Schools Ramp Up Law Curricula

May 2, 2003
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The two law schools that began offering classes in Grand Rapids in January each hit modest enrollment goals for their initial entries into the market, getting both off on the right track toward the future expansion of academic programs locally.

Thomas M. Cooley Law School came in “right in target” with an enrollment of 16 students who took an elective law class during the winter semester at Western Michigan University’s East Beltline campus, college President Don LeDuc said.

“We got exactly what we were expecting to the person,” LeDuc said. “This is the door-opener. This is the first road of regular classes.”

Michigan State University-DCL College of Law, which launched its presence in Grand Rapids by offering a single class in January at Grand Valley State University’s downtown Pew Campus, got off to a good start as well.

The college’s first course, an advanced class on securities regulations that required prerequisites, generated an enrollment of four students.

That’s about what the college says it expected in its first foray into Grand Rapids, given prerequisites that limited the student pool.

The school’s strategy is to offer high-end classes geared to law students in the latter stages of their education and to practicing attorneys upgrading their skills.

“What we’re looking at is developing a high-end program and coming from the top down. We think that is the perfect approach for us,” said Michael Lawrence, associate dean of academic affairs and a law professor at MSU-DCL.

“We want to be known for the quality aspect of this.”

Both Cooley Law School, in concert with Western Michigan, and MSU-DCL, in partnership with Grand Valley State, plan to ramp up additional law classes in Grand Rapids later this year and beyond.

Each is taking a different tack in Grand Rapids, with Cooley Law School starting with entry-level classes and MSU-DCL beginning at the top.

MSU-DCL is initially concentrating on business and tax law here and will expand to six local courses this fall.

The college plans to offer two of the courses — accounting for lawyers, and business tax planning — at Grand Valley State’s Pew Campus during the fall semester. Lawrence expects 10 to 15 students to enroll in each course.

Students can take four other courses — alternative dispute resolution, international sales of goods, the law of financial institutions, and tax practice and procedures — in Grand Rapids during the fall semester via videoconferencing.

In the semesters beyond, MSU-DCL will roll out courses concentrating on other areas of law, intellectual property and health law among them, Lawrence said. But for now, MSU-DCL is not planning to offer its entire law program in Grand Rapids anytime soon, he said.

“It’s certainly something we hold out as a possibility, but we don’t see it in the immediate future,” Lawrence said.

Cooley Law School this week begins offering introductory classes in the evening for new law students in contracts, torts, property and criminal law at Western Michigan’s Graduate Center on Ionia Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids.

In September, Cooley will move into its own satellite campus housed in renovated space on the fourth floor of the Graduate Center and begin offering morning first-semester classes.

The law school is shooting for a Grand Rapids enrollment of 45 students in the fall, a level that will make the local class offerings economically viable, LeDuc said.

“It’d be nice if we had the problem of having more,” he said.

The 13,600 square feet of space Cooley Law School is leasing form Western Michigan University has a capacity of 60 students per semester.

In January 2004, Cooley Law School plans to move into a renovated space at 38 Oakes Ave., adjacent to Western’s Graduate Center, and to expand to afternoon and weekend classes.

The move will enable the Lansing-based law school to eventually offer its entire law program in Grand Rapids.

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