GW Accused Of Poaching Transfer Students

charles-spencelayh-the-poacher-approximate-original-size-7x9150px-gwulogoGeorge Washington Law School (where I teach) has been accused of “downright predatory” tactics by the Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs in its acceptance of transfer students from American law school. The tension caused by transfers has increased during a period of reduced applications. Not only are schools fighting over a small applicant pool, but transfer students are effectively “off the books” for the purposes of reported GPA and LSAT rankings used by U.S. News and World Report. Thus, schools are more inclined to accept a transfer student in the second year (when scores are not reported) than when they first applied as first-year students.

varonaAssociate Dean Anthony Varona accuses GW of raiding the school to remove its top students. He says that GW enrolled 97 transfer students and more than half came from American University’s Washington College of Law. That represents what Varona calls a “backdoor transfer trick” to increase class size while hiding scores.

Varona certainly has cause to object, though GW is certainly not unique in the increased transfer rate. Georgetown accepted 113 transfer students in 2014 compared to 97 for George Washington. However, the large number of transfers at American clearly represents a disruption for the school. One can understand how such transfers make competing schools feel like farm teams for higher ranked schools. It is also coming at a time of dire economic pressures from some schools, though American is a very strong institution with a top faculty and long history of successful graduates.

I have long been a critic of second-year transfer rates, but not because of the allegation of poaching. It is true that there was a time when the acceptance of top students from a competing law school was viewed as undignified and uncivil. When I went to law school, transfers were only allowed upon a showing of true hardship such as a forced move to another city. This denied successful students from seeking programs that they viewed as more challenging and elevating for them. I have seen many transfer students who had mediocre application scores excel in their first years and become true stars at GW and other schools. They deserve that opportunity.

I do, however, have misgivings over the large numbers of transfer students that we are seeing each year. at various schools. The greatest argument for limiting transfers is not the poaching allegations but the institutional desire to fully train students within a school’s curriculum and culture. With only three years to train a law student, transfer students miss a critical first year of education and enculturation. Indeed, the different emphasis of a school — particularly top schools — is most evident in the first year. Top schools tend to carefully integrate theory and doctrine in the first year while other schools often tend to be strictly doctrinal. Accordingly, I view large numbers of transfer students in the second year as disruptive and dysfunctional not just for the school losing these students but for the school accepting them. In my view, transfer students should be kept to a minimum in the second year to preserve the integrity of the academic program and mission of the school.

Having said that, I do not agree with the poaching criticism. Law schools have become more of a free market in terms of both academic and student talent. There is much greater fluidity in both professors and students moving between law schools. While I would reduce transfer numbers, I have no qualms about allowing gifted students to transfer in the second year. I do not view such transfers as an affront to other schools. GW also loses transfers to some higher ranked schools. These students have every right to seek what they view as a better program after effectively proving themselves in their first year. However, I agree with Dean Varona that these transfers are often used to augment classes despite lower scores and less than remarkable records. If these scores were reported and counted in rankings, I expect the number of transfer acceptances would decline significantly.

Accordingly, I tend to view the high rate of transfers as unhealthy for both schools, but the problem is not poaching but padding. Schools are importing students for tuition revenue when their scores and standing cannot be counted. That undermines the quality of both schools. I am entirely supportive however of allowing top students to transfer to what they view as better schools. The old informal rule had a touch of a cartel quality in locking students into their law schools. In the end, Varona and I likely would end up in the same place for different reasons. For the moment, however, the market is driving this shift in practices. We are likely left with a Coasean reality that the market rather than entitlements will drive these outcomes.

Until then, admissions deans will likely continue to set off as did the Lincolnshire poachers below to snare a student or two for next year’s class.

Source: ABA Journal

23 thoughts on “GW Accused Of Poaching Transfer Students”

  1. Iwas one of the many students that transferred from AU to GW in 2014. I understand Dean Varona’s frustration about losing so many students, but what do they expect. When I was accepted at AU they were ranked #49, that ranking dropped to #56 a month later, and then fell to #72 at the end of my 1L year. AU offers very little scholarship money and poor job placement assistance (compared to what I have experienced at GW). AU likes to say that the ranking are flawed and that student’s shouldn’t care about them, and I agree, but the simple fact is, people and employers do look at the rankings and with $100-200K in school debt on the line why would they expect us to stay on a sinking ship when a top 20 school is willing to accept us?

    People who work at AU or students who didn’t transfer talk a lot about how GW accepted anyone who applied. Even the comments here talk about people with lower GPA that were accepted and how that is a shock. I know all 50 or so students that transferred from AU, some of them may not have had top grades, but every one of them excelled at AU in some way, internships, competition teams, clubs… GW looked at the whole person and made a decision. This all just seems like sour grapes to me.

    I don’t think GW did “Poached” students, could it possibly be considered poaching when the students apply to GW on their own and transferring is a better option in every conceivable way? I am extremely glad I transferred. To be completely honest, I used to hate when people in DC asked what school I went to and now I proudly reply. I was worried about my debt and job prospects and now I have a paid 2L internship with a top firm in DC.

    Dean Varona accused GW of being predatory, I say they gave us a life raft.

  2. When you reward something, you get more of it. The U.S. News rating structure has long rewarded law schools based on the characteristics of their first-year applicants and students. By ignoring much of what happens subsequent to the first year, the U.S. News mechanism lures rational utility maximizers like the bright people in charge of George Washington University Law School into doing precisely what they are doing. If the bright people who run American University and other law schools within the GW locality don’t like seeing many of their best rising 2Ls transfer to GW, we should expect to see them institute countermeasures.

    This game of predator/prey, if you want to call it that, happens throughout the nation, and it affects many law schools. The GW/American example is noteworthy mostly because GW enjoys better than average opportunities to attract rising 2Ls away from other good law schools in the same city. These students would be foolish not to jump at the chance to have the name of a (supposedly) more prestigious law school on their diplomas and transcripts. The leaders at GW know this, and they are doing what good business dictates–maximizing financial gain while preserving (and even enhancing) their competitive edge.

    The greater the number of highly-capable rising 2Ls GW can lure away from its nearby competitors like American, the more money GW will have at its disposal. These good students can be expected to graduate and pass the bar on the first attempt at a very high rate of success. They will be likely to secure acceptable law-degree-mandatory employment soon after graduation. They will burnish the reputation of GW throughout their professional careers. And they will probably become generous alumni who will support GW with their charitable contributions for decades to come. Meanwhile, American suffers a decline in tuition revenue from its 2L and 3L class. The students who don’t transfer are possibly less capable, and may fail to graduate or to pass the bar at higher rates than those who did transfer. The less-capable students who do graduate and pass the bar may have more difficulty finding appropriate jobs, and may be less able to support American as gift-giving alums. Meanwhile, GW’s U.S. News ranking remains high, or even climbs higher, while American’s ranking slips. This only feeds the spiral for further rounds of similar phenomena, into the future.

    It might make us feel a little better if we castigate the leaders at GW for predatory poaching, but figuring out how to make more money, within the constraints of the law, is what almost all people do, regardless of their job or official title. For countless leaders and managers who are responsible for making and adhering to a budget, one of their duties is to generate a surplus of revenue over expense, whether we call that “profit” or any other term. We have created a monster that menaces legal education. We tacitly endorse the U.S. News system, with its myriad defects, and we can’t pretend to be shocked when GW and other law schools behave in their own self-interest within that system. The U.S. News rankings overemphasize selectivity, along with the UGPA and LSAT statistics of the 1L class, while ignoring these measures for the students beyond that point. They also stress questionable and manipulation-prone criteria such as “peer assessment,” “assessment by lawyers/judges,” “faculty resources” and “library resources.” Any law school that can generate more revenue while preserving the appearance of selectivity/high applicant credentials will be rewarded with more money to spend on other aspects of the U.S. News picture.

    Frankly, we need to do more than shame GW for doing what the system encourages it to do. We need to reform the system itself. That, unfortunately, is far more difficult than pointing fingers at law schools that are trying to manage their income and expenses in a responsible manner.

  3. It’s very difficult to trust the vast majority of law professors who talk about the current system of law school in the US. They played a major role in crafting this system and profit tremendously off it.

  4. Too bad it isn’t medical schools, schools of pharmacy, or engineering students poaching law students. If I had it to do over again, I’d buckle down and learn the serious academics (chemistry, physics, biology, etc.) instead of taking the easy way out and doing poli-sci and psych, followed by my JD. There are far too many law graduates and not enough work. Law students, heed the word of someone who practiced for just shy of 16 years and is now cleaning hotel rooms in a foreign country!

  5. Oh well, they’ll just have to learn to deal with it. I was in my third year of Harvard law when I was poached by another institution- Somerville Adult School, where I earned my certificate in pest control. I leveraged my experience at Harvard Law to land some lucrative contracts with law firms, so now I’m bringing in north of 23k. Per year.

  6. Darren, Thanks. And Aridog, that’s how I’ve gotten my comments to post. Refresh and voila, as you said. I’ve not lost any, like those dark days of months ago.

  7. Weird. Last couple of days I have had a post seemingly disappear, after hitting “post comment” tab, but if I subsequently hit the refresh button on my browser, voilà, the post would appear without further dithering. I’ve noticed a couple others say they lost a post to the ether recently…I suggest they try their browser refresh and see what comes back up. No guarantees. 🙁

    That said, Darren’s adjustments and advice usually work, so’ll be trying that as well next time it happens. He, Chuck Stanley, and HappyPappies had me muttering to myself a while back…both got so far over my head I looked around for my dunce cap 🙂

    My PC is on 24/7 and I know if I don’t “re-start” at least monthly, it can get wacky….little booger gets easily confused I guess. Especially true for any of the “free” Adobe stuff …. first step is always to re-start the PC and then see if the gremlins in Adobe Reader or Flash Player return…99% of the time they don’t. I periodically check Adobe on line to see what’s the latest version of their “free” stuff …if an entire version has been updated to a new version, then I delete all prior “free” Adobe stuff from the PC, every bit of it, using CCleaner, and then download and install the new versions. I n-e-v-e-r update Adobe “free” stuff…always goes ca-blamo. Now the paid for Adobe software I use I do not have this problem with…so go figure. They don’t even make me kick up another $200-$400 or so to be able to use the programs I have now. AutoDesk…are you listening? 🙁

  8. My daughter was a visiting student in her third year of law school, from Florida State to UW Madison. She got her diploma from Florida State, so as I understand it, that wouldn’t be considered to be a transfer student. It’s interesting to see what has happened since she graduated in 2006. In those days there were too many law students and it seemed it was very difficult to be accepted as a transfer student or visiting student. My daughter had no problems being accepted to UW Madison’s law school as a visiting student, so I assume her class standing was decent.

  9. I hope GW sends some medicated ointment to American. It sounds like they’ve got quite a bit of hurt and could use it.

  10. I’m having problems w/ wordpress this morning. I’ve been having to post comments twice for them to appear.

    1. Nick,

      With regard to the twice posting issue I had that problem from about a year ago back. It was sporadic. The way that seems to cure that problem is to goto and login there. The button is in the upper right. I don’t know if it fully corrects the problem for everyone, if it is in-fact the workaround, but since I started using that method I haven’t had such an issue.

    2. and one more thing. The method used previously was that I would login at the time of the posting. The first post out the gate manifested the problem.

  11. Typically, you only get one turn at a professional education. Regardless of the desires or objectives of the school, a student has the upper hand irrespective of perspective. Someone going into a profession such as law, architecture, or whatever, wants the Masters Degree, which is typically a working degree that prepares one for a profession, to offer the best in education, insight, and above all connections with like minded students and colleagues. If you have to jump from one school to another, then so be it. If you are seen as valuable enough to be recruited, then so much the better. This is the way of the world.

  12. JT is commendable for the days when poaching was “uncivil.” He may be too young to remember when attorneys didn’t advertise w/ blatant huckstering for “injured” clients. I’m old enough to remember when that was not allowed and was considered unseemly. The genie is out of the bottle. It’s time to thin the herd and start closing some law schools. Lawmakers are mostly attorneys now and they take care of their brothers, making laws to perpetuate the need for attorneys. But, I see that trend coming to a halt. We will see attorneys tending bar and waiting tables. I doubt many will be any good. Working in a restaurant means putting the diner, first. That’s a problem w/ most barristers.

    1. Nick – as attorneys they will be headhunted by other firms, if they are worthwhile. So, they might as well learn that there is no loyalty now than later. What loyalty is their alma mater going to do them later in life? That institution will be asking them for donations the moment they graduate, even though it will be 20 years before their student loans are paid off.

      The student has to look out for what is best for them, not what is best for the school.

  13. Barkindog, while that process is allowed in various places in the United States it is seldom used because of the commitment required of the practicing lawyer responsible for the process and the self-discipline required of the student.

  14. If you want to stop transfers you have to retain your students. Every student you lose is a hole you have to fill.

  15. Humans who wish to be “lawyers” should be able “to read for the law”. That is what Abe Lincoln had to do when he became a lawyer. When one “reads for the law” he/she goes to work for a lawyer, or law firm, as an apprentice. One does research, writing, carries the books, attends hearings, oral arguments, and co-counsels on cases. After three or four years one takes an exam and is scored. If the score is right and six people attest to qualifications then Washington DC has a new lawyer. JT: please tell the class here on the blog how much tuition and books cost at your law school for three years not including summer school?

  16. This reminds me of patient of mine who told me he was a college hockey player for North Dakota in the 60s and got traded to another university in Wisconsin!

    Another patient told me that Minnesota high schools routinely recruit and trade hockey players.

    Now law students.
    You guys need a draft.

  17. Gee, lawyers wrangling, accusing each other of shady tactics, and manipulating the statistics to make themselves look good.

    There’s a reason why so many politicians are lawyers.

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