By David Z. Morris
May 5, 2018

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and an increasingly central figure in investigations of the President, got his legal education at one of the least competitive law schools in America. The school, Michigan’s Thomas M. Cooley Law School, is currently accused by the American Bar Association of exploiting its underqualified students, and Cooley’s founder has laid out extremely disturbing views on race and religion.

Though there is no single official metric that defines America’s “worst law school,” Politico decided that the honor could be reasonably handed to Cooley Law, where Cohen graduated in 1991. The school accepts 85% of its applicants, compared to rates below 50% even for most mid-tier public law schools, recently leading the American Bar Association to threaten the school’s accreditation. Fewer than half of Cooley graduates pass the bar exam on their first try, according to the school’s own reported numbers, compared to around 75% for all U.S. law school graduates.

Those numbers don’t necessarily indict the quality of the education offered by Cooley, or of Cohen’s training in particular. In statements to Politico, school representatives defended low admissions standards as an effort to offer opportunities to disadvantaged students. Minorities make up around 35% of Colley’s student body. One classmate of Cohen’s described the school as “easy to get into but very hard to stay in,” and said Cohen “stood out” for his talent and determination.

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But Cooley’s professed ethos of inclusivity may be cover for a darker agenda. Both the ABA and a law school watchdog speaking to Politico allege Cooley engages in predatory admissions, or intentionally admitting unqualified students simply to collect tuition payments. At its height, Cooley had the largest student body of any law school in America, and annual revenue of $123 million. Though the school is nonprofit, its leaders collect large salaries. That includes Thomas Brennan, the school’s 88-year-old founder, who stepped down as the school’s president in 2002 but continued to receive $329,000 a year as a part-time emeritus professor.

Whatever the motives of Cooley’s current leadership, Brennan seems an unlikely champion of diversity in the U.S. legal profession. Politico highlights recent blog posts by Brennan that it describes as “anti-Islamic, homophobic, and radically insensitive.” Politico found one 2016 post in which Brennan reminisces fondly about racist blackface minstrels, and compares the Broadway musical Hamilton to a minstrel show. Several other posts approvingly discuss Donald Trump, including one supportive of Trump’s proposed border wall.

While Brennan once expressed pride that Cohen graduated from Cooley, the association now seems likely to further harm the school’s already-terrible reputation. It also highlights one of the many contradictions of the Trump administration: Despite his campaign promise to choose “the best people” to serve under him, Trump has chosen cabinet secretaries, department heads, and even federal judges who are among the most uniquely unqualified in modern history.

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