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The Law School's Mission & History

The Law School's Mission & History

founded on important guiding principles

Thomas M. Cooley Law School is a private, independent, non-profit, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt law school dedicated to teaching students the knowledge, skills, and ethics needed to succeed in both the law and its practice and to be valuable members of society.  

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Leader in Modern Legal Education

President and Dean James McGrath joined the law school on July 1, 2019 to become only the third president and sixth dean to lead Cooley Law School. 

President and Dean James McGrath


History and Background

Founded in 1972 by Hon. Thomas E. Brennan. and other Lansing-areas lawyers and judges, the school was named for Hon. Thomas McIntyre Cooley, one of the greatest jurists of the 19th century. Since its founding, the Law School has grown from a local law school and later a regional law school into what is now the seventh largest law school in the nation, attracting students from around the world. The Law School was founded in 1972 by a group of lawyers and judges led by then-Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court.

Boasting more than 20,000 graduates working in private law practice, corporations, legislatures and governmental agencies, prosecutor and defender offices, public interest groups, and academia, Cooley offers the nation's most comprehensive accredited, part-time legal education program. A fair and objective admission policy and tough, practical, professional legal education have created an important and distinguishing place for Cooley in American legal education. 

Cooley's Approach to Legal Education

Cooley's legal education curriculum and program are designed to prepare its students for the practice of law through experienced-based teaching of the law and lawyering skills. Students learn to apply legal theory to situations they may encounter as practicing attorneys. As part of our Ethics, Service, and Professionalism Programs, students are also taught the professionalism principles adopted by the Law School community.

Cooley is committed to providing a legal education to people from all walks of life and is proud of its diverse national and international student body where students can feel empowered knowing they were accepted through fair and objective admission policies.

Cooley stands firm in its belief that the study of law should not be an esoteric pursuit and that the practice of law should not be an elitist profession. The School was founded on the premise that an individual's formal knowledge of the law is beneficial to society as a whole and that the strength of a democracy depends upon the ability of people to understand their laws. Toward that end, Cooley is proud of its ability to offer admission to a diverse group of applicants. The Law School enters new students two terms each year, in January and September, and operates on a "rolling admissions" system, which means applications are processed at the time they are received. When all required materials are received by the Admissions Office, a decision is made, and the applicant is informed of his or her admission status.

Cooley's Strategic Plan

The Law School's Strategic Plan guides us in our teaching, research, and service by setting forth our core mission, values, and vision. Click here to see the Law School's Strategic Plan 2021.  Below are the core elements of our plan.

Our Vision

To advance justice and equity by providing broad access to a legal education to diverse individuals who meet that opportunity with a commitment to achieving high standards of professional competency.

Our Mission

We provide a transformative practical legal education, grounded in the science of learning, that prepares and inspires our students to become lifelong learners and agents for positive change in their communities and our profession.

Our Values

Students First

We design and deliver our programs to promote our students’ professional development by creating a collaborative and supportive community that transcends the classroom. We provide effective support from enrollment through entry to the profession so our graduates experience superior outcomes at licensure and in employment. We engage our proud and vibrant alumni community as an integral part of our programs.

Diversity and Inclusion

We create and maintain a welcoming and inclusive culture that respects and celebrates the uniqueness of each individual without regard to their race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, or religious beliefs. We know that meaningful progress requires that we actively nurture a culture of belonging and align our actions with our words.


We know resilience can be learned, is key to success, and is more important than inherent ability. We reject the proposition that prior circumstances define a person and support each individual’s unique identity and learning journey.

Continuous Improvement

We continuously improve by making transparent, evidence-based decisions, learning from our mistakes and investing in the development of our staff and faculty. We know innovation requires risk-taking and commit to discipline for long-term sustainability.

Service and Integrity

We believe attaining a legal education is an opportunity that confers a duty of service and integrity. We strengthen society through leadership, service, and dedication to the rule of law. We emphasize and adhere to the highest standards of professional ethics and service to others.


  1. Increase experiential learning opportunities for our students to serve their communities.
    • Enhance clinical opportunities and create parity across campuses.
    • Increase experiential course enrollment.
    • Strengthen our externship program.
  2. Thread social justice, experiential learning, and service through our programs.
    • Develop and adopt social justice learning outcomes.
    • Increase active learning, including simulation experiences and crosscourse integrated exercises.
    • Intentionally seek and retain diverse candidates in our admissions and in future faculty and staffing hiring.
  3. Become a visible and respected national leader in the development and delivery of modern legal education.
    • Develop internal and external certification programs in teaching for faculty.
    • Increase faculty engagement, presentation and publishing on sciencebased learning and other innovative approaches to legal education.
    • Develop and implement competency-based grading in MBE courses.
    • Increase the use of existing and new technologies that enhance teaching and learning.
  4. Strengthen our financial sustainability.
    • Grow admissions at or above our current profile.
    • Enhance and expand our development efforts.
    • Develop new market-driven degree, certificate, or other legal education programs.
    • Maintain operational discipline to align resources with institutional priorities.
  5. Support our students’ learning journeys from enrollment through licensure and professional success.
    • Advance academic support efforts so every student has the opportunity to develop the knowledge, skills, and values to excel in the profession.
    • Develop lifelong learners by teaching and assessing growth mindset, selfregulation, and resilience.
    • Exceed accreditor compliance for bar passage outcomes.
    • Improve graduate employment and support alumni placement in a changing legal services market.
    • Foster alumni pride in the institution through the support and promotion of their practice and increased contact with current students as mentors, adjuncts, and externship hosts.
  6. Continuously Improve.
    • Enhance methods for consistent collection and review of data.
    • Develop continuous quality improvement processes that advance our programs.
    • Increase faculty and staff professional development.

Cooley's Accreditation and Licensure

Cooley has been accredited by the American Bar Association (321 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60610; Phone: 312-988-5000) since 1975, and by the Higher Learning Commission, a member of the North Central Association (30 North LaSalle Street, Suite 2400, Chicago, Illinois 60602-2504; toll-free telephone number: 800-621-7440; fax: 312-263-0456) since 2001. The Law School is also licensed in Florida by the Commission for Independent Education of the Florida Department of Education (325 West Gaines Street, Suite 1414, Tallahassee, FL 32399-0400; toll-free telephone number (888) 224-6684).  Click here for a fuller description of our accreditation