“It has been just a sheer delight from a teacher standpoint and from an administrator standpoint. We have a lot going on,” said Lynn Branham, president of the Grand Rapids campus.
“The good news is that we are moving full-speed ahead, and I guess the bad news is that it is tiring — but a good kind of tired.”
The most noticeable change is the construction of a new building and the renovation of an existing one, Branham said. She added that the school plans to open its law library Feb. 1, and to hold its first classes in its new building in May.
However, what Branham finds most exciting is what will be going on academically inside the new building.
One project that is underway, she said, is that Cooley is beginning a search for its new faculty.
Up until now, she added, faculty members from the Lansing campus have lectured before Grand Rapids classes.
She said the school is now entering a new phase and beginning a national search for faculty, which has turned up the first professor for the campus who will start next summer.
“We are just immersed in meeting these fantastic people from all over the place that are interested in teaching at the school,” she told the Business Journal.
“This is just part of the process because we want to provide a high quality education to our students and the people are so important, because we are not just building a law school, we are building a community,” said Branham.
“The people we bring in now will set the tone for the law school for decades to come.”
A second project that Branham said Cooley is working on is a new clinical program, something third-year students are required to complete. And while students have a choice between completing the clinical program in Lansing, Grand Rapids or completing an externship, Branham said creating a multitude of choices — all of which take a practical approach to learning — is what the school is about.
The purpose of the clinical program is both to provide students with a solid educational experience and to benefit the community. Branham said the type of program the Grand Rapids campus is exploring would be interdisciplinary, where Cooley students would work with some Western Michigan University social work and counseling students.
“Typically the students just go do some legal work,” she explained.
“What we would like them to do is see how law really works, which is that it is not just law, it involves other people,” said Branham. “We have a very practical approach so we want to prepare our students to either be practitioners or be ready to hit the ground running when they go out into the real world.”
Currently she said she sees a need for work involving children and families or, alternatively, the need for legal assistance to the homeless.
There are several homeless shelters in the area and Branham said the school needs to explore the extent to which the legal needs of these individuals are being met.
Such work, she said, could take many forms, from helping veterans secure certain benefits to which their military service entitles them, to legal issues dealing with mental health.
Working together, she said, law students and social work students would be able to serve people who otherwise can find no assistance.
Branham said that in addition to developing the clinical program, each semester Cooley Grand Rapids continues to add new classes as it grows. Next term will inaugurate a new course on civil procedure, for example.
She added that in the first two years of law school, students learn the core of law, and during the third year classes are much more elective. Many courses that will be offered as electives will be taught by adjunct professors who, she said, are down in the legal trenches every day working in specialties such as workers’ compensation law.
“It is kind of like what they teach in med school,” she said.
“You want the surgeon who is going to operate on you to have performed surgery before,” she said. “We want our students to recognize the real aspects of law.”
In the scheme of things, Branham said that what she hopes for in the semesters and years to come is that the school will build on what she terms its strong foundation — and not just the one that supports the steel frame of the new building, but on what the school has built as its core mission.
“This will be a place of community, and it is really important to me that students continue to feel valued and that we all understand that this is something that is much bigger than all of us,” said Branham.
“And I think that is what gives us all a sense of fulfillment, that this isn’t about us as individuals. It is really about helping our students and others.”