Founded in 1972 as an independent law school, the Thomas M. Cooley Law School became part of Western Michigan University in 2014 to create the Western Michigan Cooley Law School (Cooley Law). Named for one of the country’s most notable judges, the law school was also formed by the Chief of the Michigan Supreme Court. Since its founding, the school has grown into one of the largest law schools in the nation with over 20,000 graduates. Since its founding, the law school has focused on educating lawyers through practical, skill-based learning. Cooley Law now has two satellite campuses along with its main campus in Lansing. Cooley Law has produced a number of notable lawyers, jurists, and professionals in other fields including Michael Cohen, the former personal lawyer of President Donald Trump.
Cooley Law offers one of the most flexible Juris Doctor programs in the country. The law degree may be earned through a traditional full-time, three-year program; a part-time three-year program that utilizes summer sessions; a four or five-year part-time program; a weekend and evening program; or, an accelerated two-year program. Regardless of the program, all students complete almost 20 required courses that cover the traditional core courses of American legal education–civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law, property, and torts. Students also complete over a dozen additional courses that cover subjects that most commonly appear on the bar exam. Additionally, students take a dedicated course focused on bar exam skills (either a general course or one focused on either Michigan or Florida’s exam).
In choosing their elective program, Cooley Law students may opt to follow a concentration program in one of eight areas. Each concentrations focuses on a specific practice area requiring specialization. To complete a concentration, students take additional required courses as well as participate in experiential learning. Concentration include traditional practice areas such as environmental or business law as well as a unique concentration focused on Canadian Law Practice, a recognition of the school’s proximity to Canada and the international nature of the student body.
As Cooley Law was founded on a curriculum of skill-based learning that stresses practical teaching over theory, students also complete a clinical program or an external field placement as part of their degree program. In addition, all students must complete an upper-level writing assignment.
For students who have completed their law degree, Cooley Law also offers a Master of Laws program with four areas of concentration: Intellectual Property, Taxation, Corporate Law and Finance, and Homeland Security. Each LL.M degree requires 24 hours of coursework most of which is completed in live, online modules. This allows students to complete the LL.M while also pursing their legal careers. Since most of the online classes are live, students also benefit from real-time questions and feedback.
Juris Doctor candidates at Cooley Law may opt to combine their J.D. with an LL.M as well. After completing their J.D., students may earn their LL.M in an additional year of study. By earning their LL.M and J.D., students add additional expertise to their professional profile.
Internationally educated lawyers may pursue a LL.M in American Legal studies. This masters program is designed to introduce international students to the principles of the U.S. legal system. The program does allow for international students to sit for the bar exam in some U.S. jurisdictions.
Career and Career Services
Based on the most recent employment outcome data, over 72% of all graduates of Cooley Law were employed in some capacity within 10 months of graduation. Of those employed, 83% were employed in long-term, full-time careers that either requires a law license or prefer a Juris Doctor degree. The two most common career choices for Cooley Law graduates are small law firms (31%) and careers in the business sector (27%). A substantial portion of graduates also opted for careers in government (15%). While over 50% of graduates remained in Michigan to begin their professional lives, over a quarter of Cooley Law graduates chose to begin their careers in the state of Florida where Cooley Law has a satellite campus.
Law students at Cooley Law work closely with the school’s Career and Professional Development Office (CPD) throughout their careers. The CPD provides individual counseling to help students prepare for interview as well as more general career exploration. The CPD also works with students to develop a networking strategy that includes working with Cooley alumni who mentor students. The CPD provides campus wide programming throughout the year that hones students’ professional skills through guest speaker programs and even visits into the local legal community. The CPD has staff members at their main campus in Lansing as well as both of their satellite campuses.
Experiential Learning/Distance Education
Cooley Law’s 66 required credits prepare students to practice law through an emphasis on practical learning. Additionally, all students must complete a clinical program where they act as interns in the school’s in-house law firms. As such, students engage in the real-world practice of law with actual clients. Cooley Law offers clinics in expungement law, debt relief, public defense, estate planning, and the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project which works to release wrongfully convicted criminals. While in the clinical program, students are supervised by faculty members who offer feedback and support as students learn the fundamentals of practicing law.
In Cooley Law’s externship program, students may earn up to 10 credit hours while working in a partnership between the law school and practicing attorneys. Each practicing attorney serves as a mentor and facilitator as students learn to practice law. Mentors offer key feedback and insight. All students in the externship program also keep journals to catalog their experience which they share with a faculty member.
Although Cooley Law does not currently offer a distance education component for their law degree, it does offer several Master of Law programs that are completed online. Additionally, the Juris Doctor degree may be earned through a number of flexible, part-time program in one of the law school’s many campuses.
With three campuses in two states, Cooley Law is one of the most unique law schools in the country. Cooley Law’s main campus is located in Lansing Michigan with satellite campuses in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Riverview, Florida. The law school’s Michigan locations are located in the central part of the state while the Florida campus is adjacent to Tampa. All campuses provide students with a range of student organizations with a primary focus on service to the community. Each campus also offers a range of amenities for students. The school’s main campus in Lansing is located within minutes from the state’s capital–affording students a unique opportunity to connect with Michigan’s legal and judicial complex.
In all of its locations, Cooley Law students have access to affordable, private housing in close proximity to the campuses. Lansing provides students a downtown campus in the state capital with close access to Detroit. The Grand Rapids campus is close to the banks of Lake Michigan in the heart of the downtown. The law school is set amongst the many restaurants and bars that line the Grand River waterfront. The Riverside Campus is located in the East Tampa Bay area which offers some of the most affordable housing in the region. In Riverside, students enjoy easy access to both Tampa’s thriving downtown as well as the Florida’s many Gulf Coast beaches.