Michigan State Bar Membership by Law School

Commentary - third of a series

Don LeDuc, President and Dean | November 11, 2013

Of late, statements have circulated claiming that Cooley is flooding the market with new graduates, driving down employment among Michigan lawyers. An earlier report in this series showed that the premise regarding unemployment was wrong. Michigan employment among lawyers increased during the past three years, with 1,504 more lawyers reported employed in 2013 than in 2010. And unemployment among lawyers fell very slightly, down to 590 from 594.

What about the other half of this allegation—that Cooley is the cause of the unemployment problem because it is "pumping out" too many graduates?

Here is the data for the past three years, showing the active licensed resident members of the bar as reported by the State Bar of Michigan's report entitled Statewide and County Demographics 2013-14:

School

2010

2011

2012

2013

Increase

%

MSU/DCL

5,774

5,832

5,834

5,889

115

2

Cooley

4,871

5,121

5,338

5,615

744

15.3

UDM

4,653

4,697

4,712

4,753

100

2.1

Michigan

3,231

3,212

3,180

3,153

-78

-2.4

Wayne State

7,073

7,090

7,101

7,113

40

0.6

Other

6,989

7,088

7,137

7,270

281

4

Total

32,591

33,040

33,302

33,793

1,202

3.7

Unreported

472

452

435

411

-61

-12.9

Total

33,063

33,492

33,737

34,204

1,141

3.5

Based on net numbers, Cooley clearly has contributed the most to the numerical increase in State Bar membership over the past three years.  The average annual net gain has been 248.  The average increase overall for the past three years was 380.33.

In one sense, this makes perfect sense, since Cooley is the largest law school.  But Michigan, the second largest, shows a loss of 78 members.  How can this be?

First, both Cooley and Michigan enroll significant numbers of non-resident students, and most of the graduates of those two schools enter practice in other states.

Second, Michigan’s other law schools were founded decades before Cooley, which graduated its first students in 1976, just 37 years ago.  And like all new schools across the nation, its early entering classes were quite small. 

Given that the most typical legal career spans something like 35 to 40 years, Cooley graduates are just now reaching the age when retirement and death began to reduce their numbers within the State Bar.  Graduates of the other Michigan law schools and most of the other law schools reached this retirement age long ago, so there are many more of their graduates leaving membership today than is the case among the Cooley graduates.  The aging of Michigan’s bar is discussed in another earlier report in this series.

So, Cooley clearly contributes significantly to the Michigan lawyer population, but its membership total still trails both Wayne State University Law School and Michigan State University College of Law.  In fact, the largest number of lawyers in Michigan graduated from law schools not located in Michigan.

Another way to look at whether Cooley’s share of the membership is disproportionate is to look at the percentages.  Of course, the percentages establish exactly the same thing—Cooley ranks third behind the out-of-state schools, Wayne, and MSU.  And treating the total as six schools, Cooley’s percentage of membership at 16.6% is almost exactly an even share.

School

2010

2011

2012

2013

% +/- 

MSU/DCL

17.70%

17.70%

17.50%

17.40%

-0.3

Cooley

14.90%

15.50%

16.00%

16.60%

1.7

UDM

14.30%

14.20%

14.10%

14.10%

-0.2

Michigan

9.90%

9.70%

9.50%

9.30%

-0.6

Wayne State

21.70%

21.50%

21.30%

21.00%

-0.7

Other

21.40%

21.50%

21.40%

21.50%

0.1

Summary

The data establishes that Cooley's contribution to the lawyer population in Michigan is not out of proportion.  Indeed, two other schools have a greater share and the influx of lawyers educated outside of Michigan is now the biggest contributor to the Michigan bar membership. 

So, the allegation about Cooley flooding the market and causing increased unemployment is doubly refuted—the employment situation is good now and has even improved over the past three years, while the demographics show that other schools, including those outside Michigan, have contributed more graduates to our lawyer population.

And for those still in the negative mode, remember that Cooley now contributes at least 16.6% of the dues paid to the State Bar of Michigan.