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For law students whose hopes were dashed when they didn’t get into their school of first choice, the rankings game has created the opportunity for a second chance. Transfers among students who have completed their first year of law school have become a popular way for would-be lawyers to cut their teeth at one school and finish their education at a more prestigious institution. But some observers fear that the practice is leaving lower-tiered schools stripped of top performers and is compromising the programs at the schools that receive the transfers. “It’s a scandal,” said William Henderson, an associate professor at University of Indiana School of Law-Bloomington. With U.S. News & World Report rankings based largely on data pertaining to first-year classes, second-year transfers allow top law schools to limit first-year admissions to the most academically elite and then to bulk up second- and third-year class sizes-and tuition revenue-with transfer students. At the same time, the practice enables students who have proven themselves at other law schools to attend their dream schools based on their first-year performance rather than on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and undergraduate grades. The grade-point average and the LSAT scores of first-year students account for about 22% of a school’s ranking, but transfers are based largely on grades earned during the first year. As the popularity of the rankings has grown among people seeking law degrees, law schools have reduced the size of their first-year classes by admitting those with the highest undergraduate grades and LSAT scores, said Henderson, whose scholarship focuses on legal education and the profession. Neither the American Bar Association nor the Law School Admission Council publishes first-year student transfer information. But Henderson said that first-year classes that are dramatically lower or higher than a third of a law school’s overall juris doctor enrollment indicate lots of transfers. He added that schools ranked in the top 15 or so likely receive the most applications for transfers. Moreover, Henderson’s research shows that a 10% decline in the number of first-year students is associated with a 0.37% gain in a law school’s reported median LSAT score. With more transfers, schools that fall below the top 15 often lose their best students-the ones who made law review or won moot court-after two semesters. Henderson said that the result breaks up the continuity of a student’s education. “We’re disrupting these relationships,” he said. Others see transfers as a way to even out admission systems that are unduly influenced by attempts to improve rankings. “It’s a way for students who didn’t have the grades or the LSAT scores to go to a place that they want,” said David Zaring, an assistant professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law. One concern about transfers is that they can alienate students, since most law school friendships are formed among students who go through their first year together. Another concern is that law professors teaching second-year classes cannot make assumptions about the knowledge base of students who transfer to their schools. But Zaring said that it is rare for a law school to dictate what a professor should cover in any given course. Even students at the same school, but in different sections, won’t necessarily cover exactly the same material. “It’s up to the professor,” he said. Zaring added that that transfer students generally are solid learners who end up performing well at their second school. Blogs weigh in Several law student and law professor blogs recently have addressed the transfer topic. In April, www.theconglomerate.org, for example, included more than a dozen entries from law professors mulling the ethical implications of writing letters of recommendation for students who want to transfer. Wrote one blogger: “Until law schools focus more on retention than on recruitment, I don’t see how faculty can refuse to facilitate transfers by students who are simply trying to leverage their grades to alleviate debt.” Another blogger suggested that law schools should “make their scholarship offers refundable upon transfer to another school.” The blogger went on to say, “If a student gets a $30,000 scholarship for 1L year, they have to pay that money back upon transferring.”

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