Student leader is one of WMU Cooley Law School's first grads



By Cynthia Price
Legal News

Jon Tomaso started his legal education at Thomas M. Cooley Law School, but when he graduated on Sept. 21, it was from Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.

Shortly before his class’s graduation, Cooley made the affiliation official. Incoming first year students were notified right before classes started, and Tomaso and classmates were the first to be WMU-Cooley graduates.

“I’m kind of excited with the new Western Michigan partnership. I think it can possibly open some new doors,” Tomaso commented. “It seems like it will be an advantage to Cooley in terms of WMU being a research university, and to Western by adding a law school to their graduate studies.”

Tomaso’s opinion about the affiliation is echoed by WMU President John M. Dunn and WMU-Cooley Law School Dean Don LeDuc in a video which can be viewed at http://

“In Broncoland,” says Dunn, “we always like to say it’s a great day to be a Bronco, and this is really  a great day to be a Bronco — not only for the U but for the students who will benefit from the opportunities this presents.”

Both officers say that it took a long time to forge the relationship — three years, according to LeDuc.

“I have to join in what President Dunn says about it being a great day to be a Bronco, because this is actually the first day I’ve ever been one,” LeDuc says happily.

Kicking off the affiliation was contingent on approval by both the American Bar Association and the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association. All four?Michigan Cooley campuses have received approval to change their names to Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School, but the Tampa Bay campus is awaiting approval by a local body in Florida.

One of the interesting aspects of the affiliation is that there really are not a lot of changes entailed. Each school retains a separate structure, and Cooley is still an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit.

The new status builds on a lengthy relationship between the two schools that has existed since at least 2002. At various times since then, the two schools have undertaken projects that brought them closer together.

These include three joint  degree programs: J.D./Master of Public Administration, J.D./Master of Busi-ness Administration, and J.D./Master of Social Work.

There will also be joint coordination of WMU’s Center for the Study of Ethics in Society, based on Cooley’s Professionalism Program.

Grand Rapids Campus Associate Dean Nelson Miller has been appointed as the faculty liaison to WMU, in which position he works with Professor Mark Hurwitz of WMU, who is on the political science faculty.

The two are focusing on faculty-collaboration proposals, which are still under consideration. “They include everything from possible new law-related graduate degrees, undergraduate majors and minors, and certificate programs, to sharing materials and resources on ethics, entrepreneurship, compliance, business, taxation, and several other fields,” Miller says.

“For me, the most exciting part is the inter-disciplinary nature of each faculty proposal. Law informs and strengthens other fields even as other fields strengthen law, producing better-prepared graduates of both law school and university.”  

Miller says that he has been impressed with the depth and breadth of the WMU faculty members in terms of what they bring to the table.

This plays well into Cooley’s existing strengths. Tomaso, who went to Western Michigan University for his bachelor’s degree, says, “Cooley has  just been a great experience. I really liked Western, but when I was in undergrad I?didn’t talk to professors much one-on-one. Here, people are always willing to answer questions, answer your emails. All the professors I had were great, and I can’t say I had a single bad experience. And people like Dean Miller, who gave me a lot of guidance, and Dean Brame are always helpful and receptive and helping you put your best foot forward.”

And when Tomaso’s best foot was forward, he did things like participate in four internships, chair the school’s Sports and Entertainment Law Society, and receive the Student Leader-

ship Award Achievement Award.

About the last, Tomaso comments, “I was — I don’t want to stay surprised, but  it was certainly cool to get it. It’s voted on by the students at a big meeting in Lansing. Organizational leaders from every campus have their groups qualify through a point system, and then every representative who’s qualified is voted on by the others. There are five different campuses, so I didn’t think I?had a chance. But it was really a neat experience.”

It was as a representative of the Sports and Entertainment Law Society that he received the honor. Tomaso was involved with that society the entire time he was at Cooley, chairing it for one term. “I love sports, in my undergraduate years I coached wrestling and football in Schoolcraft. I met some really good people there,” he says.

The group, with Tomaso at the helm, held a fund-raiser for Special Olympics Area 2, Bowl Your Heart Out, that pulled in the largest dollar amount in the event’s history.

 He also served as a volunteer jury member for the Hillman Advocacy Program, and served as an exam proctor for Cooley first-year students.

As far as the ever-valuable internships, Tomaso worked with Judge Jay Quist, with the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office for two terms, and with Mark Haslem of Mark F. Haslem PC. He found all of the experiences rewarding, and for Tomaso it is still a toss-up as to whether he most wants to pursue criminal law, on either the prosecution or defense side, or family law as Haslem practices.

While working with Haslem, he had the opportunity to participate in mediation, and, he says, he was able to get a lot of courtroom experience through the prosecutor’s office. He does not rule out opening a solo practice, at least down the line, but hopes to get some experience first. “I’ve observed there are a lot of mistakes you can make, and I don’t want to hurt someone’s future because I’m inexperienced,” he says. 

One thing that is not in doubt is that Tomaso, originally from Illinois, wants to stay in West Michigan. For one reason, he has met someone from the Traverse City area he intends to marry. But another reason is the experience he gained through Cooley, including both internships and classroom teaching. “I really enjoyed our classes here because the professors had practiced in the area they taught.”

The affiliation with Western Michigan University should take that to the next level. Through the agreement, which lasts for ten years unless the president of either school terminates it with three years’ notice, the institutions “intend to develop the nation's most comprehensive integration of law and other disciplines,” according to a prepared statement.

Comments Nelson Miller, “A major research university is both a precious commodity and special community.  I have frankly been humbled by the commitment and expertise of every WMU faculty member and administrator with whom I have met so far.  WMU Cooley has joined one extraordinary institution, from which students will benefit greatly.”