No 1L students at Cooley's Ann Arbor campus this fall

In what's believed to be a first for any of the nation's law schools, The Thomas M. Cooley Law School has announced it will not enroll first-year students at its Ann Arbor campus this fall.

It also plans to cut faculty and staff because of rising costs and falling enrollment, it said. 

Cooley Law School operates five campuses in Michigan and Florida. According to an earlier National Jurist analysis of enrollment, the law school has been struggling mightily when it comes to attracting students.

The number dropped from 3,931 students in 2010-2011 to 2,334 students in 2013-2014, the single largest drop in raw numbers, the analysis showed. The 40.6 percent drop was second only to the University of La Verne College of Law, which dropped 66.2 percent.

A Cooley Law School official downplayed the drop at the time. “Cooley, like most, if not all law schools has experienced a downturn in applications and enrollment,” said Paul Zelenski, associate dean of Enrollment and Student Services. “Almost four years ago Cooley anticipated this downturn, so the current situation was not a surprise.”

This latest move is a surprise. Cooley Law School gave no indication it would erase a fall class.

The law school announced a number of cost-cutting changes, including layoffs, in a statement on its website, citing rising costs and declining enrollment as culprits. “As with most law schools across the country, Cooley Law School’s enrollment and revenue have continued to decline while health care and legacy costs continue to rise.”

The statement makes no mention of the decision to not have a first-year class at Ann Arbor. Apparently that announcement was made via email to students, according to the website,

A school official told the American Bar Association Journal's website that it had no plans to kill the Ann Arbor campus and that students accepted there can attend another Cooley campus.

Critics of legal education practices aren't surprised, given how Cooley's enrollment has dropped so significantly. But does Cooley's move mean similar actions are on the horizon?

“Law schools with multiple campuses are rare, so there aren’t good parallels,” said Paul Campos, a professor at the University of Colorado Law School and contributor to the blog, Lawyers Guns & Money.

However, many schools remain financially stressed, he noted. “Radical downsizing is happening and will continue to happen at law schools over at least the next couple of years.”