It’s not necessary to attend Harvard Law School in order to get a quality legal education and be a good lawyer, but degrees from certain bottom-tier law schools should raise flags of concern regarding the abilities of the attorneys with diplomas from those institutions hanging on their walls. Such is the case with Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s attorney and spokesman, whose herculean efforts to make a mockery of Trump’s promise that he would hire “the best people” are truly something to behold.
Cohen saw his name in headlines this week when the FBI raided his home, office, and hotel room, reportedly to seize evidence related to Cohen’s $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels to buy her silence about an alleged sexual affair with Trump, among other matters. (Ahem, like Trump’s tax returns, according to the New York Times.)
Both Trump and Cohen have adamantly denied Daniels’ story and insisted the president did nothing wrong, but the escalating series of missteps, bumbles, and weaponized ineptitude by Team Trump have made it clear that Cohen is, as The Daily Beast‘s Rick Wilson described him, “far from being the superlawyer.”
Cohen earned his law degree in 1991 from Thomas M. Cooley Law School, which later became affiliated with Western Michigan University. To say that Cooley is bottom-tier doesn’t begin to describe the problems; Cooley is the sub-basement of the bottom-tier, and then digging furiously through the floor deep into the substrata below.
Cooley has been accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) since the mid-1970s, but that accreditation is on increasingly shaky ground. According to ABA Standard 501, “a school shall not admit an applicant who does not appear capable of satisfactorily completing its program of legal education and being admitted to the bar.”
The foundation of Cooley’s problems are its unbelievably lax admission standards, accepting almost 86% of applicants in 2016. The entering class that fall had a median GPA of 2.90 and median LSAT score of 141 (bottom 15th percentile of test takers).
In several blog posts lamenting the ABA’s failure to end “predatory admission practices,” law professor and chair of the National Advisory Council for Law School Transparency David Frakt described Cooley’s 2015 entering class as “statistically the worst entering class of law students in the history of American legal education at an ABA-Accredited law school,” cementing the college’s status as the “law school of last resort.”
Legal blog Above the Law excoriated Cooley for these dismal statistics, citing Frakt’s research to name Cooley the absolute worst on their list of the “Worst Laws School in the Country.”
This may explain how Cohen has found himself entangled in some of his more ridiculous legal theories, such as the time he defended Trump against an allegation by his ex-wife Ivanka Trump by claiming there was no such thing as marital rape. There absolutely is, and there definitely was a law making such act a crime in New York when the incident between the Trumps allegedly occurred. Cohen’s penchant for the bombastic and theatrical aside, you won’t see the intellectual heavyweights of the legal world insisting that there is “very clear case law” when that is simply not true.
Compounding the woes of Cooley’s students is how utterly, insanely expensive it is. Current estimates for tuition, fees, books, and living expenses are around $70,000 per year at Cooley’s various campuses. Tuition alone is over $53,000 annually, about $10,000 less than Harvard — but if you graduate from Harvard, well, you’ve got a Harvard degree and your employment opportunities will be looking very different.
Very different indeed.
Cooley alumni have historically struggled to pass state bar exams, the final gatekeeping mechanism before one can legally practice law, with only about half earning passing scores each year.
Even for those who do pass their bar exam, law firms show little enthusiasm for hiring them. Less than thirty percent of Cooley grads find full-time, non-temporary work as attorneys within nine months of graduation.
“What is going on at these law schools?” wrote Staci Zaresky at Above the Law. “What depths will these law schools sink to in order to keep their doors open? How many law students will incur hundreds of thousands of dollars of nondischargeable debt in order to fill these law schools’ coffers?”
Falling into nearly a quarter of a million dollars worth of debt, with only a 50-50 chance of passing the bar exam, and dismal employment prospects. If that’s not predatory admissions practices, I don’t know what is. The ABA has taken some small, but crucial steps in cracking down, successfully defending litigation filed by Cooley that sought to keep the school’s noncompliance with ABA standards a secret from applicants. Still, the school remains open, admitting a staggeringly large class of 458 last year, the third largest in the country.
Now, Cohen has appeared to succeed beyond the reach of most of his fellow Cooley alumni, due to his willingness to ingratiate himself to the president and to serve as the combative consigliere to aid Trump in his various schemes and shenanigans. The payoff to Stormy Daniels is but one in a series of alleged payments of hush money facilitated by Cohen, and he has been known to scream obscenity-laced tirades threatening litigation and other retribution at reporters writing critical stories about Trump.
Hmm. Charging an exorbitant amount of money to deliver educational instruction of questionable quality and unlikely to deliver promised results? Rewarding hucksterism and thuggery over experience and results? Where have we heard that before?
Perhaps Cohen is the perfect attorney for Trump after all.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.