The Thomas M. Cooley Law School could become the Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School in the not-too-distant future.

Leaders from the county’s largest law school and from Western Michigan University—located in Kalamazoo, Mich.—are considering entering into a formal alliance that would bring the two institutions closer together, though the affiliation would fall short of a full merge.

The law school would get a new name but it would maintain separate finances and leadership under the proposal that leaders are considering. Details are still being ironed out, but the alliance could open the door for Cooley law students to take classes at Western Michigan University and utilize its student services, and vice versa, said Associate Dean for External Affairs James Robb. The partnership could also allow faculty to engage in interdisciplinary teaching and research, he said.

Moreover, a formal partnership would increase the footprint of both institutions. Cooley already has four locations in Michigan, and Western Michigan University has eight. First-year law courses could conceivably be taught at one of the university’s campuses, Robb said.

Leaders of the university and the law school have informally been discussing the idea of an alliance for about three years, and in December the boards of both institutions agreed to take some initial steps to further investigate the possibility. Cooley and Western Michigan University officials are reviewing how an alliance would impact accreditation, finances, growth potential and students and faculty. Once that process is complete, a proposal will be put before the boards. That proposal could come as soon as early summer, according to a statement from Western Michigan University. The alliance must also pass muster with a variety of accrediting bodies, including the American Bar Association, which has encouraged standalone law schools to affiliate with research universities.

"Cooley Law School and Western Michigan University share common educational and public service philosophies and have a long history of cooperation," said Cooley President and Dean Don LeDuc. "Students, faculty, staff and alumni of both institutions will benefit from the tremendous opportunities that would arise from this alliance."

The two institutions have collaborated before. Cooley opened a new branch campus in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2002 and used space within Western Michigan University’s Graduate Center before moving to it own facility nearby in 2005. They also offer three duel degree programs together.

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