Cooley celebration brought back fond memories


Tom Kirvan
Legal News, Editor-in-Chief

On the Summer Solstice, WMU-Cooley Law School marked its 50th year since being chartered as a legal institution of higher learning.

The recent celebration at the Lansing campus of the law school, which at one time was the largest of its kind in the nation, brought back a flood of memories from when I attended the 35th anniversary ceremony some 15 years ago.

That event took place at the Auburn Hills campus of Cooley, and featured speeches from then Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Cooley founder Thomas Brennan, former chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. 

Both men, sadly, have long since passed away, Justice Brennan in 2018 at age 89 and Patterson a year later at age 80.

On that day, however, both men were in rare form, delighting an anniversary audience with a series of quips and anecdotal stories about the law and how Cooley came about. 

And yet it was for then Cooley Dean Don LeDuc to tell the real story about Cooley’s founding.

“Tom had an idea – that there should be a law school in the state’s capital city,” LeDuc said that day of Justice Brennan. “He thought it was a good idea, so he tried it. His financial plan was a filing fee and a letter of credit. His marketing plan was an announcement that the school would be starting.

“His risk analysis was that he had risked a lot on other ideas in the past, like getting elected to public office and that he had failed often, but survived and ultimately accomplished that goal,” LeDuc said.

Brennan, said LeDuc, believed so much in Cooley and its future that in 1974, just two years after its founding, he resigned from the state Supreme Court to become the law school’s first full time dean. It was an act of faith that paid off handsomely in the years to come as the school grew to include campuses in Auburn Hills, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, and Tampa, Fla.

When it was time for Justice Brennan to step into the speaker spotlight that day, he proceeded to treat the Cooley audience to a trip back in time as he provided a colorful look at the origins of his law school dream. His talk, in which he offered thought-provoking words on the law’s role in a civilized society and then alternately poked fun at lawyers and doctors, was a listening delight for all in attendance.

“Ours is a profession deeply imbued with the pathos of human life; the laughter, the tears, the conflicts, the hurts, the pain and suffering of physical injuries, and the wrenching of emotional traumas,” Brennan said.

“From the promulgation of Hammurabi’s Code and the Ten Commandments handed down to Moses, to a thousand years of common law decisions, to the inspired words of the American Constitution, the law has been concerned with trying to guide humankind to act according to right reason, to make sense of the often contradictory, puzzling events and forces that buffet people as irresistibly as the hurricanes that swamp our coastal cities,” he said.

For Brennan, who served as chief justice in 1969 and 1970, the ceremony was the first of three at which he would be the keynote speaker. At each event, his message echoed through the Cooley legal community.

“As each Cooley class graduates, you are exporting agents of change for the better; men and women in the sacred traditions of our noble profession who will truly make a difference with their lives,” Brennan said.

“And the good they will do will not be interred with their bones, but will take root in communities across our land and indeed all around the world,” he added.

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