Law Schools

Cooley Law School loses request for temporary restraining order in lawsuit against ABA

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A Michigan federal district court has declined to grant Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School a restraining order against the American Bar Association, saying Cooley was essentially asking the ABA to withhold information from prospective law students.

“This case concerns a law school’s attempt to prevent current and prospective students from having access to accurate information about its accreditation status,” Senior U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Tarnow wrote in his Wednesday ruling (PDF). “An order requiring the ABA to retract truthful information from the public will harm prospective law students who are in the midst of the application process.”

Cooley Law had sued the ABA in November, arguing a letter made public by the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar about the school’s accreditation compliance violated the Higher Education Act and common law due process. The letter (PDF), dated Nov. 13, said Cooley was not in compliance with Standard 501(b), which states: “A law 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;” and out of compliance with Interpretation 501-1, which discusses factors to consider in admissions.

Cooley’s complaint argued that posting the letter could harm the school, particularly since the dispute arose in mid-November, when the next fall’s law students would be making decisions about where to apply. The decision was not final, the law school argued, and therefore the ABA had no legal obligation to publish it.

But Tarnow disagreed. The ABA’s decision is indeed final, the judge found; there’s nothing in Rule 4 of the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools (PDF) that authorizes an appeals panel to review the council’s finding in Cooley’s situation. And because the decision is final, he said, the ABA was legally required to publish it under applicable Department of Education standards.

Tarnow also said that any harm to Cooley’s reputation was caused first and foremost by the lawsuit itself.

“Cooley’s argument ignores the reality that prospective students have already drawn conclusions about the school because of this lawsuit,” Tarnow wrote. “Cooley is free to try to mitigate any reputational injury by broadcasting its belief that the ABA acted illegally in the public arena.”

An ABA spokesman said the Council of the Legal Education Section said was “pleased with the decision of the court in denying the TRO.”

Between 2014 and 2017, the law school’s median LSAT score has been below 146, according to the law school’s 509 reports, which can be seen here, here, here and here. Its median GPA during that same time period has ranged from 2.85 to 2.94.

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.

Updated Dec. 15 with additional 509 report data.

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