A Strategic Plan for 21st Century Legal Education


The Thomas M. Cooley Law School focuses on legal education skills and practice unlike any other in the country. This focus on practice preparation ensures the School will remain committed and responsive to the changes facing the School and legal profession. Cooley strives to be expansive and innovative in its use of resources and technology. It will lead by delivering knowledge critical to future practitioners. The School will enhance its human and financial capital and organizational structure to maintain focus.

Read the document that outlines Cooley's Strategic Plan initiatives:
2009 Strategic Plan (pdf)


Measuring Institutional Effectiveness

Strategic plans are most effective when there are consequent actions to measure whether the institution is meeting its objectives and effecting improvements.

Addressing Institutional Effectiveness

Assessment efforts at Cooley are lead by the Associate Dean of Planning, Programs and Assessment, in consultation with the faculty Teaching, Learning and Assessing Committee. Assessment is conducted according to an Assessment Plan (pdf) adopted by the faculty in 2003.

The Rationale

In a 2002 article in the Journal of the Association of Legal Writing Directors, Professor Gregory S. Munro of the University of Montana School of Law asked how law schools knew if they were achieving their student and institutional goals. The solution is to engage in multiple assessment activities, according to the author. Munro offers this definition:

"Assessment is the means by which a law school measures its effectiveness in meeting its mission and in achieving its student and institutional outcomes. An "assessment program" consists of an established and coordinated system for determining success in meeting mission and outcomes. A comprehensive assessment program includes both institutional assessment and student assessment."

Thomas M. Cooley Law School's definition builds on Munro's by introducing the goal of institutional improvement as a logical outgrowth of measurement:

"In whatever activities we find ourselves engaged (as teachers, secretaries, administrators, librarians, operations staff, etc.), we accomplish the goals, outcomes and purposes of that role. We need to ascertain how we are doing …so that we can improve what we do, stop doing activities that don't further our goals, outcomes, and purposes, and identify new areas of activity that will further them."

The rationale for measuring outcomes flows from these definitions: Law schools need to know how successful they are across multiple dimensions so that they can manage change and improve. Although bar exam passage rates are the obvious and important measure of student outcomes, they are insufficient. Law schools need to know much more about the degree to which they are imparting affective, as well as cognitive, skills to students, for example. They also need to know how they are perceived by their alumni, the courts, law firms and numerous other constituencies. They need to know how effective their internal processes (academic advising, admissions, student services, placement, etc.) are. They need to be prepared for visits by accrediting bodies that rely heavily on these data as indicators of planned change and persistent attention to institutional improvement.

Measures of institutional effectiveness often emanate from strategic planning processes. In 2002, Cooley Law School’s board of directors adopted a strategic plan that specifies the school’s ambitious mission, vision and strategic initiatives. Comprehensive assessment is incorporated in the strategic plan as a tool for enabling Cooley Law School to measure its progress toward becoming "the best law school in the country at preparing its graduates for the practice of law." Clearly, Cooley’s assessment plan will be incomplete until it can begin to address that strategic objective.

But the mandates of an accrediting agency or the existence of a strategic plan are also insufficient reasons for engaging in institutional effectiveness efforts. Put simply, assessment is inherently the right thing to do. The influential 1992 guide, Legal Education and Professional Development — an Educational Continuum, identifies four fundamental values of the legal profession. The fourth lifelong obligation of all lawyers is to engage in the acquisition of new knowledge and skills that will ultimately benefit their clients. They do this through an ongoing process of critical self-reflection about the state of their current performance and what is needed to enhance it or prevent future mistakes. The guide, known informally as the "McCrate Report," emphasizes how important it is for professional self-development to be carried out in a "reflective, organized and systematic manner" (p 220).

Just as lawyers are obligated to learn, grow and improve throughout their careers, Cooley Law School is strongly committed to modeling that kind of critical introspection and improvement at the institutional level. Just as the client is the beneficiary of a lawyer’s commitment to professional development, Cooley students are the primary beneficiaries of institutional efforts at self improvement. We accomplish this through an organized and systematic assessment of the School’s performance across a number of dimensions.

"Thomas M. Cooley Assessment Plan," 2003 (pdf)

Examples of Effectiveness Measures in Legal Education

At Cooley Law School, the foundation for an institutional effectiveness program is implied in the school’s three areas of concern: knowledge, skills, and ethics. A comprehensive Cooley plan should examine achievements, strengths and needed improvements in each of these three core competencies.

The following examples indicate the breadth of institutional effectiveness indicators that can be applied in law schools:

Student measures:

Institutional measures:

The preceding list need not seem daunting; it is only a shopping list of potential effectiveness measures. Furthermore, it should be remembered that many quality measures are already in place at Cooley Law School. The only additional step is to assemble them and relate them, whenever possible, to new outcome measures that remain to be collected and analyzed. Academic assessment should always build on information that is already available. It’s like putting the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together to reveal the whole.

It is not necessary or advisable to address all institutional effectiveness measures simultaneously. A well conceived plan provides for phased, evolutionary introduction that does not place undue hardship on faculty, staff or students.

Web Resources

The following links provide ready information about institutional effectiveness in law schools specifically and in higher education more generally:

Institute for Law School Teaching and Learning

U.K. Centre for Legal Education (an international perspective on quality assurance in legal education)

Alverno College, Wisconsin (a recognized leader in promoting institutional effectiveness)

University of Kentucky (general information about assessment in higher education)

Western Michigan University Assessment Initiative

Print Resources Related to Assessment

Those who are interested in learning more about institutional effectiveness are encouraged to consult the many resources that are available about assessment in higher education. The following books and articles may be helpful:

Legal Education and Professional Development — An Educational Continuum, American Bar Association, Chicago, 1992.

Banta, T. W. & Associates, Building a Scholarship of Assessment, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 2002.

Palomba, C. A., and Banta, T. W., Assessment Essentials: Planning, Implementing and Improving Assessment in Higher Education, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 1999.

Lopez, C. L., "Assessment of Student Learning: Challenges and Strategies," The Journal of Academic Librarianship, November, 2002, p.p. 356-367.

Munro, Gregory S., "How do We Know if We are Achieving our Goals?: Strategies for Assessing the Outcome of Curricular Innovation," Journal of the Association of Legal Writing Directors, 2002, vol. 1, p.p. 229-246.

Maki, P., "Moving from Paperwork to Pedagogy: Channeling Intellectual Curiosity into a Commitment to Assessment," AAHE Bulletin, May, 2002.


We invite your comments, questions and suggestions concerning assessment of student learning at Cooley Law School. Please address your message to: woodann@cooley.edu.

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