Northwestern U. Law School's Transfer Policy Draws Criticism

December 31, 2008

Northwestern University Law School is offering some rejected applicants a chance to transfer in their second year — an apparently increasingly common practice at top law schools that is raising eyebrows in legal-education circles, The ABA Journal reports.

Some educators have accused law schools like Northwestern’s of poaching their best students, or of using the transfer offer to maintain high rankings in U.S. News & World Report. Northwestern’s law dean, David Van Zandt, doesn’t dispute the poaching charge, which he says is “probably true.”

But strong students who excel at another law school in their first year “should be entitled to transfer, and there’s no harm in us facilitating that,” he says. “Chrysler and General Motors don’t agree not to poach each other’s customers.”

Critics say the transfer practice allows law schools to accept students with lower grades and Law School Admission Test scores without suffering a hit in their rankings. U.S. News counts the scores of only new first-year students, not transfers.

David Logan, dean of the Roger Williams University School of Law, says transfer students are being used as “cash cows” by the elite schools that recruit them after the first year, but Mr. Van Zandt dismisses that argument as “patronizing.”

The ABA Journal initially reported that Northwestern offers about 150 of its 5,000 rejected applicants the chance to reapply for “conditional acceptance” the following year. In order to be admitted at that point, they would have to achieve an unspecified grade-point average or class rank during their first year at another law school. The journal said the law school later clarified that only 15 to 25 students receive such offers.

Northwestern accepted 43 transfers during the 2006-7 academic year, the journal reports. Other top-ranked law schools accepting many transfers include Georgetown University, with 93 transfers; New York University, with 38; and the University of California at Los Angeles, with 31. —Katherine Mangan