198 19,160 21,887 370,245
2008 329,198 19,160 20,223 368,581

           Form 990 reflects that former Justice Brennan devotes approximately five hours per week to duties as Dean Emeritus. I believe that my impression that Cooley Law School was/is a for-profit institution is forgivable. When one collects a third of a million dollars’ worth of compensation each year from the non-profit business entity he started, though devoting minimal effort to it, that looks a lot like profits and dividend checks. If it looks like a duck…

          I thank Associate Dean Robb for joining the discussion and welcome his observations. However, the perspective in my October 21 blog remains valid: Business should welcome the closure of Cooley’s Ann Arbor campus as well as its declining enrollment. Admitting an overabundance of lawyers is not good for business, because those lawyers will find someone to sue to feed their families and cases will not be as closely scrutinized as society might hope. Admitting an overabundance of lawyers at, near and below the lowest quartile of those taking the LSAT is even worse.