Cooley first in nation for minority graduates

By Debra Talcott

Legal News
 
It’s always an honor to come in first—and Cooley Law School has done just that, outranking every other law school in the country on graduation of minority students.  

The 2009-2013 editions of the ABA Official Guide to Law Schools report a total of 958 minority students earning their J.D. from Cooley during the five-year period covered by the publications, each of which is based on data from the two previous years.  Rounding out the top five schools were Harvard, with 865 graduates; Loyola Marymount, with 784; Georgetown University, with 775; and American University, with 747.

“The two largest racial and ethnic groups that face the greatest discrimination in American legal education today are African-Americans and Hispanics,” says Associate Dean John Nussbaumer, who heads Cooley’s Auburn Hills campus.  “During the first decade of this century, nearly two thirds of all African-American applicants and nearly half of all Hispanic applicants were denied admission to every ABA-approved law school to which they applied, compared to less than one third of all Caucasian applicants.”

Cooley ranks third in African-American graduates, with 439 since 2009, and eighth in Hispanic graduates, with 222 in the same time period.  The Michigan law school also ranks 15th in Asian/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander graduates, with 238¸ and 18th in American Indian/Alaskan Native graduates, with 17.

Only three other law schools in the country keep company with Cooley on the top 20 list in all categories:  American University, George Washington University, and Harvard.

“Of course, graduation does not guarantee entry into the legal profession. To achieve that, graduates must first pass a state bar examination,” says Nussbaumer.  “Two well-documented studies, one by the Law School Admissions Council and one by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, have established that African-Americans face the greatest challenge in passing the bar examination, which is as much a comment on the validity of bar examinations as a barrier to entering the profession as anything else.  But in the five most recent years for which our graduates have had at least two full calendar years to attempt to pass the exam, our African-American graduates have exceeded the ultimate pass rates for African-Americans documented in these studies in every one of those five years.” 
 
As America becomes more diverse, it stands to reason that the legal profession should be representative of the citizenry it will serve.  To that end, Cooley Law School administration and professors are committed to providing an environment that nurtures students from diverse backgrounds and to working in partnership with all students to graduate lawyers with the right skills and integrity to provide legal representation for future clients, according to Nussbaumer.

“Cooley’s mission includes ‘providing broad access to those who seek the opportunity to study law, while requiring those to whom that opportunity is offered to meet Cooley’s rigorous academic standards.’  One major benefit of this part of Cooley’s mission is the extent to which we are helping to diversify the legal profession,” says Nussbaumer.  

Cooley is committed to providing a high-quality, affordable legal education to thousands of students who, otherwise, might not have the opportunity to join the legal profession.

“This is a school-wide accomplishment that involves everyone from our Enrollment and Student Services staff, to our Academic Resources Center, to our faculty and staff at all of our campuses,” says Nussbaumer.
 “And it proves that if access to a legal education and diversifying the profession are part of a law school’s core values, it is possible to make a significant contribution to changing the face of the profession to look more like the increasingly diverse clients we serve.”

Nussbaumer has worked to diversify the legal profession since 2005, when he was invited to join the NBA Law Professors Division. In the ensuing years he has spoken frequently and written extensively on diversity.  He co-authored, with Cooley Professor E. Christopher Johnson, the 2011 paper titled, “The Door to Law School,” which was published as the lead article in the Fall 2011 volume of the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth Law School Roundtable Symposium. That paper challenged conventional thinking and practices surrounding law school admissions policies, and it discussed the negative implications that result from disparity between the legal profession and the population it serves.

Nussbaumer has been a driving force behind the success of three metropolitan Detroit diversity pipeline programs—the Just the Beginning Foundation High School Summer Legal Institute, the ABA Council of Legal Education Opportunity College Pre-Law Summer Institute, and the Wolverine Bar Association Judicial Externship Program.

For his dedication to diversifying the legal profession, Nussbaumer has received the National Bar Association’s 2007 Presidential Award and the ABA Council of Legal Education Opportunity’s 2008 Legacy Justice Academic Achievement Award. He recently completed a three-year term on the ABA Council on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Educational Pipeline.

A speaker series called “The State of Diversity and Inclusion in the Legal Profession” will run from October through December, with presentations in Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.  Speakers will present the latest statistics on diversity, various facets of diversity in the legal profession, and promising strategies, programs, and initiatives that are being tried across the country.
Nussbaumer will be on hand to share information about Cooley’s access to legal education programs and diversity initiatives at the Seattle session on Friday, Oct. 25 and at the Washington, D.C. session on Wednesday, Nov. 13.

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