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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.

GPA25th %ileMedian75th %ile
20142.532.903.28
20152.512.853.19
 LSAT25th %ileMedian75th %ile
2014141145149
2015138141147

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).

cooley-cost-of-attendance

Average Indebtedness

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.

Admissions Statistics

applicantsoffersmatriculants
Class of 20181,2221,072448
25th %ileMedian75th %ile
GPA2.512.853.19
LSAT138141147

Cooley’s LSAT numbers are well below the average for test takers overall, which is about a 152 (on a 120-180 scale). With close to a 90% acceptance rate, Cooley has effectively an open admissions policy.

Bar Passage

Only 38% of Cooley Grads who took the Michigan bar exam in July 2018 got a passing score.

2018 Michigan BarCooleyEveryone ElseTotal
Pass148 (44%)529 (72%)677 (63%)
Fail189 (56%)204 (28%)393 (37%)
Total3377331070

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.”)

LSATGPABar
25th50th75th25th50th75thPass%
Class of 20201391421462.592.943.27?
Class of 20191381411472.602.903.20?
Class of 20181381411472.512.853.19?
Class of 20171411451492.532.93.28?
Class of 20161411451502.492.963.3241%
Class of 20151421451512.573.023.3639%
Class of 20141431461512.613.023.3544%
Class of 20131441461512.612.993.3544%

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.

LSATLSATLSATGPAGPAGPAEnrollment
25th50th75th25th50th75th# of 1Ls
Fall 20101441461512.612.993.351583
Fall 20111431461512.613.023.351161
Fall 20121421451512.573.023.36897
Fall 20131411451502.492.963.32582
Fall 20141411451492.532.93.28445
Fall 20151381411472.512.853.19448

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.

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78 Comments

  1. Dear Evan Jones,

    I saw that your article, “The Worst Law School in America,” was recently updated on June 23 2021, which identifies us – WMU Cooley – as the title holder. I am not sure what was actually updated on June 23, 2021, but many of the statistics listed are rather old, making some of the statements in the article untrue. I would like you to know that in the past two years we have increased our admissions selectivity significantly, lowered our tuition, and our first time bar pass rate has improved. I would not expect you to accept statistics from me showing our progress, but am happy to share them with you if you wish. Most of this information is available from the ABA’s website in the public 509 and bar pass reports, and in other public records.

    You may know that we are currently out of compliance with ABA Standard 316 – the bar pass standard. Standard 316 was revised recently, shortening the time for which law school graduates must pass a bar exam post-graduation. The new standard became effective immediately upon passage. Many schools, like ours had admitted students based upon the former standard. These students will finish their degrees and and take a bar exam for quite a few years to come, making immediate compliance difficult, for us and other schools in the interim. I personally think that this new standard is reasonable, however, I believe that the immediate implementation was not. Nevertheless, we are working diligently to meet this new standard.

    I recently appeared at a hearing before the ABA Council on Legal Education to detail our efforts and plans to return to compliance. The Council had many options in responding to our work for returning to compliance, including: directing us to take certain actions, imposing sanctions, or even taking away our accreditation. They chose instead no action – in effect finding that our actions were appropriate for returning to compliance. We remain fully accredited and will continue to improve and regain full compliance.

    Our school has long had a mission of access to the legal profession. A great majority of our students attend part time, as we offer flexible scheduling that permits people with complicated lives to realize their dream of becoming lawyers. Our many scheduling options attract many second career applicants, single parents and others who cannot follow a traditional law school schedule. We are doubling down on this history of access while ensuring admission of students capable of completing a rigorous legal education and passing a bar exam under the new standard. I hope that you will consider updating your article to include more recent statistics that more accurately represent who we are now. You may find that we are still in your opinion, “The Worst Law School in America,” but know that we are working diligently to lose that title as soon as practical.

    Feel free to write or call if I can clarify any of this.

    James McGrath
    Professor of Law

    President and Dean
    Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School
    300 S. Capitol Avenue
    Lansing, MI 48933
    (517) 371-5140, Ext. 2012
    FAX (517) 334-5752
    mcgrathj@cooley.edu

    he/him/his (Why am I identifying my pronouns?)

    If you are experiencing distress/mental health issues related to COVID-19, you can contact the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990, or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a crisis counselor for free confidential crisis support.

  2. Jeff Kennelly on

    Cool numbers, Evan. There are a lot of bitter people out there about Cooley High. For me, it was a launchpad. I had a very successful career – based on me, not the school. Say all you wish. i took the bar exam 1x in 1993 and never looked back. People who matriculated there knew or should have known it was a shit school. I did. And I believed I could achieve after I left. I’m not a big fan of whiners.

  3. Cooley had a poor reputation in the eighties when I applied, and I knew it. Being a terrible test taker, I could not get into other schools. I really wanted to study law and Cooley gave me that opportunity. We can examine all the parts and find fault, or we can be grateful for the overall broadening of intellectual development and life experience. Who wouldn’t choose the latter?

  4. I went to Cooley in the 1980’s after working in Investment Banking.
    I wanted to do something more meaningful than just making money.
    I graduated on time and passed the PA bar exam on my first try at it.
    Although I was accepted at other similar Law Schools…
    Cooley was then the most affordable for me.
    Since I got in-state tuition and Lansing’s lower cost of living.
    Back then Cooley had an arrangement with the State for Michigan residents.
    And at the end of my 3 years my total student debt was just $15,000.00.
    What attracted me to Cooley besides affordability was its mission statement.
    Which was to prepare graduates for a solo or small firm practice of law.
    It was no secret then that few Cooley grads ever got hired at large law firms.
    But that was ok with me since I didn’t want to work for a large law firm.
    Moreover, most of my evening classmates already had professional jobs.
    Two of my classmates were practicing Physicians and another was a Veterinarian.
    Many were just looking to augment the credentials they already had.
    As such, Cooley was a good fit for mature working-class law students in central Michigan.
    And the Faculty was on the whole sound and the physical plant ample.
    Cooley’s law library alone was about the same size as all of New England Law School.
    Where Cooley failed in my opinion was having poor management.
    For instance, they admitted large classes and had high attrition rates.
    All the while denying they had imposed a downward grading scale policy.
    Until of course some insider leaked an internal memo which proved their policy.
    This created a lot of angst, turmoil and ill will among the students to this day.
    Which may explain why few alumnae make any meaningful contributions.
    And now Western Michigan (like Michigan State did) has ended their affiliation with Cooley.
    All of which could have been avoided in my opinion.
    Because rather than close down their Grand Rapids, Oakland and Ann Arbor campuses…
    They could have sought out having affiliations or mergers with area State colleges.
    Such as with Grand Valley State, Eastern Michigan and Oakland Universities.
    Because by becoming State institutions they could keep tuition lower.
    Thereby living up to their mission of providing working class people access to the law.
    Because if I had to pay $200,000 to go to Cooley – I wouldn’t.
    But I wouldn’t pay that to go to Harvard or Yale either.

    • I went to law school at Temple. I now run an agency with over 60 employees. We are considered the premier legal agency in our state. We are celebrated for our legal work in both the trial and appellate court exclusively in the federal arena. Our most celebrated attorney went to Cooley. He is the second in command and always ready to take the helm. He is the go to person for legal advice at the trial and appellate level. He is paid the second highest income in the agency , Right below mine. He has just turned 40. Yet, he got his position when he was 35. One of our worst employees, we had to let go, was a Harvard graduate. Go to the best law school you can but don’t worry if you don’t get into an Ivy League. I don’t know anything about Cooley. But I do know our best attorney went there. It is silly to think that a law school is going to make you great. It will merely help you get your first job. I am celebrated for the work that our office does. I hire fantastic people. I don’t care where you went to school. I care who you are and what your potential is. This tortured discussion of best and worst schools is silly. It shows how narrowminded and blind the author is. If an employer is equally blind and ignorant don’t work for them.

  5. Anthony Fazioli on

    I attended Michigan State University and graduated in 2001. I lived in a house while attending law school with 4 Cooley Law students. After graduating, I went back to my home state of NJ and take the bar.

    To this day, I keep in touch with my law school buddies and they are all doing great. In fact, NJ has a great deal of Cooley Law alumni as members of the bar. Those lawyers are excellent at what they do.

    I will never judge anyone on which law school they attended. The key is what you can do with that law degree.

    If you attend Cooley Law, you will succeed if you wish. It’s not about the school you attended, it’s about how you use the degree.

  6. Glad I read this blog since I am helping my grandson gather intel about law schools.
    BTW, many years ago a fellow who worked for me was having trouble passing the bar exam. So I took a stab at an old practice exam. Passed it having only taken only a contract law course while working on a master’s degree in engineering from George Washington University. Don’t know what this means. Certainly hope I couldn’t do this today!

  7. Honestly Evan, you can eat shit. You also have too much time on your hands.

    I went to Cooley. Passed MI with flying colours, and went on to pass the bar in Ontario. I run my own very successful firm.

  8. Tests were marked on a curve – so even if you received a decent grade on the exam, but most of the students taking the test did better, you may have failed. Think about that — if you received an 85 on an exam, but 2/3rds of the students received 86 or better, you still may have received a “C” or an “F.” As a student, I will admit, I can honestly compare it as a journey through hell, especially the first year and a half. The boards that the grades were posted were called the “weeping wall.” Especially after a student was flunked out after putting a year or more of hard work into their education. No, for many of them, it was not because they were not intelligent, it was either because they just did not “get it,” or they happened to have been in a class where they were in that 1/3rd of survivors.
    ——–

    As another unfortunate Cooley grad (2005), I can confirm THIS is accurate…it’s almost as if there’s an unwritten rule that 1/3 of the class would get either an A or B, 1/3 would get a C and 1/3 D or F. If you were one of those C’s, you were on thin ice until your 2nd semester as a 2L where the grading seemed to level off. I did okay my first year but 1/2 my class was gone after the 2nd semester, another 10% after their first semester 2L.

    The only positive I can give Cooley (based on when I was there) were the professors. Sure I had a few that I didn’t like but the vast majority were awesome. In fact I still play chess with my products liability prof who once played against Garry Kasparov. Any success I’ve had in the legal field I can credit to those professors, but that’s where anything positive I can say ends. because just about the time I graduated was when everyone not associated with the Cooley admin started finding out that POS Don LeDuc and his cronies took a fat dump all over Brennon’s vision in the name of $$$. It was under his watch the school basically turned into the ABA accredited version of ITT Tech rendering the degree worthless.

    As for me, I ended up taking and passing MI, VA, DC, MD, & NC bars within 2 years of graduating, I started with a law firm in DC where the main partner was awful to work with and who filled positions with more incompetent morons than a trump rally. My experience totally turned me off from the law and I bounced around to 2 other firms because my ex-wife’s job until 2009 when I changed to my current career as a professional poker player.

    I do feel for those who graduated, took and passed a bar and can’t find employment but they should know it’s not their fault the Cooley leadership made their degrees as useful as tits on a boar. To those who are in this position, my suggestion, and coincidentally what I’m in the process of doing, would be to find an LLM program from a better school so they can just totally remove Cooley from their resume/cv as I did years ago. (actually I went a step further and shredded my diploma and sent it to them because I want nothing to do with that school)

  9. Tricia,

    It depends on where you have been accepted. If you have a choice between Michigan and Cooley I would pay the $20K per year because the odds of getting a good job out of Michigan are dramatically higher. If, in contrast, you were accepted by two other schools which are a few spots above Cooley and have similar placement rates, go to Cooley. Paying $60K more for a few spots higher ranking seems like a poor choice UNLESS one of those schools is in the area you want to work and place people in that location. For example, if you want to work in LA, you are better off going to even a low ranked school that places a lot of people in LA.

    It is important to always consider where you want to work and what type of work you want to do when selecting your school. For example, going to an elite law school may not been that valuable if you want to practice patent law and you have solid undergraduate credentials – such as an electrical engineering degree. Likewise, I have one acquaintance who attended a top 5 law school who got only 1 job offer when you looked for a job in Salt Lake City. I know several other attorneys who attended top 5 law schools. While most are doing well, they are no better off than attorneys who did well at the University of Utah or BYU.

    • Rand,

      I’d like to stay in the Detroit area as my family is moving there and I wouldn’t have to pay for housing. My other option in Detroit is UD Mercy where I have been accepted into a dual degree program with Windsor Law in Canada. I got a 50% scholarship, so my tuition there would be approximately $30,0000 a year. I ultimately want to practice healthcare law and like that WMU also offers a hybrid MPH (masters of public health) so if I were to attend Cooley, I could get a JD/MPH. My undergraduate degree is in public health. I have already been offered a legal internship in health law after my L1 with an insurance company I interned with this past summer.

      I was also accepted to DePaul, Ohio State Moritz, Loyola Chicago, and Cleveland Marshall Law, but think it would be best for me to stay in Michigan because that is where I would like to practice and the cost of living would be lowest.

      Another factor to consider is that Cooley just built a brand new Auburn Hills campus which is very close to my home and offers free parking in contrast to UD Mercy where parking is an additional 100 a month. Also, Cooley offers an accelerated JD. I finished both high school and undergrad a year early and like the option of graduating law school early.

    • Don’t forget the old saying- what do they call a person who graduated last in his class from the worst medical school?
      Doctor

  10. Hey Tricia, I’m currently about to enter my first summer semester at Cooley. I was in a similar situation as you last April. I was accepted into 23of the 25 schools I applied to. The best of which was Michigan, a top 10 school. Before I started lawschool I was fortunate enough to work at a large firm and a states attorneys office and both told me similar things. Unless you plan on working for a 500+ person firm, school doesn’t ultimately matter. Cooley’s stats may be low but that’s because of the amount of people who flunk out or barely hold on until the bar. The coursework is very similar if not harder than other lawschools. If you’re willing to put in the work it’s very similar effort to pass the BAR the first time even from a school with such bad stats.

  11. Would it be worth attending Cooley if I got a full scholarship? All of my other options are above $20,000 per year with scholarships and I am not receiving assistance. I understand it is not a reputable school, but is it so bad that I should incur $60,000 in debt?

    • William Behrens on

      Tricia,
      I can’t speak for eveyone, but Cooley has a 100% passage rate on the only bar exam I care about, which is the one I took in Ohio in Feb. of 2015. I can also say that there was nothing on the bar exam that I had not been exposed to at Cooley. Go to whatever school offers you the best deal, but then from day one remember that when you sit for that bar exam, you are sitting alone, so it is entirely up to you whether you pass or fail. Approach your studies from day one as if it is all bar exam prep. Memorize your outlines and rule statements, take every practice test you can get your hands on, take every essay prep course you can, and you will be just fine.

  12. Is it true that there is only one law school in all of Nevada? I went to Cooley. I think it takes pride in admitting students who are unable to get into other schools. When I was there, it seemed like more than 30% of the class was unable to pass the first year, and each year, more students dropped out. I feel like only 50% of my class actually graduated. Students discussed it as being an “open admission policy” giving low LSAT scoring and/or low GPA students a chance to attend, but still maintaining standards required to pass classes. While I am relatively certain that any Cooley graduate can pass the bar of any state and do the work it takes to be a competent attorney, the school’s negative reputation restricts students from getting good employment. Of course there are exceptions, like with everything else, but it is difficult for the majority to find legal employment. Unfortunately, like so many other schools, the school inflated employment statistics; had I known that the statistics they provided were untrue, I would not have made such a huge investment in time, energy and money (debt) to attend and graduate.

  13. Wanda J. Roberts on

    After working 25 years for Michigan State University, the practice of law is my second career. WMU Cooley was my first and only choice for law school. I was looking for a law school that would prepare me to pass the bar exam and offer opportunities for me to be “practice ready.” Cooley simply fit. Initially I intended to continue to work full-time and attend law school evenings and weekends. It turned out that I was able to quit my job and focus 100% of my time on law school. My LSAT tutor was a U of M Law School graduate. She said that U of M didn’t prepare her to take the bar. She had to learn what she needed on her own after graduation. When I began my commercial bar prep course, I was completely prepared. There was no new information other than the Michigan specific areas of law we needed to know. I work with a young lady that graduated from MSU’s College of Law and she said she was not prepared for the bar exam after graduation. In fact, she failed the bar exam, but received a passing score after an appeal. I passed the MI bar exam on the first try.

    We all take the same multiple-choice (MBE) questions on the bar exam. Every law graduate must pass the same essay questions or Multistate Performance Test in their state. I am a proud, skilled, and ethical WMU Cooley Law School graduate and newly licensed attorney. Job prospects are good, and I will be employed when I’m ready to begin practicing.

  14. Another Cooley alumni here, although I had graduated back in the early-mid 1990s [No, I did not know Michael Cohen.]. I come from a family that did not have much money, and worked literally 50+ hours a week while in college (more during holiday weeks). With work and a social life, lack of study time kept my grades and LSAT grades down. For someone like me that had a great work effort, and wanted to get ahead in life, I applied to TM Cooley knowing that it was, even then, one of the last-chance schools that was accredited.

    Although the Internet/WWW did not exist as it does today, there were still a number of resources available for research. I began attending the school knowing that I was going to be in for a struggle – and was told that according to my LSAT score, I should have not made it past my first trimester. Early on it became apparent that the school did not weed out its applicants in their acceptance practice, but did so during their educational practice. On the first day of orientation, someone said look to your left, then look to your right, at least one of you will not be here next year. In actuality, both of my fellow students did not last the year – they were “kicked out” due to low academic grades.

    Tests were marked on a curve – so even if you received a decent grade on the exam, but most of the students taking the test did better, you may have failed. Think about that — if you received an 85 on an exam, but 2/3rds of the students received 86 or better, you still may have received a “C” or an “F.” As a student, I will admit, I can honestly compare it as a journey through hell, especially the first year and a half. The boards that the grades were posted were called the “weeping wall.” Especially after a student was flunked out after putting a year or more of hard work into their education. No, for many of them, it was not because they were not intelligent, it was either because they just did not “get it,” or they happened to have been in a class where they were in that 1/3rd of survivors.

    One thing I also must state is that most of those students that did flunk out have a very huge hatred towards the school, and even many years later continue to provide negative remarks about the school. Because the school admits many students, there are many students that flunked out and have pure hatred for the school. In many ways I do not blame them. The school did not make it easy for us. I have received another post-graduate degrees, and the experience was nothing like Cooley, nor like what my fellow colleagues from other law school had described as their experiences.

    I am very, very grateful for Thomas M. Cooley providing the chance to myself, and other students like me to provide a place to begin our journey in the legal (or related) professions. Yes, even then it was a 4th Tier school, and I knew that if I made it through, the struggle would not stop because any employer out there is going to hire a graduate based from a higher ranked school than me.

    Having a strong work ethic to begin with, and retained a full time job within a year of graduation, and have been gainfully employed ever since. I have had opportunities to hire individuals from a multitude of schools, and I can honestly say that although a T1 diploma looks good and will open doors to the big firms, their school’s pedigree had little bearing on their actual performance. I found that for practical matters, the graduates of lower tier schools perform better.

    I received an excellent education from Cooley, especially when it came to actual practice and knowledge of the law, where after the first year did not feel like all they wanted me to know were the rules of Common Law. I studied and worked hard while at Cooley, and not surprising (to those that knew me), I did graduate much closer to the top of the class than the bottom. Yes, I worked while at Cooley (whatever the maximum # of hours they allowed), and then worked full time while studying for the Bar Exams (I took, and passed a few). Although, I will note, as an alumni of the school, the low passage rates of the Bar exam are concerning. As mentioned, back when I attended, the focus of my education seemed to be practicing and not being taught for the Bar Exam – I learned how to take and pass the exam through study courses after graduating.

    You may not have intended the article to be insulting to Cooley students and graduates, the inference that we take is that you are calling us, as an above poster stated, “losers,” I, like many Cooley graduates did not have the opportunities to go through college and enjoy the college experience with a few hours of work a week and be able to concentrate on studies. If it was not for their low admission criteria, people like me would not have been able to pursue a career in law or related areas and have some affect on the world around us.

    Words are powerful, and an article like this does not provide a full context of what Cooley has to offer, or what the mission of the school is — not only to teach students to become lawyers, but to allow everyone, not only the elite, to get a legal education.

    Allowing a student with lower credentials into a school does not make it a bad school. It makes it a school that is willing to take a chance on an individual that due to life’s circumstances were not as lucky as others.

  15. From the Father of a Cooley (WMU) grad.

    I must say how much I appreciate the viewpoints (and statistics) mentioned above. Thank you.

    A different slant from a single dad (who lives up the street from U of Mich) whose son went to Cooley. Please accept that these are based upon my experiences.

    Side note. I am an engineer, so have a habit of writing itemized lists (my son and I laugh about this – lawyers like paragraphs). Some things below contain “fatherly advice”. I don’t want to offend anyone.
    A. My son passed the Illinois bar. First try.

    B. If you go to Cooley you have to go above and beyond what students from higher ranked ls’ will. My son volunteered for the PD office through undergrad and law school. This helped him enormously when it came to landing his first job.

    C. The one thing about Cooley. They have some of the best professors out there (sons opinion). They will push you. You have to want to be pushed.

    D. After graduating you must be willing to move. I think this may be where future grads lose out. Especially in MI…where you are competing against grads from Michigan and Michigan State. For a very limited number of jobs.

    E. I helped him a lot financially. And he is still in huge debt.

    F. Be the best! This is about getting experience. Experience (successful) trumps “where you went to school” as time moves on. I did not graduate from the best engineering school, today I have people from Purdue, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State, etc working for me. There are a lot of “book smart” people in this world. The best end up being people you’d never expect (Tom Brady’s story is a great example…I know this isn’t an educational example).

    G. Be aggressive for that first job. Don’t take no for an answer. Call. Drive to the firm. Ask politely to speak to someone…make them say no to your face.

    H. Be ready for debt. If you truly love the law, then be a lawyer. The worst thing you can do is spend your life doing something you hate.

    I. Even people from top schools struggle. Not every one passes the bar on the first try, either.

    J. Most importantly. Whether you went to Harvard or Timbuktu College of Law, work for a big firm or small, you won’t make a lot to start. These firms are about making money for the partners – not you! Of course there is always the outlyer who makes the big bucks. But nowadays our young generation is just up against it.

    Be the best. Have the leverage. Be ready to move. I am in my 50’s. And I can tell you this, be loyal to no one but yourself/family. You will have to suck it up at that first job; but once you get experience and proven success, go where the money is.

  16. Bored Reader on

    Wel Evan, you really said nothing new that hasn’t already been said about Cooley. Your article seems to be a regurgitation or compiled information. Furthermore, you assume that everyone is a “worker bee” looking for a legal job. There are so many things one can do with a J.D. besides being a traditional, courtroom lawyer. I think it’s sad if someone goes to any law school, even Harvard, and thinks they are going to come out with an amazing job in this economy. No, no, you will come out working long hours and have no work/life balance. Cooley students who can’t get a traditional lawyer job should probably thank Cooley. At least they will have a life or spread their entrepreneurial wings. God forbid they aspire to do more than make the rich richer.

  17. David Levine on

    “If a student who did not do well on the LSAT really wants to be a lawyer, who are we to say they should not have the opportunity”
    The answer is the same people who say if you did not do well on the MCAT you should not have an opportunity to be a doctor.

  18. Renee,

    It is a logical fallacy to suggest that because a school has low pass rates and has a low average LSAT average that any particular attorney graduating from the school is some how inferior. As noted in some of the comments, some students have attended Cooley with reasonable LSAT scores and have chosen the school for a variety of reasons. Also, it is a fallacy to assume that someone is a great attorney just because the went to a T6 law firm or worked in BIGLAW. I have seen plenty of BIGLAW burnouts and T6 graduates that were not very good lawyers.

    Students should be provided with information about entrance qualifications, graduation rates, bar pass rates and employment rates and then should be allowed to decide for themselves. If a student who did not do well on the LSAT really wants to be a lawyer, who are we to say they should not have the opportunity. I have a friend who went to a law school ranked well below those in our area. He has a $3M book and is one of the leading shareholders in a one of the largest 10 firms in our market. Another friend went to a low ranked law school but had family connections to help land his first job. He is now doing well at a local midsized law firm. Yes, he paid a lot more for his degree than our state school would have cost, but he got his foot in the door and is making a name for himself as a lawyer.

  19. Update: Cooley filed a lawsuit against the ABA for publicizing its letter that Cooley was not in compliance with ABA accreditation standards (basically that it’s enrolling people who will never pass the bar and/or get a job as a lawyer). The ABA countered in a pending motion for summary judgment:

    –Cooley’s first-time bar pass rate dropped from 76 percent to 48 percent over a seven-year period and hovered between 15 and 22 percent below the state average from 2012 to 2015.
    — Many of the school’s students with low LSAT scores and grade-point averages were not even sitting for the bar.
    — The percentage of students coming to Cooley with LSAT scores of 143 or lower more than doubled over six years, accounting for more than half of the class.

    And Michael Cohen graduated from the Thomas M. Cooley School of Law. Mater semper certa est.

  20. The key is that you need to look at your particular circumstances to determine whether Cooley or other law schools work. I work in a big firm that has IVY league attorneys and attorneys who attended schools with much lower reputations. The key, they are all good lawyers. Going to a low ranked law school does not prevent you from having a successful career. It just makes it harder. If you just have to get a degree (i.e. Mom or Dad has their own firm) then the least expensive school you can get into may be the one to take. (Cooley is not that cheap however). Of course, this will make it harder to get a job your first 5 years. After that, most firms (other than the high end ones) do not really care where you went – they care how good you are.

    If you are planning on going on your own directly from law school, I would try and get a job doing anything in a law firm so you can see how things are done. While law school teaches you to think like a lawyer, very few actually prepare you to practice law. While you may be able to bumble along for a few years when you get out, you are doing your clients a disservice. Having started two law firms, I think everyone should work at a firm for 3-5 years before hanging their own shingle.