Category Archives: About Cooley Law School, History

Cooley Law School was founded in 1972 by a group of lawyers and judges led by the then Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, Thomas E. Brennan. The school was named for Thomas McIntyre Cooley, a legal scholar and practicing attorney of the 19th century.

WMU-Cooley’s Bar Passage Rates Continue to Exceed ABA Requirements

Cooley President and Dean, Don LeDuc

Cooley President and Dean, Don LeDuc

Western Michigan University Cooley Law School’s President and Dean, Don LeDuc, publishes commentaries on our website about the Law School, legal education, legal employment, and related topics.  This post summarizes President LeDuc’s updated commentary that teaches us about the ABA’s bar exam passage rate standards and demonstrates that the Law School continues to exceed those standards.

Much has been written recently about ABA bar exam passage rate standards.  Because so many of the commentators are ill-informed about how the standards work, WMU-Cooley President and Dean Don LeDuc has published a commentary on the topic.  He clearly demonstrates how WMU-Cooley meets the ABA standards.

ABA Standard 316 provides two alternative criteria to determine bar passage compliance by a school.  If either is met, the school complies with the standard.  WMU-Cooley of course meets both criteria.

The Ultimate Pass Standard is met if (1) cumulatively across the last five calendar years, 75% of the school’s graduates sitting for a bar exam passed it or (2) during any three of the last five calendar years, 75% of the school’s graduates sitting for a bar exam passed it.  The relevant time period is 2010-2014, as the 2015 bar results are not final.

On the Michigan bar, WMU-Cooley surpassed the 75% standard every year, with the highest ultimate rate being achieved by the 2010 cohort of students at 94%.  Further, our 85% cumulative rate for 2010-14 well exceeds the requirement.  And across for all jurisdictions, we have surpassed 75% in four of the last five years, and our cumulative ultimate rate of 81% is well above the standard.

The First-Time Pass Standard is met if, during any three of the last five calendar years, the school’s annual first-time bar passage rate in its jurisdictions is no more than 15 points below the average first-time bar passage rates for graduates of ABA-approved law schools taking the bar examination in the same jurisdictions.  This standard recognizes that the states differ on how hard to grade the bar exam.

We surpassed this standard in each of the five years.

Although we meet the ABA requirements, WMU-Cooley strongly desires to see improvement in our students’ bar passage rates.  We are actively working to accomplish that goal.

Read President LeDuc’s commentary in full.       

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Prof. Joe Kimble Is Right: In Legal Drafting Use the Word “Shall” at Your Peril

Robb PhotoJames D. Robb is Associate Dean of External Affairs and General Counsel at WMU-Cooley Law School.  


How often do you find the word “shall” in a contract or legislation you are reviewing? Have you wondered what precisely that word means? Or what the parties or legislature actually intended? Is “shall” a promise? Is it a command? Is it a declaration of determination? Is it a permissive term? Is its use clear to you?

Does it mean “must” as in a contractual promise?

 Seller shall maintain the property in good condition until closing.

Does it mean “will” as in a statement of future intent?

  I shall stop at the store on the way home from work.

Is it a statement of determination?

  I shall return!

Does it mean “may”?

  No pedestrian shall enter the intersection against the red traffic light.

Is it an invitation?

  Shall we go?

Obviously, the word “shall” has many meanings depending on the context. And often that context is clear. But consider what happens if the word shows up in a contract and is construed by a reviewing court to be ambiguous.

In fact, sloppy use of the word “shall” in a contract can be disastrous because a court that finds it ambiguous will construe it against the drafter. Our own Distinguished Professor Emeritus Joe Kimble, a leader of the plain language movement and one of the deans of America’s legal writing instructors, has pointed out how drafters use “shall” mindlessly. He has warned us that courts “read it any which way.” A recent important case bears him out, and even quotes him on the point.

In Orthopedic Specialists v. Allstate Insurance Company,  No. 4D14-287  (Fla. Dist. Ct. App.) (August 19, 2015), the Florida Court of Appeals held the word “shall” to be inherently unclear and ambiguous, particularly when used in the phrase “shall be subject to.” The court then construed the word against the insurer that wrote a policy for personal injury protection. Professor Kimble’s warning is quoted with approval in footnote 3 of the concurring opinion.

My abridged version of the Oxford Universal English Dictionary, published in 1937, devotes 23 column inches─more than two thirds of an entire page of blindingly tiny print─to the definition of “shall.”  That alone might suggest the word can be troublesome for those who need to draft with precision.

On a larger scale, Professor Kimble’s great book, Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please, demonstrates the undue cost and expense associated with forbidding, verbose, and unclear writing. I recommend it to you. In performing your own legal work, take his advice:  be precise. Write clearly and to the point. And when tempted to use “shall,” think again. Perhaps the words “must,” “will,” or “may” will more clearly, and more safely, express your intent.

Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please by Joseph KimbleProfessor Joseph Kimble

We welcome your comments by replying below.


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Graduation Speaker Believes in Miracles and Divine Perfection of the Universe

“Do you believe in miracles? If you do, then you have come to the right place today, and if you don’t believe in miracles, you have come to the right place, but you’re here at the wrong time, because in the next 20 minutes, you will be utterly and completely convinced that miracles can and do occur, and your life will be forever changed.” Catherine Groll, Western Michigan University Cooley Law School graduation speaker and 1992 WMU-Cooley graduate.

WMU-Cooley Graduation Speaker Catherine Groll

WMU-Cooley Graduation Speaker Catherine Groll

“If that completely scares you, or you are just totally not in the mood for yet ANOTHER life changing event, this might be a great time to go to the bathroom! The word miracle is derived from the Latin word miraculum, which is derived from mirari “to wonder.” A miracle is an event that provokes wonder. As such, it must be in some way extraordinary, unusual, or contrary to our expectations.


Let’s start with the miracle of all of us, being together at this time and place exactly. Do you ever marvel, just marvel, at the unbelievable complexity of events and pathways, and coincidental moments that had to take place to gather this particular group of people, all born at different times and different dates, from all over the world, from all walks of life? To bring us, each and every one, to the Wharton Center in East Lansing, Michigan, on a Sunday afternoon, a sacred conspiracy of some pre-ordained and pre-destined journey to the here and now. Together. You are all one foot away from your new life, as a law school graduate, and one foot in here from your old life, as a student. Once you walk out that door today, nothing will ever be the same.

Some of you may be very sure-footed and clear about what is going to happen and where you are going next. You may have a well-thought-out plan, and a great job lined up. You have no worries about paying bills or student loans and you are good to go. You people need to get a life – you have obviously been working overtime!

WMU-Cooley graduates celebrate their accomplishmen

WMU-Cooley graduates celebrate their accomplishment

Others of you, maybe many of you, may be hesitant to walk out that door, because reality waits, and the cold truth is – the picture is a little murky. Will you pass the bar? How will you pay everyone back? What if you don’t get a job? What if no miracles happen? Well, I believe in the Divine Perfection of the Universe, so we should probably move on to Miracle Number 2 before you start to panic about that whole student loan thing.


Take some time today to take stock and reflect on the very personal and hard-fought journey that brought you here. What has your path been? How unlikely was it that you would be here today? Weren’t there naysayers and disbelievers when you said you were going to law school? Weren’t there financial concerns? What were your challenges along the way? What did you overcome? Weren’t there moments when you wanted to quit and you doubted yourself and you said, “ I can’t do this anymore.”

But you did. You persevered. And look around you. These brothers and sisters in arms – It is instant family, an unbreakable bond. You are now part of a community of people who have gone on to literally change the world. Governors and senators, CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, mavericks and rebels, game changers and visionaries, everyone of them a graduate of this school.

I have known since I was 10 years old that I wanted to be a lawyer.

  • First, if you told me the sky was blue, I wanted to know what your basis was for that conclusion, why you insisted on imposing your opinion about the sky on me in a discriminatory fashion, and what was your definition of the word ‘sky.’ Basically, I was every mother’s nightmare child! Fortunately, I fell in love with a man named Perry Mason who was a TV lawyer and he could whip the world into truth and justice in the space of one hour.
  • Second, my father died of medical malpractice, due to a missed cancer diagnosis, and learning that negligence could kill people scarred me in a permanent way.
  • Third, my mother gave me a Black’s Law Dictionary for my 18th birthday and encouraged me to go and ask a local attorney, who was well known as a rabble-rouser, if I could come and work for him. I went and he took me under his wing. It was there that I first learned about the inequality and injustice that occurred with the immigrant population in New Mexico and it deeply affected me, and I saw that the law was a powerful tool in the hands of the right people.
  • Fourth, and this is completely just between you and me, I was quite the juvenile delinquent. I dropped out of high school in 11th grade, took my GED, dropped out of college. I was going to be a rock star, toured with a very bad garage band.

I was not very focused and easily distracted – but somehow I managed to graduate respectably from college and started working as a legal assistant, which helped me get back on track about applying to law school. I signed up to take the LSAT. I did not study. They did not have prep classes like they do now. The night before, I was very irresponsible, went out with friends, partied too much, and barely made it to the test. I was hung over and late and I really had no idea what I was in for. I had never done a single thing to prepare for this momentous exam which was about to determine the course of my life. So you can imagine what went through my head when I read this first question, which was supposedly (allegedly) testing my logical analysis skills.

There are eight people in a line at the bank. It is a cold, snowy day. Three of the people have on scarfs and one of the scarfs has the color blue in it. One of the eight is sneezing. The second and seventh persons in line are holding wallets. The only man in line has on a yellow hat. One of them took Bus Route number six. Which one had oatmeal for breakfast?

Wait. What??? Whoa, I am in some serious trouble here. Holy crap. If this is what law school is all about, I am way out of my league. First of all, I don’t even eat oatmeal. And I am not proud of what happened next, and I truly hope that the statute of limitations has run with the Character and Fitness committee, but I panicked, and made the only decision I could think of at the time. I would just randomly fill out the dots with a number two pencil. And that is exactly what I did. Unbelievably, I miraculously passed, but just barely. I applied to only three law schools, and made the waiting list at one of them. But none of that is the real miracle. The real miracle is what happened next.

In my mailbox a few week later was what can only be described as a love letter from WMU-Cooley Law School. In essence, it said, ‘We know you’re the kind of girl who doesn’t follow the rules. Hey, neither do we. You want to follow the road less traveled, well, we are blazing the trail. We’ve got options – we are redefining who gets to be a lawyer in this country – we are opening the doors. You can come part-time, you can come full-time. You want to do weekends or nights so you can keep your day job? Not a problem. You don’t have to be rich, white or come from an Ivy League school, just be who you are, and let us give you the opportunity of a lifetime.’

Well, sign me up!! They were playing my song. And I am here to tell you that everything amazing and wonderful in my life started the day I came to Cooley. And I did have the opportunity of a lifetime, and my friends, so do you!!

And I am going to bet that you have a similar story to mine about getting here. Maybe this wasn’t the school you originally picked out, maybe you never heard of Lansing, Michigan, maybe going to law school was something you decided to do because you lost a bet or got turned down at med school. Why you got here doesn’t matter so much right now as the fact that you WERE here and ARE here now. Trace those steps and stops and starts, and the twists and the turns. Follow that road map that brought you here, one step at a time, and see if you don’t believe, like I do, that it was a miracle.


There is always, always room for one more good lawyer in the world. So get out there, spread your star dust, and welcome to your miraculous life. As my friend Bob Marley said : ‘And don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing gonna be alright!’

Catherine Groll

Catherine Groll

Catherine Groll is a trial attorney with The Mike Morse Law Firm, the largest personal injury law firm in the State of Michigan. She has practiced as a litigator for 22 years and taught at WMU-Cooley as an adjunct professor for 12 years, receiving the Frederick J. Griffith III Adjunct Faculty Award for excellence in teaching in 2010. She also received the Camille S. Abood Distinguished Volunteer Award in 2012. In 2013, she taught the first Tort Law class at the Royal University of Law and Economics in Cambodia, and taught evidence law and critical thinking to new judges.


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Sixty Plus, Inc. Elderlaw Clinic recognized for decades of service to older adults

The work of Sixty Plus, Inc. Elderlaw Clinic students, faculty and staff is being recognized by the Elder Law of Michigan at the 7th Annual Joe D. Sutton Call to Justice Awards on August 21, 2015.  The awards honor those that share the mission of ELM, which is to advocate for, educate, and assist many different people, with a continued focus on older adults and persons with disabilities. In the words of Ron Tatro, vice president of ELM, “The Call to Justice Awards give us the opportunity to recognize the people and organizations that are making a real and tangible difference in the lives of seniors every day.” 

Professor Kimberly O'Leary

Professor Kimberly O’Leary

Sixty Plus History: In 1978, Fred Baker and the Young Lawyers Division of the Michigan Bar Association obtained funds from the Older Americans Act to establish a student-staffed legal clinic for people 60 and over. What the team lacked in resources, they made up for in enthusiasm and wits. The original 13 students, called the “Baker’s Dozen,” worked without any academic credit as volunteers.  Under the inspired leadership of faculty directors Dorean Koenig, Kent Hull, Nora Pasman-Green, Ann Miller Wood, Jim Peden, Marjorie Russell, Norm Fell and Kim O’Leary, WMU-Cooley Law School now houses the clinic in a state-of-the-art law office suite, where students use cloud-based technology to learn modern law practice systems.

“It is an honor to have Sixty Plus recognized for its long-lasting impact in the community” stated Professor and Sixty Plus Clinic Director Kimberly O’Leary. “This award gives credit to the countless hours of work performed by hundreds of Sixty Plus students, staff, board members and faculty for more than 35 years.”

Sixty Plus Today: “Sixty Plus is a vibrant clinic serving people in Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties and has helped thousands of residents over the decades,” declared O’Leary. Working with community partners such as Elder Law of Michigan, Legal Aid of South Central Michigan, and Tri-County Office on Aging, Sixty Plus has helped create mechanisms for protecting the independence, resources and well-being of senior citizens in the region.”

Elder Law keeps growing as a critical and necessary area of need for lawyers and leaders with a legal background. 

What WMU-Cooley students say about Sixty Plus:
  • “It was like a switch clicked and all of a sudden you know what you’re doing.”
  • “They actually valued my opinions and my ideas…I realized I can do it”
  • “I’ve learned how to work with people in a professional setting”
  • “I can interact with a client”
  • “I can be creative, think outside the box”
  • “After communication, the client who felt lost felt relief and appreciated what I had done for them”
  • “I loved bouncing ideas back and forth”
  • “This experience led me to my passion”
Find out more about the Call to Justice Awards and Sixty Plus.

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U. S. Supreme Court Cites Justice Thomas McIntyre Cooley in Same Sex Marriage Decision

Associate Dean Nelson Miller

Associate Dean Nelson Miller

Author Nelson Miller is Associate Dean and Professor at WMU-Cooley’s Grand Rapids campus. He practiced civil litigation for 16 years before joining the WMU-Cooley faculty. He has argued cases before the Michigan Supreme Court, Michigan Court of Appeals, and United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and filed amicus and party briefs in the United States Supreme Court. He has has many published books, casebooks, book chapters, book reviews, and articles on legal education, law practice, torts, civil procedure, professional responsibility, damages, international law, constitutional law, university law, bioethics, and law history and philosophy.

While the reference won’t make any headlines other than the one immediately above, alumni should be glad to note that the law school’s namesake Justice Thomas McIntyre Cooley continues, well over a century after his death, to impress members of the United States Supreme Court.

Justice Thomas M. Cooley

Justice Thomas M. Cooley

Justice Scalia’s dissent in the Supreme Court’s gay-marriage stand cites Justice Cooley at the head of the historical list of great legal luminaries, “minds like Thomas Cooley, John Marshall Harlan, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Learned Hand, Louis Brandeis, William Howard Taft, Benjamin Cardozo, Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, Robert Jackson, and Henry Friendly….”

That Justice Cooley continues to receive recognition as a leading member of the jurist’s pantheon should surprise no one.  Over the past century and more, the Supreme Court has cited Justice Cooley and his opinions and treatises so many times that he will forever retain his status as a profoundly effective, even though unusually humble, guardian of the law and Constitution.

Yet this most-recent Supreme Court reference to the great jurist bears special note, placing Justice Cooley at the head of the list before Holmes, Hand, Black, and Brandeis.  Chronology may have had something to do with that prominence, given that Justice Cooley is the oldest of the references.  Yet Justice Scalia could have started his list of great jurists anywhere but decided to start with Justice Cooley.

We here at the great old jurist’s school celebrate Justice Cooley’s continued reputation as the nation’s premier jurist.  Let us all hope that the Constitution that he so vigorously, effectively, and humbly defended will survive just as long as his enduring prominence.


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Same-Sex Marriage: The ultimate decision of the Court will establish significant national precedent

Professor Gerald A. Fisher

Professor Gerald A. Fisher

The pending U.S. Supreme Court case of Deboer v. Snyder and its related cases, examining the legality and enforceability of same-sex marriage, present legal and policy issues of major importance to the nation.  Here is Western Michigan University Cooley Law Professor Gerald A. Fisher’s brief take on some of the key issues.

The cases present issues under two key clauses of the 14th Amendment: the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause. Arguments will address whether same-sex marriage is a “fundamental right” that triggers special protections under the Constitution.  The decision may address whether the plaintiffs or the states have the burden of proof, and the extent of that burden in terms of arguing the constitutionality of the regulations in question.  Also of equal importance, the cases have the potential of raising questions touching on the fundamental structure of our country by determining whether the individual states, or the federal government itself, have the jurisdiction to define marriage rights and privileges.

The most likely outcome in the case is a Justice Kennedy-written opinion expressing that there is no rational reason for a state to prohibit same sex-marriage. However, there is a long-shot outcome, consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Defense of Marriage Act case, United States v. Windsor, written in 2013 by Justice Kennedy, that the definition of marriage is a matter appropriately left to the states.

WMU-Cooley Professor Gerald Fisher teaches Constitutional Law, Property, Secured Transactions, Zoning and Land Use Law, and State and Local Government Law. Professor Fisher has appeared on 21 occasions in cases presented to the Michigan Supreme Court. He was the recipient of the Roberts P. Hudson Award from the State Bar of Michigan in 1978, named a Best Lawyer in America in 2007, Recipient of the Cooley Law Review Michigan Supreme Court Distinguished Brief Award in 2001, and named a Lawyer of the Year in Michigan (one of ten) in 2001 by Michigan Lawyers Weekly.

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Even the Wall Street Journal Wants to Know About the Resurgence in Downtown Lansing

If you know Lansing, Michigan, Mayor Virg Bernaro at all, you know he can never hide his excitement and pride in downtown Lansing. But others are catching the fever as well. Even the Wall Street Journal called about doing a story on the resurgence of downtown Lansing.

The question to him was, “What’s going on with Lansing?” According to Mayor Bernero, Lansing’s resurgence happened because of a team of people who said, “We can.”

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero shares his vision of downtown Lansing.

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero shares his vision of downtown Lansing.

Lansing’s resurgence started, according to Bernero, with the opening of  the ballpark for the Lansing Lugnuts minor league baseball team 20 years ago. “This was one of the absolute key lynch pins to the resurgence of Lansing,” said Bernero. “And it happened because people said we can! Because people had the imagination, the guts, and determination to say we can make it happen in Lansing.”

“Something is definitely happening in Lansing,” stated Bernero. “It goes to show you what you can do with collaboration and partnership.”

Lansing Lugnuts Chief Executive Officer Tom DIckson celebrates the Grand Re-Opening of Cooley Law School Stadium at a Ribbon-Cutting on opening day.

Lansing Lugnuts Chief Executive Officer Tom DIckson celebrates the Grand Re-Opening of Cooley Law School Stadium at a Ribbon-Cutting on opening day.

Lansing Lugnuts Chief Executive Officer Tom Dickson, with Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) Chief Executive Officer Bob Trezise, talks to Lansing supporters about the new four-story apartment building construction overseeing the ballpark, dubbed The Outfield, scheduled for completion by opening day in 2016.

Lugnuts celebrate reopening of Cooley Law School Stadium with a gala ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday, April 9, 2014.

Read Lansing State Journal article 20 years later, Lugnuts, stadium a downtown home run.

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