It’s 2017, and there are now hundreds of news articles and entire blogs devoted to warning potential students of the perils of attending a low-ranked, high-cost law school.
We’re positive people here at Lawschooli, so we typically try and keep our message positive and upbeat. But sometimes we see things happening in the legal education industry that we simply can’t ignore. Today we’re going to talk about the dark side of the industry.
Admissions standards have been in a free fall at Tier 4 law schools over the past few years. One school, in particular, has sunk so low that we felt compelled to announce our pick for…
The Worst Law School in America
Most of our readers are very conscientious. Most of you take the LSAT very seriously. Over 300,000 of you have read Josh’s post on how he got a 177 on the LSAT, tens of thousands of you have followed his LSAT prep book recommendations, thousands of you follow our LSAT study schedules every year, and hundreds of you have joined the LSAT Mastermind Group.
In spite of our best efforts to convince people to take their LSAT prep seriously, our message doesn’t reach everyone. Every year I encounter scores of the uninitiated. They didn’t take the LSAT seriously, got a low score, and are ready to run head-long into a costly and potentially disastrous career choice by attending any law school that’ll take them. As a new law school admissions cycle approaches, it is worth a reminder why the advice to avoid certain schools is more apt than ever.
…and the loser is: Thomas M. Cooley Law School
Why pick on Cooley? There are a lot of terrible law schools out there, certainly. Cooley Law, however, has secured a deserved reputation as the worst of the worst, churning out scores of the most uncompetitive graduates into an extremely competitive profession that has nowhere near the ability to absorb them all. Cost of education is extremely high relative to expected salaries. Many graduates struggle to even pass the bar. Cooley has even been sued for inflating salary data.
By any reputable method of ranking ABA law schools, they would appear near the very bottom. Famously, however, for many years they tried to counter this by publishing their own rankings based on silly metrics such as total volumes in the library, law school square footage, and incoming class size. In their own estimation, they ranked 2nd, just behind Harvard!
As the recession hit and the legal market shrank, law schools have had a choice about how to handle it. Fewer good candidates are applying to law school now. In response, either you shrink class size and retain your standards, keeping incoming students GPA and LSAT numbers where they used to be, or you lower your admissions standards. Cooley has made some very, very bad choices. Here is a comparison of 2014 admissions data with 2015.
|GPA||25th %ile||Median||75th %ile|
|LSAT||25th %ile||Median||75th %ile|
For those who aren’t familiar with law school admissions, I’ll tell you: this is extremely, extremely bad. Cooley was making a surprising good faith effort to keep their numbers from falling through the floor, but now they have, as one legal blogger put it, “abandoned all pretense of maintaining sound admission policies.” It might be more accurate to say that they’ve abandoned the pretense of having any standards whatsoever.
The 25th percentile at Cooley is now a shocking 138. Ninety percent of LSAT takers perform better on the test. Given that even very low ranked schools generally try to take only students that perform better than average (about a 152), you can see how Cooley has committed themselves to scraping the very bottom of the applicant pool.
It’s this recent move, combined with their commitment to keeping a huge class in spite of offering very poor job prospects, that earns Cooley the distinction of being the very worst law school in America.
If you want to find some truly harsh invective about Cooley and schools like it, it will just take a little googling. People feel strongly enough about trashing these schools that they have compiled accurate school profiles and decorated them with pictures of cow dung.
Instead of going off on a self-indulgent rant, I want to simply present the facts, as near as we have them, about Cooley Law.
Bear in mind that Cooley and schools like it do nearly everything in their power to obscure data about how poor employment prospects are for their graduates. Thanks to the efforts of those pushing for more transparency, only recently have we been able to get a somewhat clearer picture of how these graduates really fare. Let’s take a look at this and some other vital statistics on the worst law school in America.
Cooley Law Job Prospects
Here is the salient figure, which alone should scare any reasonably rational person out of attending Cooley: 25.9%.
That is the percentage of Cooley’s 871 graduates who were able to secure full-time legal employment by one year after graduation. (Source: Law School Transparency)
In case you are wondering, close to 100% of those who attend law school want to secure full-time legal work. Even at top five law schools where there are potentially many other desirable options, some 95% of graduates go on to do full-time legal work that requires bar passage. By contrast, Cooley grads spend 3 years in law school, putting in a gargantuan effort on their part to secure a job as an attorney, but nearly 75% of them are unable to land themselves a law job.
In fact, with an employment rate of just 49.40% 9 months after graduation, chances are better than ever that you will end up completely unemployed if you happen to be one of the poor souls graduating from Cooley Law. It is a little hard to interpret this figure since most anything counts as “employment.”
Most of those that do not secure full-time legal employment are likely still looking or are forced to begin practice on their own, “hanging out a shingle,” as it is known in the legal world. Trust those who have done it: starting your own private practice is nowhere near as glamorous as it sounds.
Many more Cooley grads, burdened with a mountain of non-dischargeable debt and no prospect of securing legal work, simply give up the hope of practicing law and move on to other things.
Cooley Law Graduate Salaries
US News lists the following salary data for Cooley:
Median private sector starting salary: $45,000
Median public service starting salary: $47,916
It is worth remembering that a median gives you very little information. Of those relatively few students who secured private sector work, at least half make 45K or more.
While these figures are about expected for a low ranked law school, they seem especially low given the debt Cooley grads are likely to carry.
Cost of Attendance
Cooley’s costs, while a shade lower than those of the highest ranked schools, are still enormously high. Full-time tuition in 2015 was $47,890 per year (estimated total with cost of living: $65,474).
Unlike most law schools, Cooley does not always reliably publish their average student indebtedness. For the last year I can find it, 2013, it was a whopping $122,395.
Take it from my own experience and those of my classmates at a high ranked school: $122K is hard to pay off when you are making $160K your first year. At $45k and lower, expect to be burdened indefinitely.
|Class of 2018||1,222||1,072||448|
|25th %ile||Median||75th %ile|
Only 39% of Cooley Grads who took the Michigan bar exam in July 2016 got a passing score.
|July 2016 Michigan Bar||Cooley||Everyone Else||Total|
|Pass||72 (41%)||386 (74%)||458|
|Fail||103 (59%)||134 (26%)||237|
These pass rates are pretty shocking. Only 41% of Cooley grads passed the Michigan Bar, compared to a 74% pass rate for grads from other law schools.
And here’s the REALLY scary thing. These bar pass rates are from 2016, which means that these students were accepted back when Cooley’s median LSAT score was a 145. When their median LSAT score dropped 1 point from 146 to 145, their bar pass rate dropped by a few percentage points. This does not bode well for the class of 2018, whose median LSAT score is a shockingly low 141.
I can only imagine how bad things are going to get in a few years when these students graduate. If things are already this bleak for the class of 2015, we’re going to see some truly awful outcomes for the Cooley Law School class of 2018 (which is “statistically the worst entering class of law students in the history of American legal education at an ABA-Accredited law school.”)
|Class of 2020||139||142||146||2.59||2.94||3.27||?|
|Class of 2019||138||141||147||2.60||2.90||3.20||?|
|Class of 2018||138||141||147||2.51||2.85||3.19||?|
|Class of 2017||141||145||149||2.53||2.9||3.28||?|
|Class of 2016||141||145||150||2.49||2.96||3.32||41%|
|Class of 2015||142||145||151||2.57||3.02||3.36||39%|
|Class of 2014||143||146||151||2.61||3.02||3.35||44%|
|Class of 2013||144||146||151||2.61||2.99||3.35||44%|
Given that students with an LSAT below 155 are often considered at-risk for being unable to pass the bar, these stats are perhaps unsurprising.
By any plain reading, it seems that Cooley is running afoul of the ABA requirement that “a school shall not admit an applicant who does not appear capable of satisfactorily completing its program of legal education and being admitted to the bar.”
It is honestly shocking that the ABA has allowed Cooley to keep its accreditation with bar passage rates as low as they already are. Now that Cooley has hit a new low in admissions standards for the Class of 2018, they are almost begging the ABA to pull their accreditation.
…To Sum Up
This seems to be the beginning of the end for Cooley Law School. 1L enrollment has tumbled from 1583 in Fall 2010, down to 445 in Fall 2014. Now that they appear to be unwilling to lower enrollment any further, they’ve resorted to slashing admissions standards, doing whatever it takes to fill those 450 seats.
Now they’ve got a ticking time bomb on their hands. Cooley already has a hard time attracting qualified students because of their miserable bar passage & employment rates. When this new crop of students graduate in 2018, its going to be a bloodbath. Cooley’s (already low) bar passage & employment rates are going to drop considerably lower once the 2018 numbers come out, making it even more difficult to attract even the most minimally qualified students.
I don’t see an easy way out of the downward spiral Cooley has leaped into.
|25th||50th||75th||25th||50th||75th||# of 1Ls|
The best thing that could happen to you if you attend Cooley is failing out before you run up a tremendous amount of debt. Around 20% do make the decision to drop out. The most likely outcome, however, for those who finish: you end up having significant debt, have difficultly passing the bar, and are unable to find a legal job of any kind whatsoever.
Plainly, you are simply better off not attending Cooley. I repeat: it is just not worth it. Save yourself the heartache and only attend law school under much much better circumstances. If you are thinking of attending Cooley, I’m willing to personally try to talk you out of it.
If you’re just starting to think about law school, the best way to avoid this fate is to crush the LSAT. I’ve spoken to thousands of students over the past couple years & I’ve never heard of anyone who has followed one of our LSAT study schedules & still ended up with an LSAT score so low that they couldn’t get into a better law school than Cooley.