'Non-elitist' law school to open in Riverview
TAMPA - Among top-flight law schools, rejecting most applicants is considered a badge of honor. But one Michigan-based law school, Thomas M. Cooley Law School, is planning a new campus in Riverview based on a different premise. It boasts of having the nation's biggest enrollment and acknowledges letting in applicants with less-than-stellar Law School Admission Test scores. Cooley Law School isn't trying to be "an elitist East Coast law school," said Jeff Martlew, incoming dean of the Riverview campus. "Part of our strategic plan is to be the nation's largest law school," he said.Cooley Law is a nonprofit school based in Lansing, Mich., with 4,001 students spread out across four Michigan locations. The school announced this week that it will open its fifth location inside an existing 130,000-square-foot building at 9445 Camden Field Parkway in Riverview, just off U.S. 301. It hopes to start offering classes in May. Why Riverview? Martlew said the school was looking for a new location in an area underserved by law schools. The Tampa Bay area's only law school so far is Stetson University College of Law, which has campuses in Gulfport and Tampa. Plus, Cooley Law prides itself on having a big minority enrollment and thought it would find strong demand among Hispanics and African-Americans in the Bay area, Martlew said. The school appears to actively defend its reputation against detractors. Last month, it made news by suing a New York law firm and four anonymous bloggers who it claimed defamed it in Internet postings. One of the postings claimed Cooley Law students default on student loans at a 41 percent rate, a figure the school says is false. Also, the school's founder, Thomas Brennan, has for years taken offense at U.S. News & World Report's law school rankings. Traditionally, the magazine ranked the school low nationally, so Brennan and a colleague created a new ranking with a new methodology. In their own report, called "Judging the Law Schools," Cooley Law finished second only to Harvard University's law school in 2010. The report uses some traditional measures, such as LSAT scores, but also some nontraditional ones, such as total enrollment and minority enrollment. Royal Gardner, interim dean of Stetson Law, said it's hard to say what impact Cooley Law will have in the Bay area. "Having been the only law school in the Tampa Bay area, we've built some very strong ties to the community," Gardner said.
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