Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Barry Currier’s job title. This version has been corrected.
A growing group of law school deans are pressing the American Bar Association’s accrediting agency to require law schools to make public the LSAT scores and undergraduate grade-point averages of transfer students.
At issue is what many legal educators say is an effort by some schools to keep the data hidden in order to inflate their credentials for rankings purposes.
Because U.S. News and World Report’s law school rankings look at the median LSAT scores of first-year students, but not the LSAT scores of transfer students — which are typically lower — critics contend the practice allows the schools to game the system.
The ABA’s accrediting council has yet to officially vote on the proposal, but at a March 14 meeting, members indicated they did not think the LSAT scores and undergraduate GPA of transfer students is “relevant consumer information” that needs to be disclosed, said Barry Currier, managing director of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. The section’s governing council approves or rejects changes in accreditation standards.
Council members reached that conclusion despite a recommendation from another ABA group that makes recommendations about law school accreditation questionnaires that schools should publish the data.
The council may revisit the issue in the summer, Currier said.
Law schools have long disclosed how many transfer students they admit every year, per an ABA accreditation standard. But they do not have to disclose much detail about those students, even though they are required to collect the information.
At the meeting, the council did accept a recommendation that schools should start disclosing the first-year law school grade-point average of their transfer students, which schools the transfer students came from and how many came from each school.
A generation ago, it was relatively rare for students to transfer from one law school to another. But now many schools try to recruit students away from other schools — in some cases calling or writing letters to students they declined admission to for their first-year class. The practice usually involves a student making the jump as a second-year student to a higher-ranked school.
In the Washington area, the law schools with the most transfer students in 2013 were Georgetown (122 transfer students in, seven transfers out); George Washington (93 transfers in, 22 transfers out); and American (68 transfers in, 89 transfers out).
Other area schools saw less transfer activity: George Mason (12 transfers in; 11 transfers out); Catholic (eight transfers in, 23 transfers out); Howard (five transfers in, four transfers out); and the University of the District of Columbia (five transfers in, 12 transfers out).
“We continue to believe that if law schools are decreasing the size of the entering class for the purposes of improving LSAT scores and GPA, and then increasing the number of the second -year transfer students to compensate for lost income, that is a poor academic practice that is damaging to the student experience,” said Franki Fitterer, a spokesperson for American’s Washington College of Law. “To the extent that our law school takes transfer students, we do so only to replace those who have left.”
Dan Polsby, the dean of George Mason Law, said that although he loses students to other schools, he is not against the idea of a student wanting to transfer to a higher-ranked school.
“Some of my brother and sister deans hate the idea of transfers and think they should be discouraged,” he said. “I have the exact opposite view. It isn’t crazy to want to transfer from George Mason to George Washington ... People try to do better for themselves if they can.”
“I’m a businessman,” he continued. “It’s a world in which sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you.”
Gregory Maggs, the interim dean at George Washington, said GW selects transfer applicants based on their prior law school performance because the best indicator of how well a student will do in law school is how well they have already performed in law school.
“Our records show that students who transfer into GW Law on average do as well as or better than their classmates in terms of class rank at graduation, bar passage and employment,” Maggs said in a statement. “The students we accept by transfer make great contributions to the law school, and we are delighted to welcome them to our campus.”