In the pipeline

If the profession of law is going to diversify its ranks, it’s going to have to start in the “pipeline” — the period of time when high school, or even junior high school, students are considering what they want to be when they grow up.

That’s where the CLEO Sophomore Summer Institute, which this summer will be offered for the first time in Michigan, is set up to catch young students and prepare them for the academic rigors of law school.

The institute will provide intensive, academic coursework to 25 Michigan undergraduate students at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School’s Auburn Hills campus from June 1 – 30; applications are currently being accepted at and the deadline for submission is April 15.

It’s a perfect fit for Cooley, said , said Cooley Associate Dean John Nussbaumer.

“We graduated more minority students than any other law school in the country except for Georgetown University,” Nussbaumer said, citing data in the ABA Official Guides. “And we graduated more African American law school students than anyone but Howard or Texas Southern universities.”

Why that’s important, he said, is because the profession has not kept pace with other professions, when it comes to attracting lawyers from ethnic minorities.

“As a profession we are way behind other professions, when it comes to diversifying our ranks,” Nussbaumer said. “Doctors are way ahead of us. Accountants are way ahead of us. They’ve found a way and we have not.”

The reason, he said, is that other professions tend to take a more holistic approach when they view students entering their schools.

“But we weigh the LSAT too heavily,” he said.

The impact on the profession is going to be felt at firms’ bottom lines, according to Nussbaumer.

“The business case I would make to change this dynamic is that the U.S. Census Bureau has said that by 2042, the majority of U.S. citizens will be people of color,” he said. “Corporations have said to their legal counsel that they want law firms to look like the people they serve. Firms that diversify are going to be ahead of the curve.”

Then, of course, there is the larger issue — the moral obligation to address the reasons that students of color are shut out of law schools. The result is that they’re also shut out of positions of power, in politics and in business.

“Lawyers are supposed to be the leaders. For beter or worse, our leaders in government and business tend to be lawyers,” Nussbaumer said. “If we can’t solve this probelem within our own ranks, we’ll have a society that is mostly people of color and a legal profession that’s 90 percent white.”

The CLEO  program aims to help disadvantaged groups build the skills and confidence they need to succeed in law school. It will be offered at no cost to the students, as CLEO, Cooley and Oakland University will provide the support needed for the program.

“The Sophomore Summer Institute reflects CLEO’s mission of diversifying the legal profession by expanding legal education opportunities to minority, low-income and disadvantaged groups,” said CLEO Executive Director Cassandra Ogden. “The Program ensures that the legal profession is diversified with underserved populations who, despite scarce resources, have a continued burning desire to overcome any obstacles and attend law school. And, to ultimately become attorneys who ardently work for and impact the social justice system.  We are excited about partnering with Thomas M. Cooley Law School and Oakland University.”

The 22-day program for students completing their sophomore year of undergraduate studies is designed to develop the critical thinking skills necessary to succeed on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and in law school.  Students will participate in classes on logic and critical reasoning through classical philosophy and attend classes taught by Cooley faculty members in the areas of contracts, civil procedure, professional responsibility, legal writing, and appellate advocacy.

The capstone event of the program will be an oral argument conducted by a panel of Michigan Court of Appeals judges, led by Judge Cynthia D. Stephens. The students will review the briefs in the case, write a bench memorandum and orally argue the case themselves before panels of student judges, and then be the special guests of honor at the Court of Appeals argument.

Students in the program will receive a $750 stipend to cover travel expenses and lost income from potential summer employment. Some students may be eligible for two academic credits. Up to 10 of the 25 seats in the program will be available to OU students. Students will have no obligation to apply to or attend Cooley Law School.

CLEO has developed academic programs for disadvantaged students for more than 40 years, helping more than 8,000 low-income and minority students become successful members of the legal profession. This will be the first such program to be offered in Michigan and it has already garnered support from legal community leaders across the state.

“I speak from personal experience when I say that Cooley is genuinely committed to expanding the educational pipeline to the legal profession for these students and others like them,” said Marilyn Kelly, Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, who will be a keynote speaker at the Sophomore Summer Institute along with former ABA President and Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer.

Eighteen former and current State Bar of Michigan presidents have also voiced their support of the CLEO program.

“The State Bar of Michigan has for decades championed fairness and access to all in law school admissions, and supported the development and implementation of law school pipeline initiatives,” said the State Bar Presidents in their letter of support. “The ABA CLEO Sophomore Summer Institute has proven its worth as an effective instrument to help achieve these goals.”

Ten bar associations have formally committed to fund career exploration luncheons throughout the program, including panel presentations from their members.  These bar associations include the Arab American Bar Association, Association of Black Judges of Michigan, Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association, Federal Bar Association, Hispanic Bar Association of Michigan, Macomb County Bar Association, Oakland County Bar Association, D. Augustus Straker Bar Association, the Wolverine Bar Association and the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan.

“At a time when nearly two-thirds of all African American and half of all Hispanic and Mexican American applicants to law school are being totally shut-out from every law school they apply to for admission, programs like this one provide reason for hope that one day the legal profession will reflect the diversity of the clients we serve,” said Nussbaumer. Dean Nussbaumer will be taking a sabbatical this summer to direct the program, with the assistance of Cooley Professor E. Christopher Johnson, Jr., Director of Cooley’s Corporate Law and Finance LL.M. program.

2 thoughts on “In the pipeline

  1. It’s a perfect fit for Cooley, said , said Cooley Associate Dean John Nussbaumer.

    Of course! Where else would an initiative to drive up the number of lawyers in this already overcrowded legal market fit?!

  2. Actually, Law Dog, it won’t be long before we’re facing a shortage of attorneys according to those who study such things. Cooley is an outstanding, innovative school and an extraordinary asset to Lansing, Grand Rapids, Auburn Hills and now Ann Arbor.

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