July 24, 2014

Of Counsel

Thomas M. Cooley Law School Is Courting Florida

The nation’s biggest law school is about to open its first Florida campus.

Art Levy | 11/15/2011

Jeffrey L. Martlew
"We try to be affordable. We try to stay in the bottom 10% to 20% in tuition costs."

— Jeffrey L. Martlew, associate dean,
Thomas M. Cooley Law Schoolt
[Photo: Thomas Gennara]

This summer, Michigan-based Thomas M. Cooley Law School purchased a 130,470-sq.-ft. building in Riverview and announced plans to open a campus by next summer. With more than 3,000 students at its four Michigan campuses, the non-profit Cooley, founded in 1972 by a group of lawyers and judges, is already the nation's biggest law school. Associate dean Jeffrey L. Martlew, a former circuit court chief judge in Michigan, will run the Florida campus, which will start offering night classes first, then regular classes by fall 2012. Eventually, Martlew expects Riverview enrollment to reach 700. Martlew, who got his law degree from Cooley more than 30 years ago, talks about the school and why it chose to expand to Florida:

» On Cooley's mission: "Our philosophy is if you have the basic ability to practice law, you ought to be given the opportunity to do that. We are an inclusive institution, not an exclusive institution. It's not like we let anybody in the door. We don't, but if you have the basic qualifications to matriculate through our program, if you have the ability to pass the Bar exam and be a good, competent lawyer, then we'll give you the opportunity to do that."

» On the curriculum: "Part of our niche is practical legal skills. We put a real focus on skills, knowledge and ethics. We tell our students that when you graduate from Cooley Law School, you'll not only know the law, you'll know how to practice the law."

» On the perceived glut of attorneys: "Do we need more lawyers? The long-term answer to that question is yes. Everyone is hurting right now, so certainly that is having some effect on the legal community, but we view that as a short-term blip. Also, if you look at the statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor, the most recent ones available, the unemployment rate for attorneys in the U.S. is 1.5%. The only professions that have a lower unemployment rate are those in the medical field."

» On choosing Florida to open its fifth campus: "It wasn't like we threw a dart at a map. There were a couple of things that went into it. One is the greater Tampa Bay area has a population of over 4 million people with only one law school (Stetson University in Gulfport). That in itself made it an attractive area because there is a large base of potential law students there. The other main factor is that, aside from the state of Michigan, we draw more students from Florida than any other state. It's the second-largest state behind Michigan in alumni base. We have a lot of contacts in Florida because we routinely send a lot of students down there to intern in law offices or clerk for judges."

» On how students pay: "We try to be affordable. We try to stay in the bottom 10% to 20% in tuition costs. Depending on your undergrad GPA and LSAT score, you can get anywhere from a 25% to a 100% scholarship. Almost 50% of all Cooley students are getting at least some scholarship money." (Cooley's tuition is $30,644 per year, according to U.S. News & World Report's 2011 best law schools list. Stetson's law school tuition is $33,220, according to the magazine.)

» On his move from Lansing to Tampa Bay: "Have you ever spent a winter in Michigan? I've spent 60 of them, and that's enough."

Tags: Politics & Law

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