WMU News

Cooley, WMU alliance brings law school to downtown Grand Rapids

Dec. 10, 2002

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- An alliance between the Thomas M. Cooley Law School and Western Michigan University will bring a law school to the downtown Grand Rapids Arena District and give area residents a chance to begin working locally toward earning a law degree as early as May 2003.

The presidents of Cooley Law School and WMU unveiled plans today to open a Cooley branch campus in conjunction with WMU's Graduate Center-Downtown. The four-step process will begin this January, with classes offered to current Cooley students in existing classroom space at WMU's East Beltline campus. Class offerings will be expanded to include new students in May and will be offered at the Graduate Center-Downtown. By September, Cooley programs will move to the law school's own satellite campus--13,600 square feet of space leased from WMU and customized to meet Cooley's needs in a $1.6 million buildout of the Graduate Center's fourth floor.

By 2005, Cooley plans to open a full branch campus in a newly renovated building at 38 Oakes, adjacent to WMU's downtown center, which is located at 200 Ionia Ave., S.W. At that point, Cooley will offer a complete degree program that could lead to the first law degrees being awarded to area residents in 2007.

"For 30 years, students from West Michigan have commuted to Lansing or moved there to attend law school," said Don LeDuc, president of Cooley. "Today, some 700 Cooley graduates-about 7 percent of our alumni-practice law in the Grand Rapids/Kalamazoo area. Legal education is clearly a priority for this community and we intend to fill the need that has long been expressed by members of the Grand Rapids bar."

LeDuc said his school's Grand Rapids plans have been in the works for more than a year. Since 1986, Cooley has offered occasional elective courses in Grand Rapids for its students, but the area is one with a need for a full degree program and he said he expects the new campus to attract students from across West Michigan.

"The Grand Rapids metropolitan area is one of the most vibrant in the nation and is comparable in population to a number of cities, such as Providence, Memphis and Austin, that are home to thriving law schools," LeDuc noted. "Because the downtown location is so accessible, we expect our new campus to attract students from Kalamazoo and from as far north as Traverse City."

For WMU, the partnership with Cooley is a natural outgrowth of its longtime role of providing the Grand Rapids area with graduate and professional education, says WMU President Elson S. Floyd. The move also builds on a relationship launched by the two schools in Lansing. Students there can earn a joint degree in public administration and the law through Cooley and WMU.

"We've established a dynamic working relationship with Cooley and are working on additional plans to bring joint degree programs to Grand Rapids that will serve the needs of the entire West Michigan area," said Floyd. "We have a deep commitment to the professional and business communities here, and we're delighted that this new development will allow us to enhance our existing graduate offerings and expand opportunities for all of the citizens of this area."

The plans unveiled by LeDuc and Floyd will take place on the following timetable.

In January, Cooley will offer three elective classes for current Cooley students from West Michigan at WMU's East Beltline campus, which is located at 2333 East Beltline, S.E.

In May, Cooley will offer first-semester evening classes at WMU's Graduate Center-Downtown. Applications for admission are now being accepted.

By September, Cooley plans to open its satellite campus at the Graduate Center and will offer first-semester classes in the morning in its fourth-floor space at that facility.

In January 2004, Cooley plans to open the first portions of its own facility at 38 Oakes, in the block north of the Graduate Center, and will admit afternoon and weekend students.

Full renovation of the five-story, 80,000-square-foot Oakes building will be completed when Cooley secures permission from the American Bar Association to operate the new facility as a full branch campus. Cooley already has filed an application with the ABA for permission to offer the first two years of its standard curriculum as a satellite operation in Grand Rapids. That approval is expected to take place in 2003. At that point, Cooley will apply for approval of the campus as a branch of the law school that will offer a complete degree program.

The Cooley branch campus will include the completely renovated Oakes building, the nearby Durfee building, a two-story parking structure and a skywalk connecting the Cooley and WMU buildings. Construction plans call for development of the Cooley space at WMU and renovation of the Oakes building by Rockford Development Co., Rockford Construction Co. and Design Plus, the same three groups responsible for development of the WMU Graduate Center-Downtown. That center opened in fall 2001.

Cooley media contact: Terry Franklin, 517 371-5140, ext. 2916
WMU media contact: Matt Kurz, 269 387-8400, matt.kurz@wmich.edu

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