Ugh. I don’t want to argue that Cooley isn’t a lousy law school, mind you, although I don’t have anything but anecdotal data of the matters, and I certainly don’t want to defend Cohan, whom I fingered as a lousy lawyer way back in 2015. ( What A Surprise: Donald Trump Has An Unethical Lawyer!).
No, this post is about how incompetent journalists are, how they are too frequently devoid of basic reasoning and research skills, and how, particularly when they deal with legal matters, their ignorance is frequently embarrassing while it actively misleads the public.
Politico’s Phillip Shenon, who, not surprisingly, is not a lawyer, figures he can smear three parties via guilt by association with one brush in “Trump’s Lawyer Went to the Worst Law School in America.” But graduates of every law school succeed and fail, and while the law schools like to take credit for them, there is every reason to believe that those grads would have succeeded or failed had they gone to better law schools, or worse ones. One graduate’s misadventures prove absolutely nothing.
Roy Cohn, who served as Senator Joe McCarthy’s chief counsel during the infamous Army–McCarthy hearings and was later disbarred, graduated from Columbia Law School. If he had graduated from Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Shenon no doubt would have thought Cohn’s alma mater was significant, but, of course, it would be a cheap shot at McCarthy and Cohn. If Cohen had gone to Columbia, Shenon could write a piece titled “Trump’s Lawyer Went to the Same Law School As Roy Cohn.”
Bill Lerach, disbarred in the class action law suit scandal involving his law firm, was considered a champion of abused investors and a social justice crusader, until he was exposed and sent to prison. He went to the University of Pittsburgh’s law school. Did that school make him do what he did? If he had gone to Harvard, or Cooley, would he have practiced law any differently?
Let’s look at Richard Nixon’s lawyers. John Erlichmann, send to prison and disbarred, went to Stanford Law School. John Mitchell, also locked up, also disbarred, graduated from Fordham Law. John Dean, who was sent to prison and disbarred, got his law degree at Georgetown. Speaking of Georgetown, Stephen Glass, the disgraced journalist deemed possessed of so wretched character that California declared that he can never be a lawyer and have a chance to screw up like Michael Cohen, attended t Georgetown Law Center, which, as I have written about here, has a law professor who was previously a bank robber. Thomas Cooley Law School never sank that low. Until recently, GULC also had an adjunct ethics prof who turned out to be a meth dealer. That guy, Jack Vitayanon, got his degree at Columbia Law School, just like Roy Cohn. What a coincidence! Or is it….?
As you may know, I also got my law degree at Georgetown, so if I go rogue, you know who to blame. Wait, maybe you don’t. The one to blame will be ME.
Shenon sees great significance in the fact that Cooley has a low bar exam pass rate among its grads.
“The school accepts almost anyone who can pay the $51,000 annual tuition bill—more than 85 percent of its applicants were admitted last year. Fewer than half of its graduates manage to pass a bar exam on their first try; among all law school graduates in the country, about 75 percent pass on their first attempt.”
Two points: First, since the school lets anyone who thinks they can make it through law school try, of course it has a low pass rate, just like state colleges have lower graduate rates. As a group, the student body is not as smart or well-educated as those of more prestigious schools. If the same Cooley students who flunked the bar had gone to Columbia, or Georgetown, they still would have flunked, although they might have flunked out of law school first. That tells us nothing about Michael Cohen. Second, law school doesn’t teach what is on the bar exam. That’s why grads take bar exam prep courses, like I did. My experience was that about 50% or more of the material on the bar exam wasn’t covered in my studies, and also that everything on the exam was covered in the prep course. In other words, I could have passed the bar without three years of law school at all….or if I had graduated from Cooley, like Michael Cohen.
Shenon goes on to further prove he doesn’t know law school from a buggy whip by writing,
“Worse is the fact that so much of Cohen’s basic competence as a lawyer—what he learned back at Cooley—is under scrutiny. That begins with his role in drafting a legal agreement before the 2016 election to pay $130,000 in hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels after she alleged a sexual encounter with Trump.”
Law schools do NOT teach “basic competence as a lawyer.” They don’t teach contract drafting either. Any law grad will tell you, or Shenon, if he had the diligence and competence to ask, that they graduated with virtually no skills in the practical aspects of legal practice at all. A very smart friend of mine, a lawyer and a member in good standing in the local bar, drafted a simple letter of agreement for an organization I ran. It was horrible, but then, he was just a graduate of Georgetown.
One of the most brilliant and admirable lawyers I ever knew didn’t go to law school at all. He “read for the law,” apprenticing with a veteran lawyer, as lawyers used to do in many localities. Now that might have done Michael Cohen some good. On the other hand, if he screwed up, Phillip Shenon would have written an article for Politico headlined, “Trump’s Lawyer Didn’t Go To Law School!”
Yes, Michael Cohen is a lousy lawyer, and probably would have been no matter what law school he graduated from. Thomas M. Cooley Law School may be a lousy law school—I haven’t attended any classes, but then neither have the journalists attacking it—but law schools can only do so much with mediocre students, and the smart, ethical ones will excel no matter where they go to school. I have a strong feeling that if I had gone to Cooley, taking poor notes during lectures, often skipping assignments, and spending much of my time and energy running a law school theater company, I’d be exactly where I am today. I would still have have passed the bar exam on my first try, and would still be a more ethical and competent lawyer than Michael Cohen.
* I just saw Above the Law’s piece about what writer Joe Patrice calls Shenon “deep profile,” which by Above the Law miserable standards is almost fair. The article is incoherent. I learned, though, that a spokesperson for the school also referenced Roy Cohn and Columbia, and Patrice’s rebuttal is “Last I checked, Columbia was still putting out students who pass the bar, something Cooley struggles with these days. That, much more than Roy Cohn’s legendary capacity to be an asshole, is how we judge a school.” Huh? Cooley also puts out students who pass the bar, and Columbia has students who flunk it. And the Politico piece used Cohen to impugn his law school, but Patrice says that it’s unfair to use Cohn to denigrate his law school.
My conclusion: both Patrice and Shenon obviously graduated from terrible journalism schools.