Thomas M. Cooley Law School
The largest law school in the United States in terms of total enrollment, the main campus of the Thomas M. Cooley Law School is located in Lansing, Michigan.
Admissions & tuition
With an acceptance rate of nearly 80%, admissions at Cooley are not intended to be selective - last year, 4,570 out of 5,775 received acceptance letters. The admissions office is very forthcoming about its use of an index to streamline their decision-making process: a candidate is scored via the formula (LSDAS GPA*15) + LSAT. The full-time JD class of 2012's middle 50th percentile LSAT scores ranged from 146-152, with a median of 148; Cooley's official policy is to accept only the applicant's highest LSAT score. LSDAS GPA scores varied from a 25th percentile of 2.80 to a 75th of 3.42. The part-time program was less competitive with an LSAT range of 143 to 149, with a median of 145. Its GPA range was 2.58 to 3.34, with a median of 2.97.
At $28,740 per year for a full-time student, Cooley is actually one of the country's cheaper private law schools. The school also offers generous LSAT-based scholarships - any candidate who scores 163+ is eligible for a 100% honors scholarship, with correspondingly lower dollar amounts offered for lower scores. Michigan residents are automatically eligible to receive a 10% increase on an honors scholarship.
Cooley was one of the pioneers in the movement (particularly in the lower tiers) to make a legal education a more "hands-on" and less theoretical experience. Unlike many schools, nearly the entire first two years of the curriculum are pre-set at Cooley; not until the second semester of the second year does a student have an opportunity to take a true elective course. In addition to the typical mandated courses like Contracts and Torts, Cooley requires students to take classes such as Wills, Estates, & Trusts and Secured Transactions - again, with the goal being to give each student a firm grounding in understanding the day-to-day operations he/she is likely to encounter in future employment.
Cooley's reputation in the academic community is hardly stellar: in the most recent USNWR rankings, the school received a peer-review score of 1.4, and a lawyers/judges-review score of 1.8 (both out of 5). The school also has one of the highest student-to-faculty ratios in the country, at 23.5. This last statistic contributes to the idea of Cooley as a "degree mill" - a school that denies its students the personal experience offered at many smaller schools. The curve at Cooley is very tough - so much so that 22.4% of 1Ls and 14.5% of 2Ls either choose to leave or flunk out. Even 3Ls are not safe, as 14 of them were forced to leave last year.
Quality of life
One positive factor about Cooley is the school's extreme flexibility. Both full- and part-time programs are offered, and students may take classes on the weekends and/or evenings if their schedule necessitates doing so. Students also have the option of beginning their studies in May, September, or January.
Lansing (population 113,968) is a popular town with students. Housing is extremely inexpensive, and the overall cost-of-living is significantly lower than the American average. The city boasts several small museums, a zoo, as well as several minor-league sports teams. For those who crave the amenities of the big city, Detroit is a mere 80 miles east-southeast, well within driving distance.
Life after graduation
Like many who earn degrees from Tier 4 schools, Cooley graduates do not tend to finish school with job offers falling into their laps, especially after the recent economic downturn. Graduates are prepared for the Michigan bar only slightly worse than at other schools, passing at a rate of 80%, compared with the state average of 82%. Graduates do not fare well on other bar exams, however. Other popular choices were New York (28 percentage points below average), Illinois (18 below), and California (44 below). Nine months after graduation, only 77.8% of Cooley alumni responding to a school survey have managed to find employment - meaning nearly a quarter remains unemployed; this statistic does not factor in the number of graduates responding to the school's employment survey, so the real employment figures may be lower. The majority of graduates remain in Michigan to practice law, and go into the private sector - thus putting to good use the hard skills Cooley considers so important.
The Cooley rankings
In 1996, the founder and president of Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Judge Thomas E. Brennan, published a study titled "Judging the Law Schools" which organized the objective law school statistics published by the American Bar Association and ranked all accredited law schools using the various American Bar Association data. These category rankings are then consolidated in an overall ranking of all laws schools. Typically, the elite, prestige law schools, often denominated 'First Tier" schools, dominate the overall rankings in Judging the Law Schools. Judged by the same criteria, Cooley is ranked higher than a number of the schools identified as First Tier in subjective opinion polls like U.S. News and World Report. Supporters of competing law schools often call Judging the Law Schools the "Cooley rankings" because it ranks Cooley Law School dramatically higher than other law school ranking systems such those published by USNWR. For example, in the 12th edition of Judging the Law Schools that was published in 2011, Cooley Law School ranked 2nd while Cooley Law School was not in the top 100 of the USNWR rankings.
Like most tier four schools, Cooley has its major drawbacks. Though less expensive than some schools, graduates still leave a substantial average debt; the fact that so many alumni have difficulty securing high-salaried jobs casts doubt on the prudence of the investment. The school's reputation is also of dubious distinction, a fact likely to bother certain students. Cooley graduates do report, however, feeling well prepared for the trade of being a lawyer - a sentiment not always echoed at higher-ranked schools. However, the questionable value of a full-price degree from Cooley cannot be understated, especially in the current state of the economy. Any prospective Cooley students should consider applying for any available merit scholarships in order to defray the cost of attendance - and subsequent risk.
Thomas M. Cooley Law School
PO Box 13038
Lansing, MI 48901
(517) 371-5140, ext. 2244
Ranking: Tier 4
LSAT median: 148 (FT), 145 (PT)
GPA median: 3.06 (FT), 2.97 (PT)
Entering class size: 221 (FT), 1289 (PT)
% Employed 9 Months After Graduation: 77.8%
Median Private Sector Salary: $50,000 (out-of-date - Cooley did not complete recent US News survey)