Cooley name change to Western Michigan was long time in planning

For the nation's largest law school, one could make the case it was a good time for a name change. That's because The Thomas M. Cooley Law School is also arguably one of the nation's most beleaguered law schools. It's doubtful, for instance, that Harvard Law School plans a name change.

However, the recent move to change the name to Western Michigan University Cooley Law School was years in the making and well preceded the challenges to legal education, said Don LeDuc, president and dean. It's not a rebranding effort.

“The reality is that it's coincidental,” he said. “This goes so far back.”

Both the law school, a private one, and Western Michigan University, a public institution, wanted to further cement their relationship and this agreement does so, he said. They will continue to operate separately but have agreed to the affiliation to give students more enhanced educational offerings. 

For instance, Cooley Law School will offer first year law classes at Western Michigan University's main campus at Kalamazoo beginning in 2015. Additionally, a 3+3 program is being created to allow students to get a bachelor's degree and law degree in six years.

The two schools have offered joint degrees over the years, so this move is about continuing and enhancing that collaboration, DeLuc said. The two schools have similar philosophies and missions, so it was a perfect fit, he said.

For Cooley Law School, the affiliation also brings a dose of prestige, as it will now be associated with a public university that's well-known in the region. The move should help both schools attract students, LeDuc said.

That's been a problem for Cooley Law School recently. It made national news recently when it announced it would not be accepting first-year students at its Ann Arbor campus this fall. That's the first time a law school took such a drastic step. But it’s also one of only three law schools with more than one location.

Cooley Law School operates five campuses, four in Michigan and one in Tampa. In addition to Ann Arbor, the Michigan schools are in Grand Rapids, Lansing and Auburn Hills. All will have the same name, including the one in Tampa, should the Florida Commission on Independent Education allow it.

While many law schools have taken it on the chin of late, Cooley Law School has taken body blows too. Its enrollment has fallen 40 percent since 2010, the second largest slide among law schools, according to a recent analysis by The National Jurist.

Enrollment for the fall 2014 class is down 8 percent from last year. DeLuc said he feels the worst is over and enrollment will begin to rebound.

“We should start seeing some growth,” he said.

Rumors are rampant that it will close the Ann Arbor campus, and DeLuc said that was still unknown. The recent affiliation with Western Michigan University will have no impact on how the law school moves forward, he said. The two are not sharing any financial resources.

The name change was well-accepted by faculty, staff, students and alumni, he said.

“It was mostly positive,” he said.

The biggest question from students: “What will their diplomas say?” he said.

The school is going to give the students the option of choosing, he said.