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.

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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Lawyer Employment Jumps By 40,000 in 2014!

Cooley President and Dean, Don LeDuc

Cooley President and Dean, Don LeDuc

Now Is the Time to Fulfill Your Dream of Becoming a Lawyer!

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 commentary highlighting the recent surge in lawyer employment in the U.S.

Football Coach George Allen famously said, “The future is now.”  Those considering law school should listen to Coach Allen.  Here’s why.

In 2014, the number of employed lawyers increased by 40,000, or 3.66 percent, compared to 2013, according to a just-released U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report.  Conversely, the number of unemployed lawyers fell by 8,000.

This means that improving economy in 2014 clearly supported not only the increased number of law school graduates, but also reduced the number of lawyers previously unemployed by one-third.  The unemployment rate among lawyers is now 1.2%, far below the national unemployment rate of 5.5% and likewise the lowest lawyer unemployment rate since before 2008.  And the unemployment rate for lawyers in the fourth quarter of 2014 was 0.6%.

Summer 2015 will see about 3,000 fewer law school graduates entering the job market than did so in 2014.  At the same time, increasing numbers of lawyers will retire due to aging and the recovery of retirement portfolios.

The combined trend of fewer graduates and more retirements will continue for at least another three years, creating an increasingly favorable employment outlook.

Now is the time for those whose dream is to become a lawyer to disregard the blog-fog and look at the clear employment picture that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has painted.  That dream’s future is now.

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Abuse of LSAT Scores

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 commentary in which he takes on those who misuse — and abuse — the LSAT.

Commentators, including academics who should know better, are improperly using the Law School Admissions Test to justify assertions regarding the quality of potential law students and the law schools they consider, contrary to published limitations on the proper use of the LSAT by the Law School Admissions Council, which creates and administers it.

Two false premises have dominated the blogs. The first is that a lower LSAT number in a school’s entering class means that the school’s graduates will be less capable of passing the bar. The second premise is even worse—that a lower LSAT number means that a school’s graduates will be less capable to practice as lawyers and that those below a certain number will be incapable of practicing law.  These assertions are blatantly contrary to limitations on the use of LSAT scores issued by the LSAC.  Here is the truth about the LSAT

Use of an LSAT score for any purpose other than law school admissions is improper

The LSAC says that “[t]he LSAT was designed to serve admissions functions only. It has not been validated for any other purpose.” Using the LSAT to make judgments about the capability of an individual—or a group of individuals like a law school’s entering class—to pass a bar examination is a misuse of the LSAT.  The LSAC has declared that the LSAT has not been validated as a predictor of future bar results.

Bad as that claim is, the assertion that a low LSAT score foretells incapacity to practice law is even worse. Again, the LSAT has not been validated in that regard. Nor has anyone been able to define what is or is not the capacity to practice law, much less measure who is likely to practice it well. Any claim that the LSAT does so should be completely disregarded, if not derided.

The LSAT cannot be used as the sole criterion for admission to law school.

The LSAC says that “[t]he LSAT should be used as only one of several criteria for evaluation and should not be given undue weight solely because its use is convenient. . . . [because] the LSAT does not measure every discipline-related skill necessary for academic work, nor does it measure other factors important to academic success.”   The LSAC further states that LSAT scores “do not measure, nor are they intended to measure, all the elements important to success at individual institutions” and that LSAT scores “must be examined in relation to the total range of information available about a prospective law student.”

The LSAT is not the best predictive measure for law school success.

The LSAC tells us that the LSAT is intended to “assist in assuring that there is a demonstrated relationship between quantitative data used in the selection process and actual performance [at a particular school].” But the LSAC’s own correlation studies invariably find that neither the LSAT score alone nor the UGPA alone are better predictors than the use of those two factors combined in the context of previous levels of academic success at that institution. Indeed, what the LSAT does is attempt to predict the likely first-year grade point average for the person being considered for admission to the particular school, based on how well those previously admitted with the same combination of the two factors did.

There is no bright line LSAT score below which a school should not offer admission.

The LSAC declares that “[c]ut-off LSAT scores (below which no applicants will be considered) are strongly discouraged. Such boundaries should be used only if the choice of a particular cut-off is based on a carefully considered and formulated rationale that is supported by empirical data . . . .”  Cut-off scores may have a greater adverse impact upon applications from minority groups than upon the general applicant population.

Those who claim that the LSAT score bears any relationship to the ability to practice law are ignorant at best.

The assertion that LSAT scores predict bar results is without support. Those who create and provide the test have stated that a correlation of LSAT scores to the passage of a bar examination has never been validated, certainly not by them.  One reason that a valid connection is not possible is that there is no such thing as “the bar examination.” Each state administers, scores and weighs its own examination in such a way that a person with identical LSAT scores and multi-state scores could pass in one state and fail in another.

Rankings and ratings based on LSAT scores are flawed.

Unfortunately, we are fascinated with labeling and ranking. We rank schools based on LSAT scores, we rank schools based on bar results, and we characterize law schools by tiers and students by LSAT scores. We assert that students with LSAT scores below a certain number are inferior and unworthy, but fail to take into consideration that the creators of the LSAT affirmatively declare that such a conclusion is not valid and is an improper use of the LSAT score. We assert that the LSAT test measures the ability to practice law, again contrary to the proper use of the LSAT and again despite the fact that there is no evidence to substantiate the claim. We disregard that minority groups are arguably adversely affected by multiple-choice tests.

In the land of opportunity, those who would deny anyone who has graduated from college the opportunity to fulfill a dream based on an LSAT cut-off score are elitist, paternalistic, and ignorant of the purpose of the very test they rely upon as the basis for their denial. Law school applicants and law schools deserve better treatment.

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WMU-Cooley’s Lansing Campus Is One of Nation’s Best Affordable Places to Live

Lansing is ranked as one of the nation’s best affordable places to live, in fact the fourth best of all, according to a major source on lifestyles nationally,  The site salutes the great value to be found in Lansing from housing and transportation costs to bargains with entertainment, shopping, and education.

Livability places Lansing at the top with other great cities, noting: “These budget-friendly cities offer lots of things to do and help families stretch their paychecks further. ”  It specifically highlights the outstanding culture and recreation our city has to offer:

With many restaurants, bars and music venues catering to the college crowd, residents can easily find great deals. Lansing City Market, which overlooks the Grand River in downtown, provides a lively setting for residents to procure farm fresh produce, artwork and crafts. Bike trails, walking paths and gardens tempt outdoor lovers to engage in the recreational activities Lansing offers. Kayakers are often seen paddling through town.



Lansing’s high ranking comes as no surprise to us.  As we wrote last year, Western Michigan University Cooley Law School’s students, faculty, and staff have long enjoyed the benefits of living, working, and studying in Lansing.  We in the Lansing community share in outstanding cultural diversity, a host of arts and entertainment, wonderful recreational activities, great restaurants, major historical attractions, and, of course, abundant educational opportunity.  For a taste of the city, see the video This is My Downtown.

Come and visit Western Michigan University Cooley Law School’s Lansing campus.  It’s a great place to learn the law.  We would be glad to show you around!


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Variety is the Spice of Life — and the Classroom!

“One size fits all?” Not in the world of education! Four faculty members from Western Michigan University Cooley Law School have put to rest any thoughts that any one single approach to teaching can bring success in the law school classroom.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThe Social Science Research Network published “The Value of Variety in Teaching: A Professor’s Guide” in the Journal of Legal Education (Vol. 64, No. 1) authored by WMU-Cooley faculty members Tonya L. Krause-Phelan, Kara Zech Thelen, and Heather Garretson, and former faculty member Jane Siegel. In the 28-page article, the professors show that the storied Socratic Method of teaching is just one of more than 80 ways law school faculty can use to get their message across.

The professors created a practical, how-to guide, organized by skill so that it’s easy for readers to use.

“You’ll enjoy what variety can do for your teaching,” the professors wrote. “And your students will thank you for it.”

Teaching students with a variety of methods helps them both in the classroom and in their career, the professors explained. Just as they learned in a number of different ways in school, the students-turned-lawyers will find themselves having to use a number of alternative methods to convey important legal points to their clients, jurors, and even judges and opposing counsel. With the variety approach, students can draw both on the substantive material they learned and the different methods used to get the points across.

Skills addressed in the helpful article are speaking, writing, concrete learning, organization, practice skills, comprehension, self-assessment, working together, professionalism, student participation, and student feedback.

The article combines practical ideas with a bit of humor here and there. Readers are directed to help their students avoid ambiguity by taking on Medicaid eligibility rules. Which part is unclear? “Pick a provision by throwing a dart at the code,” the professors advised.

The article goes on to address such areas as:

  • Dry classes
  • Obscure wording
  • How to break up issue spotting instruction by having students dissect a few selected songs
  • How to demonstrate the elements of attempted crime with a comparison to baseball, and
  • The benefits of not starting an email with “hey” to illustrate professionalism in communication.

We invite you to read this outstanding article and think you will enjoy learning what these experienced teachers have to say.

Tell us what you think.

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4,000 WMU-Cooley Community LinkedIn Group Members!


This week we enrolled our 4,000th WMU-Cooley Law School Community LinkedIn Group member.  In slightly more than two years, we have doubled our membership.  This rapid growth demonstrates the value of staying connected with fellow Cooligans around the nation through our LinkedIn group.  Cooley alumni reach out to one another, share job opportunities, refer cases, send tips on interviewing, and offer their thoughts on law practice.

If you are not already a WMU-Cooley Community Group member, joining is easy. First, establish an account and professional profile with LinkedIn.  Then search for “WMU-Cooley Law School Community” and click on the “Join” button.

We are proud of WMU-Cooley’s alumni and want to use our group as just one of many ways to promote each others’  success.  Now let’s see how quickly we can get to 5,000 members.  Tell other WMU-Cooley graduates to sign up for LinkedIn and join the WMU-Cooley Community Group as well.  Above all, stay connected!

In addition to LinkedIn, see WMU-Cooley’s Alumni Website Page.

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With Baby on the Way – Right Now! – One WMU-Cooley Student Comes to the Rescue of Another

WMU-Cooley student Kaitlin Locke might not be a “Super Hero” in the conventional movie sense of the word, but she’s the world’s best heroine to one grateful Grand Rapids, Michigan, family.

Samantha, Ryker, Kevin  and Aurora Sutherland welcome baby Piper.

Samantha, Ryker, Kevin and Aurora Sutherland welcome baby Piper.

In the wee hours of the morning on September 12, 2014, WMU-Cooley student Kevin Sutherland’s wife, Samantha, went into unexpected, sudden and accelerated labor with the couple’s third child. At 2:15 a.m., it was clear the baby had no intention of waiting until relatives could arrive at 3:30 a.m. to watch over the couple’s other children, Aurora, age 3, and Ryker, age 1. Kevin Sutherland remembered a conversation with fellow student Kaitlin Locke, who had told him to let her know if he and his family needed any help.

Kaitlin Locke

Kaitlin Locke

And they definitely needed help. Baby Sutherland was coming, whether the family was ready or not, and they had to get to the hospital.

Sutherland called Locke at 2:17 a.m. and asked her to come watch his sleeping kids until family members could get there.

“Not only did Ms. Locke answer her phone in the early hours of the morning, I sent her my address and she rapidly came to our rescue,” said a grateful Kevin Sutherland.

Less than a half hour later, Piper Sutherland was born – narrowly missing making her debut in transit.

“My wife was two minutes from delivering the baby in the car,” Sutherland recalled. “Without Ms. Locke’s help, my wife and child would not have had the immediate care of the hospital she needed. We arrived, just in time, with only Ms. Locke to thank for her courageous and selfless act of helping a fellow classmate in need.”

Sutherland said that he and his wife won’t forget the kindness or the rescue. “Ms. Locke will certainly forever be a part of our crazy story,” he said. “Mom and baby are healthy and happy. And thanks to Ms. Locke, I am too!”


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