Law Schools

Denial of Cooley Law's request to open new location is reasonable, ABA motion argues

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Cooley Law

Given that Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School already admits students who don’t appear capable of finishing law school and being admitted to practice law, it was reasonable to deny the school’s request to open a new location that would likely bring in even more students, the American Bar Association argued in a March 2 federal court filing.

“Because Cooley is already improperly admitting students who do not ‘appear capable’ of completing law school and being admitted to the bar, nothing required defendants to approve Cooley expanding to admit yet more students,” the March 2 filing states.

The accreditation committee of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar in September 2017 found that Cooley was not in compliance with Standard 501(b), which states that law schools should only admit candidates who appear capable of completing a legal education program and being admitted to a bar, and Interpretation 501-1, which discusses factors to consider in admissions. After a hearing with the law school, the section’s council upheld the accreditation finding, and a letter detailing the decision that was posted on the section’s website.

Cooley Law filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against the ABA on Nov. 14, alleging due process violations, and unsuccessfully sought a temporary restraining order to remove the notice. An amended complaint was filed Jan. 31, alleging that the ABA illegally sent the compliance letter to state education and accreditation agencies. The filing asked the court to remove the accreditation notice from all ABA “publications, postings and the like,” stop interim and future monitoring until the ABA defines what it means by “appear capable” to pass a bar exam and order the ABA to grant the acquiescence for a Kalamazoo campus.

The ABA’s March 2 summary judgment motion follows an earlier one, filed Jan. 8. In the March motion, the ABA reiterated that out of 502 students in the bottom LSAT quartile who entered Cooley Law between 2013 and 2014, only 373 had graduated or were in good standing at the law school—or had transferred or chosen to withdraw in good standing—by July 2017. Out of 187 people in that group who did graduate from Cooley, 118 sat for a July 2017 bar exam. And out of those 118 people, 69 passed a bar exam.

Both filings argue that Cooley Law conceded every factual finding that the council based its accreditation decision on. Don LeDuc, president and dean of Cooley Law, did describe “teeny” technical errors in the accreditation calculations, but agreed that “while there may be some rather minor errors,” the committee’s findings were not “in error” and were “substantially correct,” according to the March 2 filing.

“Because every finding is admitted, Cooley does not and cannot show any evidentiary deficiency. Instead, Cooley engages in legalistic debate in an attempt to second-guess the council’s exercise of its expert judgment in determining whether the school—based on the unchallenged facts—has met a standard the Council itself promulgated,” the filing states.

Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education, was not available for comment. James D. Robb, Cooley Law’s associate dean of external affairs and general counsel, in an email told the ABA Journal that they have not yet received exhibits referred to in the March 2 motion, and will respond “in due time.”

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