Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Blog

Virginia Cairns: Graduates understand exactly what is meant by Cooley's rigorous curriculum and standards

My name is Virginia (Susie) Cairns. I graduated from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School in 1982 as a member of the Brooke Class. Some time ago I was reading some offputting remarks about TMC as it relates to a graduate from the law school at that time. I do not recall him from my days at Cooley, but I do know TMC.

susie_cairnsWMU-Cooley Law School was exemplary then, and still is, a fine law school that provided me and all Cooley alumni an outstanding legal education. We all made it through Cooley's rigorous curriculum and professional standards. If you are a graduate, you know exactly what I mean. 

That got me thinking about a letter I received from one of my professors back when I was a law student. That letter made a positive impact on me from that day forward.

I started rummaging through old files to track it down, and I found it! The letter was dated January 7, 1980. It was written by Mr. John Cross, who was my professor for Criminal Law. His letter to me speaks for itself. His words to me in that letter, as well as his class lectures, shaped my ideals about the rule of law and, more than anything else, what it means to be a lawyer.

I have been a practicing attorney in criminal law for 35 years, both as a retained lawyer and as a public defender. Professor Cross, through his teachings, has been with me every day, with every client, court-appointed or otherwise. His reverence for the law as well as his compassion for those charged with crimes has been a guiding light in my career path for all these years.

It was because of his inspiration that I won the coveted John W. Cummiskey Award for pro bono service in 1992 from the State Bar of Michigan. Professor Cross represents what TMC meant to me then and now. 

Professor Cross

Here is the letter, dated 1/7/80:

Dear 'Susan' Cairns,

Your kind and thoughtful note caught me at just the right time. In my first year as a professor I learned that there are up and down periods. For me the down periods were when I perceived that the job was not getting done. I was in such a period when your note arrived, to bring me up.

I happily accept the challenge of being your Guidance Counselor. To that end, my initial advice is do not get into the mistake of disliking any part of the law. Some of your studies will be more interesting (Crim Law) than others (Property); but as a student of the law and our legal system, learn to (as best you can) enjoy all of your studies. The law and lawyers are society's way of resolving people problems, which is your challenge for the future.

Thanks for your note!

Professor Cross


Professor Dorean Koenig was another inspirational TMC professor. I was always excited for her class. She taught Criminal Procedure and I loved hearing about the various U.S. Constitution amendments and their history. She always took the time to call me to answer my questions, no matter how long the conversation. She was as excited about my interest as I was about her lectures. Now how wonderful is that? Where would you find that kind of personal exchange today? 

Prof-1Learning writing skills was a priority at Cooley, and the TMC full-time Research & Writing profs were outstanding. They made sure you knew how to write and why it was so important. I know the faculty supported us 100 percent. Even 10 years after you have graduated! Imagine my surprise when I received a very nice note dated January 27, 1992, from Professor Otto Stockmeyer congratulating me on an article I had published in the January 1992 issue of Michigan Bar Journal! 

Writing is critical, but I believe the the most important legal skill is to be an articulate communicator. Professor John Rooney (Irish to the core) taught our first-year Property Law class all about fine verbal distinctions. To be articulate in arguments, whether oral or written, is critical. That is, refraining from the use of shortcuts, such as ‘not mitigated’ instead of ‘unmitigated’, with an emphasis on NOT. He taught us to avoid abbreviations such as ‘isn’t.’ Instead he suggests you should use both words — ‘is not’ — for greater emphasis.

Professor Rooney was big on using the past tense, past perfect, and the subjunctive tenses. Fine verbal distinctions. They were crucial, not only for the proverbial Blackacre of Property Law, but also for oral, "no-time-to prepare" closing arguments in murder trials; for guideline objections at sentencing hearings, and for written and oral sentencing memorandums in federal criminal cases when your goal is to dissuade the judge from trumping the minimum sentence against your client.

Professor Rooney was right. And his teachings remain another TMC hallmark. 

 Submit Your Testimonial  Read More: Alumni Testimonials

August 29