What was your initial reaction when you learned that you were being sued?
Did you ever think that you might be sued as a result?
Absolutely not. Initially I was almost certain it was a Cooley defender attempting to play
a prank on me. My blog seemed to attract mostly bitter Cooley students angry
about anyone speaking ill of their school despite not being able to identify
anything false or inaccurate in my blog post. However, when I went on the
Internet to find Cooley proudly and prominently displaying news of their
lawsuits on their website I was just kind of shocked.
My website was confined to numerous links for the factual material and I added some
of my personal experiences, opinions, and a fair amount of biting commentary. I
did not ever contemplate that my blog would be the subject of a lawsuit, or that
anything contained in it would be alleged to be “defamatory”.
I found it interesting that Cooley’s same PR team decided to leave out the
breaking news of it being sued later the same summer (August 2011) in a class
action lawsuit for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and deceptive business
practices for $250,000,000 by Cooley grads.
Why did you start the Cooley scam blog to begin with? What did you hope
I decided to create the Thomas M. Cooley Law School Scam blog after Cooley issued
a press release this past February 2011 claiming they were the the second best law school
in the United States of America (out of 193 ranked law schools), right after Harvard,
according to “objective criteria” and a seemingly impartial ranking system called
“Judging the Law Schools.”
I dug a bit deeper and found a few flaws within their very own ranking system:
For example, the ranking system EQUALLY WEIGHTS traditional indicators of a law
schools performance, namely, its mediocre employment rate (#181st),
student faculty ratio (#190), and first-time bar passage rate
(#160th) with less traditional and measures less indicative of
success that impact one’s decision to attend a law school which includes but is
not limited to the availability of library chairs at the institutions four
campus libraries (#2), total faculty (#2), and total law school enrolment
(#1). Furthermore, their entire ranking system consisting of 40 indicators has
10 indicators -25% of the entire ranking- solely devoted to library size factors.
Cooley clearly uses its self-published rankings as a shameless marketing tool where
any large institution with four campuses (which is virtually unheard of for a
law school) would be inclined to score better comparatively. I was motivated by
their intellectually dishonest rankings and manipulative, shameless, and
deceptive marketing campaign to recruit students which I believe is extremely
misleading and may potentially be interpreted by some prospective students as a
legitimate alternative ranking system to other more credible rankings, such as
the US News.
I also felt that Cooley’s press releases served as little more than propaganda and
distorted the bitter reality that Cooley is more well-known as a degree mill,
and a school of last resort which has one of the worst reputations and one of
the most dubious distinctions in the legal community. The Cooley brand is well
known for the irreparable stigma it carries, and with the filing of these SLAPP
suits as a reckless abuse of the legal system it is unlikely that their
reputation as a legal institution can fall much lower.
It is with this sense of duty I created my blog site so that prospective students
would be able to access the information that Cooley does not publish on their
website so that prospective students can make more INFORMED DECISIONS prior to
deciding what is likely to be their biggest financial commitment in their
lives. The blog was to serve a strong “Buyer Beware”message to students
considering Cooley as an option for law school.
My underlying concerns were that ambitious students leverage their entire futures
to attend law schools including their financial stability in the pursuit of a
‘higher education’. The value of these life-altering decisions is extremely
questionable in the lower-tiered schools. The decision to attend law school can
affect one’s entire life, including their ability to buy homes, get married,
and start families. A J.D. is one of the most grossly overpriced products on
the American market. I personally believe students should be able to make
informed decisions and have access to information and biting critiques
rearding the prudency of a law school investment given the state of the
current legal job market. Especially when incurring hundreds of thousands of
NON-DISCHARGEABLE DEBT. I felt that if I could even influence one
person’s decision whether or not to attend law school or whether to attend Cooley
then my time and effort in developing my site would be worthwhile.
People have a right to access information- if Cooley can launch their marketing
propaganda non-stop and parade around proclaiming themselves as the 2nd best law
school in the country then why can I not provide a hard hitting critique and
assessment of the value of a Cooley degree and their unethical, misleading, and
deceptive business practices?
Why did you decide to fight the suit, rather than submit to the initial
demands that Cooley was making?
To me there was never really a choice in the first place. If they were to e-mail me
prior to filing the lawsuit or identify anything they considered to be
defamatory I would have gladly removed the material if I agreed. If they
threatened legal action, I would have complied despite my personal disagreement
with their allegations. No one enjoys a lawsuit, and given that I do not have
the time, or financial resources to defend my rights I would have reluctantly
acquiesced and deleted the site.
Here they never contacted me at all until the day after they filed and publicized the
lawsuit. I immediately offered to delete the website if they would drop the
lawsuit, allowing me to carry on with my life and 3L studies at my new law
school. They seemed less interested in me deleting the website or removing
anything that was potentially “defamatory” than they were in my identity. They
declined my offer and demanded my identity immediately, stating that if I gave
it to them right away they would “consider” a non-monetary settlement. I
perceived the communication as somewhat hostile, strategic, and a bullying
tactic, so I decided to “lawyer-up”. After I retained an attorney, my attorney
also communicated that I would be willing to delete the website; instead their
lawyers refused and remained insistent on knowing who I am without putting
anything concrete on the table.
They have claimed that your blog includes defamatory statements. What is
your response to that charge?
There is nothing defamatory in my blog post. In fact, if you view the Complaint itself
you will see that they have pieced together different parts of my blog, taken
things out of context, manipulated my statements, and filled in a lot of their
own words in order to put forth a facially non-frivolous lawsuit. The claims are
really weak. They allege thatI refer to them as a “multi-million dollar business”, well first
I don’t quite understand how being called a business is defamatory. Second, by means of
their second charge in their complaint they concede they are a business by alleging I
have intentionally interfered with BUSINESS relations. Third, their own 2009
IRS Form 990 which is open to public inspection proves they are a multi-million
dollar business with gross receipts totaling $271,139,283. Do you see how
profitable it is to be a law school? It seems Cooley has literally attempted to
piece together a claim by attempting to plant non-defamatory factual statements
I made and intersperse it with my opinion and their self-created statements
distorting and intentionally manipulating certain things in my blog post in
order to file a claim against me.
In my opinion, holding yourself out to the general public and prospective students
as the second best law school in the country especially when your bar passage
rates are in the bottom 25% of schools after taking into account that they fail
out over 25% of the weaker students in their entering classes which inflates
their bar passage rates to begin with, and that the Cooley employment rate is
one of the worst in the country is providing false and misleading information in
order to attract and retain consumers.
Clearly, Cooley is trying to police the internet. Cooley seems angry over my critique of
their school and calling them out for their questionable practices and seems
intent on harassing me with lawsuits. If I proclaimed to the world that I was
the second best at anything in America I would expect that I would be inviting
a fair amount of criticism in my direction unless I had formally been honored
with a silver medal in that category. Cooley is a public figure; they hold
themselves out to the public as the biggest law school in America, and as the
second best legal institution- is this any way to deal with some of your
I am guilty of nothing more than identifying the institutional hypocrisy evident
in Cooley’s business practices which involve millions of federally backed
student loan dollars using publicly available information which includes data
from the ABA, the US News, the Cooley website, and other sources which are all
referenced within the original blog post.
This appears to be little more than a textbook SLAPP suit which is intended to
intimidate free speech and amounts to a severe abuse of the legal system and
legal process. This leads me to believe that Cooley does not in fact truly
believe in the very first amendment it teaches. Any prospective student should
be wary of such a hypocritical school. Cooley then proceeds to openly boast
about integrity and ethics at the core of its institution of higher learning. In
my opinion, Cooley is likely the most unethical law school business in
existence, lacking any sense of institutional integrity
How concerned are you about being unmasked at this point? What are your
biggest concerns about having your named revealed?
I am pretty sure I am doing the right thing here. These lawsuits have been
universally derided in the legal community and have angered human rights
organizations and first amendment lawyers across the country. Public Citizen has
already intervened as Amicus delivering a strong message that under the
balancing test put forth under the Dendrite Rule the balance sharply tips in
favor of non-disclosure of my identity given how weak Cooley’s claims are,
stating that Cooley has not proved anything is defamatory or that they can
prevail on their claims.
I’m sure that no one would like to be publicly identified with a lawsuit due to the
stigma associated with it. Now this is a civil case, but in criminal cases I am
sure everyone is aware of the bias when one hears that an individual has been
charged of a crime. There is an immediate presumption towards a defendants
culpability that comes to mind despite the ideal that a defendant is innocent
until proven guilty.
I have had a lot of people reach out to me and offer me support. I’d like to think
I am fighting the good fight. If my name does get revealed I just hope that the
majority of people are able or willing to dig and read between the lines (as so
few are) and see this for what it is- a frivolous lawsuit filed to harass a
critic, which is the definition of a SLAPP suit. When they do a bit of research
and realize that what I’m saying is the truth, I would hope that they too voice
their outrage over Cooley and perhaps down the line there will be more scrutiny
of Cooley by Consumer Protection agencies or the ABA.
How has the suit impacted your life?
As a 3L law student who works 20 hours a week, attends classes full-time, and is
working toward another professional designation simultaneously while preparing
to write the bar exam in the upcoming months this has all been a bit
overwhelming. Many 3L students do not budget in the time commitments, effort, or
emotional investment required in being harassed by lawsuits into their normal
work load. Thankfully my attorney has been sympathetic to my financial
situation; otherwise I would be facing additional crushing financial burdens
that are some of the additional intended goals of such SLAPP
I can’t say I enjoy squaring off against a law school with a seemingly endless
supply of financial resources, artillery of lawyers, and a full PR team. I’m
sure that no one would enjoy fighting Goliath as a tiny David. As I mentioned I
have several personal and professional commitments which remain my priorities
and so the lawsuit remains a hassle. I preferred life without lawsuits, but if
this lawsuit can in any way increase the spotlight on Cooley’s questionable and
unethical business practices, help reform law school reporting in general, or
inform potential Cooley students of the bigger picture surrounding the Cooley
Law School proposition on a larger platform, I would feel that something good
has come of all this.
Do you regret starting the blog?
Not at all. I truly believe that I was performing a public service.
In what world does it make any financial or economic sense to invest $150,000+ and
three years of your life into a Cooley degree which (generously) lists their
entering private sector salary at $51,000 and an employment rate that ranks
181/193 other law schools in the country? Keep in mind that these figures do not
take into account the actual response rate of graduating classes, whether the
employment reported requires a J.D., and that generally unemployed or
underemployed individuals will be less likely to report unemployment or
Law school is now a billion dollar industry with loose reporting standards in dire
need of reform in terms of greater transparency in reporting. Student loan debt
has now surpassed revolving debt (mostly credit cards) in the United States of
America. Given the financial dollar amounts at stake I would go as far as to
suggest that there needs to be SEC-type regulation of law school reporting.
Surely there would be an outrage if financial statements by publicly traded
companies were fudged. What about law school individual investors who invest
hundreds of thousands of federally backed loan funds into these law schools? I
personally believe Cooley is one of the biggest
There lies a deep humanitarian crisis in the corporatization of law schools. It is
completely unethical for law schools (again, specifically Cooley as the biggest
offender) to continue getting richer off of indentured students using federally
backed student loan dollars who have done nothing wrong besides pursuing higher
education in hopes of achieving their ambitions and goals and leading a
rewarding, fulfilling, and financially secure life with little regard to the
employment prospects or future financial well-being of your
The average starting salary for entering attorneys has deteriorated markedly each
year since the recession due to a poor job market and the continuing oversupply
of attorneys. Some numbers estimate the average salary for a starting attorney
position is now around $70,000- keep in mind that outliers from HYS may
still command those lucrative $160,000/year salaries that television shows
glamorize and can significantly distort the average. Despite the poor outlook
for law school graduates the ABA continues to accredit new schools each year and
institutions such as Cooley continue to increase enrolment, expand their
operations, and increase tuition each year despite a contracting job market.
Further, much of the legal job market has been restructured to a temporary and
part-time legal job market. I recall NALP statistics pegging the number of JD graduates
in 2009 around 44,000 for a total of 27,500 jobs requiring a JD, further, the 27,500 jobs are not
necessarily attorney positions (simply JD required) and do not take into account
temporary or part-time legal employment.
Furthermore, clarity and transparency into Cooley’s PR propaganda is of public concern.
Providing clarity and transparency into what Cooley projects in attracting the
largest student body in America is very critical for law school consumers and
on a larger scale society in general given the oversaturation of the legal job
market and impending “bubble burst” with respect to higher education, which is
strongly driven by law schools. Law schools are deceiving students, but are also
abusing taxpayers through taking advantage of federally backed funds that many
law school graduates may not be able to afford to repay. In the end, society
will be hurt the most. I felt certain things needed to be said in the interests
of society’s welfare and felt morally and ethically obligated to take a stand.
It is with this sense of moral duty and altruistic ideals I created my blog
site. However, by being inspired and taking the initiative to voice my concerns
I have become the target of Cooley’s abuse.
There are a lot of people who have anonymous blogs that are critical of
law schools. Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for them?
My advice would be to responsibly continue in what you believe in and advocate for
change. There needs to be freedom of information. The whole idea behind lawsuits
of this nature is to intimidate, frighten, and silence free speech. It is a
SLAPP-Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. It is by its very nature
designed to silence criticism and free speech and discouraging public
participation by instilling fear of being sued and the burdens associated with
it. The whole goal is to crush the opposition no matter what the underlying
merits of the suit. They will harass you, intimidate you, and burden you in any
way, shape, or form. It may be emotionally, mentally, and financially taxing. I
am presently a victim of such a suit, and let me tell you, it is not an
experience I would recommend to others.
However, I do believe that very few law schools, if any, would engage in such an abuse of
the legal system. Many reputable organizations would find it better to simply
ignore and dismiss any criticisms from a blogger. Indeed litigating these
matters is a very questionable tactic. It also has the unintended effect of
inviting more publicity onto what was considered “defamatory” in the first
place, which is known as the Striesand Effect, which I’m hoping in light of new
developments will be renamed to the Cooley Effect in honor of Cooley’s
Law schools are currently getting sued all over the country- there is merit to what the
anonymous bloggers are saying. Schools are beginning to be reprimanded (lightly)
after determining that they have fudged numbers in the past, the US News has announced
tighter reporting requirements from law schools beginning next year due to the continuing
pressure and criticisms. But Cooley is the ONLY law school that has gone out
and pre-emptively sued its critics….it is also the only law school with five
campuses spanning two states…it is also the only law school that issues
inherently flawed press releases claiming the legal profession has strong
employment rates and remains a good investment….all this while having one of the
worst employment and bar passage rates amongst law schools and by the same
breath declaring itself the second best law school in the country (next to
Harvard)…catch my drift?
My ultimate advice is to do your research, exercise your right to free speech,
continue being critical on matters of public concern, and remember that
consumers have a right to access information. In other words: rock on.