Profile in Brief: Edward H. Cooper, Civil Society

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

University of Michigan law professor Edward H. Cooper, who graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in economics — and a “near miss” in French Literature — jokes that he got into law because he was too lazy to learn enough math to become an economics professor.

“Opinions differ,” he says. “My wife thinks it was inevitable that I would follow my father’s footsteps into the law.”

Economics’ loss was the legal world’s gain. Cooper went on to earn his LL.B. at Harvard Law School, served as a law clerk to the Hon. Clifford O’Sullivan, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and then practiced in his hometown of Detroit with the subsequently merged and re-merged firm of Beaumont, Smith & Harris.

After five years as an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, he joined the Wolverine law faculty in 1972. He was named the Thomas M. Cooley Professor of Law in 1988.

“I don’t know that any of Cooley’s stature rubs off on me as incumbent of the chair, but I take great satisfaction in the fact that my immediate predecessor in the chair is John Reed, a legendary great member of our faculty who continues to be an inspiring presence,” he says.

Cooper has shared his expertise in civil procedure and federal jurisdiction for more than four decades.

“I will never understand them, so I will never get bored,” he says. “My first teaching job was as an adjunct at Wayne State University. Dean Neef offered me a choice of 11 subjects to teach. I hesitated only a moment — contracts is a wonderful occasion for Socratic teaching — but quickly chose procedure. I’ve never looked back, although I’ve taught a number of other subjects along the way; the longest stint was something like 17 years of antitrust.”

He is the co-author, with the late C.A. Wright and A.R. Miller, of the original, second, and new third editions of “Federal Practice & Procedure: Jurisdiction,” a leading multi-volume treatise on federal jurisdiction and procedure.

“Work on the treatise falls within an old and continuing tradition of academic writing aimed at courts and the practicing bar. It’s calculated to help reach sound answers more efficiently, and at times perhaps to reach better answers than might have been found without its guidance,” he says.

“The first volume of the first edition appeared in 1975.  Procedure and even jurisdiction change and grow just as everything else in the law, so there is no end in sight.” 

From 1991 to 1992, he served as a member of the United States Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and has served as reporter for the committee since 1992. The Advisory Committee, with front-line responsibility for proposing amendments to the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure and adding new rules, reports to the Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure. 

“Adoption of a new or amended rule first must be approved for publication by the Standing Committee,” he explains. “Ordinarily the publication sets a six-month period for written comments by lawyers, judges, and bar groups. Public hearings also are held. Michigan lawyers, and State Bar committees, frequently participate in this process. The insights provided by this process are considered in revising the initial proposal; if extensive changes result, the publication process is repeated.”

If the proposal is pursued further, it goes through approval by the Standing Committee, submission to the Judicial Conference, transmission to the Supreme Court, adoption by the Supreme Court, and transmittal to Congress. The rule takes effect unless stopped by an Act of Congress.

Apart from minor technical changes, the process takes at least three years from beginning to end, and often takes much longer. Proposals for rule changes are generated by the Committee, by suggestions submitted by lawyers or judges, and often by organized bar groups.

“Occasionally the Committee reaches out actively to solicit advice on the need for procedural reform,” Cooper says.  “The most recent example is a conference of some 200 lawyers and judges held at Duke Law School in May, 2010.  The Duke Conference provided insights and suggestions that will shape the Committee agenda for several years to come.”

A member of the Council of the American Law Institute since 1988 Cooper has served as an adviser on several of its projects, including the ALI Federal Judicial Code, International Jurisdiction and Judgments, and Transnational Procedure Projects.

Teaching law students helps to keep him young, he says.

“When I started we were the same age. It has been many years since I first taught a child of one of my earlier students.  I’m looking forward to the uncertain prospect of surviving long enough to teach a former student’s grandchild. That makes me sound old.  But working with them is a continual refresher course in the energy, impatience, and clear insights of the finest young people we have.

“And the University of Michigan is a truly great public university, set in a city small enough to feel like a town and cosmopolitan enough to satisfy the most sophisticated tastes — or at least my less-than-sophisticated tastes.”

Cooper and his wife have two children and three grandchildren. In his spare time, he enjoys cooking, “not-too-violent mysteries, and not-too-demanding travel.”

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