We have a lot of fun with Cooley Law around here. Oops. Sorry, Western Michigan University Law School. You know a school is on the upswing when it rebrands itself in the middle of the night.

Anyway, we’ve also talked about Cooley’s sports connection before, including Thomas M. Cooley Law School Stadium, which I suppose will become Western Michigan Stadium even though Western Michigan doesn’t play there. Or something.

It turns out Cooley Law also does a great job training people for their future careers. As long as that future career is an NHL coach instead of a lawyer….

Yesterday, Grantland published a profile of Jon Cooper, the new head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, one of those warm weather hockey teams that everyone forgets about. This is really interesting to me because I’m actually a hockey fan. Indeed, I’m the only hockey fan on the ATL staff.[1]

In the piece, we learn an important nugget about coach Cooper:

Spoken like a true attorney — which was, just a decade ago, Cooper’s full-time profession, but which these days seems like an increasingly distant past life. Once a public defender in Lansing, Michigan, who snagged some pickup ice time with colleagues here and there, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s coach has worked his way up through the hockey ranks to become one of the NHL’s more intriguing recent hires.

So that’s why he’s willing to take on a down-on-its-luck franchise without much public support.

The article also notes that he went to law school “in Lansing.” Oh my God, even as a hockey coach, far removed from the law, he’s ashamed to come out and say “Thomas M. Cooley Law School” to a national publication. At least his bio comes clean.

In any event, Cooper worked as a public defender “for misdemeanors and lower-level crimes” in Lansing, which he must have done for about a hot second before saying “screw this,” and deciding that committing to a career that involves telling people to repeatedly slam their heads into a wall was still better than being an attorney.

Actually that sounds a lot like a Biglaw partnership gig.

But putting aside the snark for a second, Cooper’s career arc is really incredible. Immediately after leaving law school he always kept one skate in hockey:

He ran the school’s club hockey team and — after he graduated and passed the bar3 — played on a local team of lawyers that called itself the Legal Eagles.

So I’ve been practicing [law] about a year and a half,” Cooper said of the conversation that would change the course of his life. “And then a judge asks me to work for a kids’ team.”

It was 1999, the judge was the Honorable Thomas E. Brennan Jr., and the team was the struggling Lansing Catholic Central High School squad for which Brennan’s son played goalie. Cooper agreed to give it a shot, and by the end of the season, the team was the regional champion for the first time in a quarter-century and Cooper was the Lansing State Journal’s coach of the year. It was all very Gordon Bombay, except without the whole getting-arrested thing.

“Let’s see, I coached a year of high school,” Cooper said, ticking off his work experience on his fingers. “Then a year of Junior B… I coached four different teams in four years, all while practicing law in two different cities.”

That judge, Thomas E. Brennan, Jr., you might recognize as the son of the founder of Cooley Law School. Like Ducks, the Cooley mafia flies together.

Cooper said he was working 80 hours a week as a lawyer and coaching 10-20 hours on the side. But at least he was picking up clients networking around Michigan as the team traveled. As a networking strategy, that’s at least better than sitting on a bar association subcommittee. Eventually, the paid gig came up and Cooper decided to make the full-time leap, and worked his way up the coaching ranks from there like a Reggie Dunlop wannabe.[2]

There are remarkably few NHL coaches who never played in the NHL, only three including Cooper, but what really is there to learn playing for the Red Wings that you can’t pick up from the Legal Eagles. Seriously though, congratulations to Cooper for escaping from the law to realize his dream. And his ‘Ning are 2-1 (all on the road mind you!) to start the season, so he’s doing a great job so far.

So buck up Cooley grads: it looks like your odds of becoming an NHL head coach are about as good as your odds of becoming a Biglaw associate!



[1] Surprise, surprise! I’m the only white male on the ATL staff.
[2] Please tell me someone got that reference. It’s one of my favorite movies.

The Outsider [Grantland]

Earlier: Cooley Law School Stadium: The House That Broken Dreams Built


comments sponsored by

42 comments (hidden for your protection) Show all comments