Michigan law school sues American Bar Association

by Liv Swenson

College Reporter

The Thomas Cooley Law School of Lansing, Michigan, has filed a lawsuit against the American Bar Association for delaying the accreditation of their two satellite schools.

Cooley has been working to gain ABA accreditation since the satellite schools opened in June 2002, but has faced delays caused by disagreements on standards. The first hearing is set for April 16.

Cooley’s satellite law schools provide two-year programs available to people who cannot act as full-time students at the main campus. The ABA has an in-depth accreditation process of rules and standards for law schools, which includes changes in programs, like creating satellites.

The suit is based on a disagreement on the interpretation of such standards and rules that apply to changing programs and structure.

“With the lawsuit, we are hoping to involve a neutral party who can clarify the interpretations,” Thomas Cooley Law School President Don DeLuc said.

The school is “seeking an injunction to prevent the ABA, the largest professional organization of the nation’s lawyers, from continuing to stand in the way of these satellite programs that meet the ABA’s own programmatic standards and rules,” according to the school’s press release.

The school’s officials have expressed frustration at the ABA’s accreditation process, which the releases describe as “secretive.”

“The ABA accreditation process should be open, transparent, accountable and fair,” DeLuc said in the release.

It is ABA policy to not discuss lawsuits in litigation, the stage the Cooley complaint is currently in.

According to ABA spokesperson Nancy Slonim, the satellite programs have not received “acquiescence,” the term for accrediting satellite law schools, because of not meeting certain standards concerning program change.

“We don’t comment on things in litigation because it is a confidential process,” Slonim said.

Slonim directed inquiries towards the ABA’s list of standards concerning “major changes in program or structure” and rules concerning “major change in the program of legal education of a provisionally or fully approved law school.” Cooley has been a fully approved law school since 1972.

DeLuc said the standards could be seen in different ways.

“The ABA says ‘this is what it means’ while we interpret it differently,” DeLuc said.

Cooley has created a timeline of complaints and a list of “why this lawsuit is necessary,” including that “the ABA acts in secret and uses secret criteria, which it calls ‘common law,'” and the fact that “the common law is not published and is unavailable to anyone outside the ABA’s accrediting body.”

Cooley also believes the satellite schools have been reviewed by the ABA, and has exceeded the standards and rules.

Despite this, Cooley says in the release that “the ABA’s Council of the Legal Education Section of the Bar and the committee that make recommendations of these new programs to the council have for more than 21 months blocked acquiescence of these new programs.”