Cooley Law Comes To GR

January 10, 2003
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Thomas M. Cooley Law School and Western Michigan University have entered into a joint venture to bring the first law school to Grand Rapids.

Beginning in January 2003, Cooley will begin to offer three elective courses for advanced law students at the WMU Beltline Graduate Center, then moving operations to the Downtown Graduate Center upon completion of construction.

The Lansing-based law school made the decision to partner with Western Michigan University about a year ago after talks between WMU’s departing president, Elson Floyd and Cooley’s president and dean, Don DeLuc culminated in a joint degree program.

“When Western opened their Lansing satellite we started having some contact with them, mostly about what their public administration program was about and how we could work together on it,” said DeLuc. “After working together on that, we were looking for other ways to partner and the idea was brought up to bring Cooley to West Michigan.”

Jim Schultz, regional director for WMU Grand Rapids said Cooley was looking for a place downtown and with the WMU Downtown Graduate Center occupying only three floors of one of the old H.H. Cutler buildings, there was undeveloped space for Cooley to move in.

When WMU moved into the building, the fourth floor was “white boxed,” or prepared to simply be built out. All heating and cooling was run through as well as convection heat through the floors.

“All that is left to do is drywall the rooms in and go from there,” said Schultz. “Rockford Construction and Design Plus are going to do all of the work, just as they did for the rest of our floors, we are aiming for a similar look.”

In addition, Cooley will also occupy another H.H. Cutler building on the corner of Oakes and Commerce, as well as part of 121 Commerce, located between the Graduate Center and the Oakes building. Construction on those buildings is planned sequentially.

Currently, what is planned is to begin with a satellite operation, building up to a fully developed branch. The reason LeDuc said a law school hasn’t been brought to the area before was because the satellite idea didn’t become an option until about a year ago.

What the satellite plan states is that a school is able to develop a temporary presence in a smaller market, offering maybe the first two years or the last two years of school and not the entire three. Where as a branch would be an entire separate location of the school.

The ultimate plan is to start with the satellite operation, starting with the three classes on the E. Beltline, moving into starting the first session of students in May. Then by fall all sessions will have begun.

With the construction schedule planned as it is, LeDuc foresees the May students being able to finish out their law degree entirely in Grand Rapids.

Scheduling at Cooley is offered in four sessions, morning, afternoon, evening and weekend.

Unlike most other law schools, Cooley teaches classes year round, entering three new classes each year: January, May, and September. Each term is 15 weeks long. Students entering in January, Hilary Term, attend required classes in the afternoon. Students beginning in May, Trinity Term, take required classes in the evening. Students starting in September, Michaelmas Term, attend required classes in the morning.

Cooley also offers weekend classes year round on Saturday and Sunday mornings and afternoons and students can enter into the Weekend Program in September and May terms.

“With Western allowing us to use their Beltline facilities and then move into their downtown center and then the fourth floor of their building, we are able to begin offering services to students immediately,” said DeLuc. “At the same time they are working on the Downtown Graduate Center, they will also be working on the Oakes building and creating our library.”

The law library, which the school must have control of, instead of using the already present Grand Rapids Bar Association Library, will be located in the ground and first floor of the Oakes building and will service students of Cooley.

The library is another step in helping Cooley become a branch for law students to start and complete a law degree in West Michigan.

Besides just cohabitating, WMU and Cooley hope to partner on further endeavors and demonstrate how several of the respective programs can be paired together.  Shultz suggested the pairing of an MBA and a JD, a PhD in higher education and a JD, a Masters in human resources and a JD, and a Masters in public administration and a JD.

“These are just some of the options we have come up with, but the options are endless,” said Schultz. “The great thing is that our philosophies match so well and the market and area we target is similar that worcommuting faculty from Cooley in Lansing for the time being, but will also be recruited from the area, as well as across the country.

“This whole endeavor is really going to have a positive impact on the downtown area,” said Schultz. “It will build up buildings that are currently vacant, places to eat, places to park and places to relax after a long day in law school. It will also really bring more people into the area, more talented people and people who want to make this a better place learn and practice law.”

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