The Cooley Law School Crisis Goes On

Once, I was in a courtroom where a judge offered a criminal defendant a court-appointed attorney. The defendant declined, saying that he didn’t want an attorney that went to Cooley Law School. The judge replied that while he didn’t go to Cooley Law himself, he knows many great attorneys that did. (HE didn’t go to Cooley…not that there’s anything wrong with that…)That’s the legal equivalent of this:

Even though the American Bar Association says they’re happy with Cooley Law School again, Florida’s 2018 bar results are out, and they’re not pretty. Because Cooley’s Florida campus is a satellite of their Michigan locations, Cooley Law’s Florida bar takers fall under the state’s non-Florida law schools category for reporting pass rates. Of 112 test takers from law schools outside of Florida, including Cooley, 41 passed the exam. That’s 36.6%.

I know what you’re thinking, but no, that stat doesn’t include repeat test takers. The bar exam results state that: “This datum applies to only those persons sitting for both Parts A and B of the examination in Florida for the first time.”

So whoa.

So how does this apply to Traverse City? Go find an attorney and ask them where they went to law school. Ask them if they got in anywhere else.

Cooley’s bar passage rates in Michigan are a bit better, but only slightly. In any event, in 2017, the school itself reported that only 111 of its graduates found work in a position that required bar passage. Cooley reported 445 matriculants in its 2014 disclosure report. So if you started at Cooley in 2014, your chances of graduating, passing the bar and finding a job that requires you to have a law license were about 25 percent. Tuition is more than $51,000 per year for for three years for a 25 percent chance.

Critics of the critics say that Cooley Law School serves a vital purpose by allowing people to have the chance to become a lawyer who can’t earn admission to other schools. Of course, there are anecdotal cases of people who have beaten the odds who think that they’re serving the legal community.

But what of the fallout? What about the 75 percent of entering students who don’t make it? What about their student loans? What about the career advancement they could have had pursuing a career that they were more qualified for? What about the middle-class students who are sold a pipe dream about upward mobility in a law career, and the only thing they’ll actually end up with is student loans?

Cooley aside, is it too easy to become a lawyer in Michigan? What happens if the judge that hears your case can’t handle the complex mental gymnastics that judges often need to understand difficult legal concepts? What happens if the case comes down to lawyers and parties attempting to appeal to a judge’s personal bias or personal sensibilities because the judge or the attorneys or both can’t grasp the legal standards that they should use to decide the case? What happens if a lawyer isn’t able to cite the correct law or make the correct arguments on behalf of a client because they can’t grasp it themselves?

While larger numbers of more qualified lawyers might serve the public, allowing unqualified people into the legal profession and saturating it does not. A few anecdotal success stories are one, the opinion of the person providing the opinion and two, not a justification for the drawbacks, both for the public at large and the wanna-be attorneys that don’t actually end up making it in the legal profession.

Back to Cooley. By comparison, to go to medical school, you’ve got to score well above average on the MCAT. But on the LSAT, the entrance exam for law school, you can core as low as 139 and still get into Cooley. According to this website, a 139 represents the lowest 12 percent of test takers. Yowza. When did you ever “pass” a test that you scored in the bottom 12 percent?

I call for all of the candidates for the 86th District Court judge election to make their bar scores and LSAT scores public and explain how their scores qualify them to make decisions that affect all of us so much.

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