Legal Education

Cooley Law School has it 'exactly backward' and students deserve to know the truth, ABA filing says

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The American Bar Association decision that Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School was “significantly out of compliance” with an accreditation standard regarding admissions was final and not subject to further appeal, the association argued Friday in a response brief to Cooley Law's motion for a temporary restraining order to seal the finding.

Cooley filed the complaint (PDF) and TRO motion (PDF) on Nov. 14 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. They asked the court to seal the ABA’s accreditation standards finding pending further appeals by Cooley.

“Cooley has it exactly backward. Those students deserve to know the truth. The preliminary injunction should be denied,” the ABA writes in its Nov. 17 response (PDF).

The ABA also argued that disclosing the Cooley decision was mandatory based on both ABA rules and guidance from the U.S. Department of Education that task the council of Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar with accrediting law schools.

The ABA letter (PDF) detailing the finding is dated Nov. 13. It describes an appeal brought by Cooley and heard by the section’s council after a September 2017 accreditation committee finding that the school was not in compliance with Standard 501(b), which focuses on admissions, and Interpretation 501-1, which discusses factors to consider in admissions. After a Nov. 4 council meeting, the body adopted a motion affirming the Accreditation Committee’s fact-finding and accreditation conclusions.

The council also affirmed the committee’s recommendation to defer a major change request made by Cooley until the law school could demonstrate that it is in compliance with each accreditation standard.

Various media organizations have written about the Nov. 13 letter and Cooley’s court filings, the ABA writes in its response. That includes a Nov. 14 tweet by the Wall Street Journal’s Jacob Gershman; a Nov. 15 blog post from Pepperdine Law School Dean Paul Caron at TaxProf Blog; and a Nov. 16 blog post by the ABA Journal.

“The cat left the bag some time ago, and no preliminary injunction could possibly stuff it back in,” the ABA response states.

Cooley filed its reply brief (PDF) on Nov. 19. It argues that the ABA’s Nov. 13 decision was not a “final decision … to take adverse action.” Also, the reply states that the law school asked the ABA to delay publishing the letter to its website for “a few hours,” until the court had time to hear from both parties.

“But like a cat who looks you in the eye while he pushes a cup off a table, [the] ABA decided to publish the decision anyway, and now claims that the injuryit caused means the court will no longer be able to fashion Cooley a remedy,” the law school wrote in its Nov. 19 reply.

As of Nov. 20 at 5:12 p,m. CT, the letter remains posted on the ABA website.

The court at a Wednesday status hearing urged the parties to exchange proposed joint statements, according to Cooley’s response filing. During a Nov. 17 conference call, the ABA rejected the law school’s proposal, according to the filing.

Neither Don LeDuc, the president and dean of Cooley Law, or Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education, responded to ABA Journal interview requests. The council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has a long-standing practice of not commenting on pending litigation.

Cooley’s median GPA is 2.90, and the median LSAT score is 141, according to the law school’s 509 Report (PDF) for 2016. The school had 1,209 students, according to the document. Cooley’s website lists five campus locations.

Tuition at the law school is $1,770 per credit hour for the first 30 credits, and $1,695 per credit hour for “31 and more” credits, according to its website. Out of 462 graduates in the class of 2016, 141 had full-time, long-term jobs that required bar passage, according to WMU Cooley Law’s employment summary (PDF).

Final statistics for the Michigan July 2017 bar exam have not been made public yet. For the July 2016 Michigan bar exam, WMU Cooley Law’s pass rate was 41 percent (72/175) overall, and 61 percent (52/85) for first-time test takers, according to data (PDF) released by the Michigan State Board of Law Examiners.

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