Law Schools Under the Microscope

Rick Seltzer:

When the American Bar Association posted a letter on its website in November saying Western Michigan University’s Thomas M. Cooley Law School was not in compliance with a standard about admissions, the school slapped its accreditor with a lawsuit.

Cooley argued the ABA had acted illegally in publishing the letter, which said the law school was not in compliance with accreditation standard 501(b). That standard says law schools should only admit students who appear capable of completing legal education programs and passing the bar.

The letter to Cooley was one of more than a dozen the ABA posted about different law schools in the last 18 months, almost all citing the issue of admitting students who were not likely to succeed. Some of the other law schools promised to address the ABA’s concerns while still pointing out that their accreditation remained intact. Cooley proved more bellicose, asking a federal judge to force the accreditor to pull the letter in question from its website and withdraw copies sent to the U.S. secretary of education, the Higher Learning Commission and state regulators in Michigan and in Florida, where Cooley also has a campus.
Cooley was clearly harmed, it argued in filings made in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The ABA harmed Cooley’s finances and reputation, the law school said.
Most sharply, though, the law school seemed to fear the reaction of students.