Education, Human Resources, and Law

Cooley Law School leads nation in most minority graduates

School credits reasonable LSAT requirements and rigorous standards.

October 25, 2013
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Data from the last five editions of the American Bar Association’s “Official Guide to Law Schools” show Thomas M. Cooley Law School graduated 958 minority law students during the five years covered — more than any other law school in the country.

Cooley was followed by Harvard with 865 minority graduates, Loyola Marymount with 784, Georgetown with 775, and American University with 747.

Cooley has campuses in Ann Arbor, Auburn Hills, Grand Rapids, Lansing and Tampa, Fla.

Associate Dean John Nussbaumer credited the law school’s reasonable LSAT score requirement and a rigorous academic standard for the success.

“Our students talk about Cooley as easy to get into but hard to get out of,” Nussbaumer said.

“We made a business decision a long time ago to set our LSAT requirements at a level where we thought students had a reasonable level of success and not to play the U.S. News rankings game,” he added.

He explained that to score higher on the U.S. News and World Report law school rankings list, schools must set their LSAT scores higher, which in turn excludes many students, especially minority students, from qualifying for admission.

“The two largest racial and ethnic groups that face the greatest discrimination in American legal education today are African-Americans and Hispanics,” Nussbaumer said.

“During the first decade of this century, nearly two-thirds of all African-American applicants and nearly half of all Hispanic applicants were denied admission to every ABA-approved law school to which they applied, compared to less than one-third of all Caucasian applicants. Among these two groups, Cooley ranked third nationally in African-American graduates and eighth in Hispanic graduates.”

Nussbaumer said that by setting the LSAT standard at the level Cooley has chosen, it does not eliminate opportunities for students who have the ability to succeed.

“Part of our philosophy is that you shouldn’t set the standard so high that you shut out people who would succeed,” he said. “That is what happens. If you want to play it safe, you can raise your LSAT standards to a certain level and nobody will fail out, but a lot of people who would have succeeded won’t get the opportunity.

“Our mission talks about providing access for those who want to study law, but combining that with a very rigorous academic program that prepares students to pass the bar and become very good lawyers.”

Nussbaumer will speak about the importance of diversity in the legal profession as part of the upcoming State of Diversity and Inclusion in the Legal Profession speaker series. The series, which runs from October through December, has events in Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. It will focus on relevant diversity data and statistics, the various facets of diversity in the legal profession, and promising strategies, programs and initiatives from around the country. Nussbaumer will speak at the Seattle and Washington, D.C., sessions.

Nussbaumer said he will talk about four key issues: shut-out rates, the top 20 law schools for minority graduates, new threats to diversity and why diversity is important to the legal profession.

“There are actually some new threats on the horizon,” he said. “They are mainly related to some ABA law school accreditation standards dealing with bar exams, and that may cause schools to raise their LSAT requirements and shut out more students.

“In terms of why this is important, the ABA did a study about three years ago and identified four rationales why diversity is important. One was the leadership rationale: that so many lawyers play important leadership roles, both in and out of government, that it’s important to have a diverse legal profession in order that our leadership is diverse.”

Nussbaumer said with studies showing that by 2040 a majority of America’s citizens are going to be people of color, it is particularly important for the legal profession to achieve diversity. Currently, he said, the legal profession ranks as one of the worst professions for diversity, with about 90 percent being Caucasian.

“The idea is, if our country has a majority of people of color and the lawyers and judges don’t look like them, there is going to be a loss of trust and loss of confidence in the fairness of the justice system,” he said.

The Grand Rapids legal profession has struggled in attracting and retaining diverse attorneys, despite many years’ of efforts to do so.

Cooley is starting to see some encouraging signs for its students, however.

“We’ve had literally dozens of African-American graduates at this Grand Rapids campus, and it took us 10 years, but we’ve had our first hire of an African-American graduate by a Grand Rapids firm just this year,” said Nelson Miller, associate dean at Cooley. “We are very pleased with that. We’d love to see more of that happen.”

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