If you’ve managed to jump onto the speeding “now is a great time to apply to law school” train, then you might want to fling yourself from the tracks, because that thing is about to derail. We’ve got some major news from a law school that’s stereotypically regarded as one of the worst in the country. If you thought things were bad for law schools, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
The legal academy has been waiting with bated breath for something like this to happen, and now it finally has. A law school is cutting an entire class year from its enrollment logs at one campus and laying off faculty and staff — all at the same time.
Which law school seems to be in full on disaster mode right now?
If you guessed the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, then you were correct. Elie Mystal’s years of coverage about this law school have served a purpose after all. If you took heed of his warnings, then we must congratulate you, because it looks like he helped you to avoid a complete catastrophe.
That’s right, Cooley Law — a school with a total of five campuses across Michigan and Florida, whose enrollment dropped by 40.6 percent over the past few years — is finally raising its hands in defeat. After years of statements from Dean Don LeDuc that the school was doing just fine, and despite the fact that the S&P gave it a negative rating, and despite the fact that it recently raised tuition by 9 percent to presumably cover its operational costs, the school seems to be throwing in the towel. Not even affiliating the law school with a public university could save the program from itself. Sure, Cooley Law has weathered class-action lawsuits about its quality, but it could no longer stand up against the staggering decline of legal market.
Today, we received a rather shocking notice that was posted on Cooley Law’s internal portal page:
As with most law schools across the country, Cooley’s enrollment and revenue have continued to decline. Despite our ongoing cost control efforts, it has become apparent that we must now reassess our costs, including our faculty and staff levels, in light of current enrollment. Thus, Cooley’s board of directors and administration are instituting a financial management plan designed to right size and reinvent the school. Unfortunately, and as has occurred at a number of other law schools, the plan will include faculty and staff layoffs. As part of the plan, Cooley will also hold off enrolling incoming first-term students at the Ann Arbor campus for fall 2014, though all currently enrolled Ann Arbor students will continue to be able to pursue the school’s full curriculum.
Wow. Considering that Cooley Law once declared that it was the second-best law school in the country, this is major. The announcement goes on to state that the school “has a history of making transformative decisions in response to our students’ needs,” but this time around, the school decided that some students no longer needed to attend Cooley. Look at it this way: Cooley Law just saved a whole bunch of law students the trouble of taking out hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans for a 26.9 percent chance of working full-time as a lawyer after graduation. Pay close attention, because we’re about to offer a very high compliment to the Thomas M. Cooley Law School: what the school did was commendable.
Yes, Ann Arbor is a small campus, but instead of sentencing those students along with its other thousands of students (yes, thousands — its class of 2013 graduated 1,143 students) to a lifetime of seemingly insurmountable debt, Cooley opted to fall on its own sword and eat the minimal profits it would have reaped. It may be just one campus, but Cooley is the first law school in the nation to stop enrolling students because there are TOO DAMN MANY OF THEM. Cooley is working to “reinvent” itself, and right now, that means not enrolling any students in Ann Arbor because it’s too much of a burden.
To those who may lose their jobs because of this, we hate to say it, but perhaps you should have seen this coming. We certainly wish you the best of luck in the future, wherever your career brings you.
For now, we can’t help but wonder what’s next for Cooley Law. Will it stop enrolling students at all of its campuses? Will it decide to close down for good? Its future is yet untold, but this is very, very foreboding.
UPDATE (3:15 p.m.): According to MLive.com, Cooley Law acknowledged that it would be conducting faculty and staff layoffs in an announcement posted to its official website, but that message fails to mention anything about the elimination of the first-year program from the Ann Arbor campus. The memo concerning the Ann Arbor campus was posted only to the school’s internal portal page, and we have a copy of it which you can see for yourself on the following page, if you’re interested.
UPDATE (3:30 p.m.): According to the ABA Journal, incoming 1Ls who were accepted to Cooley’s Ann Arbor campus will have the option to attend any of the other Cooley campuses. Dear Lord, please help these would-be law students see the error of their ways. Does this mean that the Ann Arbor campus is going to be shut down? James Robb, Cooley’s associate dean of external affairs and senior counsel, said there were no plans to do so at this point. Perhaps they’re waiting for all current 2Ls and 3Ls to graduate.
(Flip to the next page to see the full announcement from Cooley Law, including a screenshot.)