For many law students, the path to Biglaw riches looks something like this:

Step 1: Get into cheap law school.
Step 2: ???
Step 3: Profit.

A lot of kids fill in “Step 2″ with the idea of trading up to a “better” law school after a successful 1L year. Now that finals have wrapped up at most law schools (and the law schools still conducting finals are generally places nobody wants to transfer from), many students will set their sights on the goal of transferring out of their current law school.

Of course, just because students want to transfer doesn’t mean they can. And unfortunately many students will find that their current law school actively tries to make it difficult for kids to get out and into a better law school.

Is your school cock-blocking you from scoring a better legal education?

When it comes to transferring, grades are the key. And so when schools hold back or delay official transcripts or class rankings, they (intentionally or not) hurt the chances of their high-performing students who are trying to get a better deal. One tipster points out that his school is constructively blocking transfers by delaying grade reports:

I am a 1L who just finished his first year at top of his class (as of the first semester grades). I go to a very small law school (outside Top 100 in 2010 rankings)…

We just received an email which said that Spring grades will not be released until June 30, 2010 for non-graduating students. The graduating students will have grade reports by the end of the week. The deadline for the majority of schools for transfer applications is 6/30 or 7/1. Thus, our transcripts won’t even be released to us online until the deadlines, let alone the time it would take to get the transcripts and letters of good standing out to LSAC and then to the schools…

The school has a policy that professors have 1 month from the date of the last exam to turn in their grades. That would be June 7. I can’t imagine that it takes an additional 3 weeks to put them in the computer…

Is this a common practice amongst lower ranked schools to keep their best students?

Granted, this student could just put in an application anyway and update it once grades are finalized. But without knowing your grades, it’s really hard to know what your transfer options are. This tipster’s school is providing a subtle disincentive to students who want to transfer. It’s a hurdle that can be overcome, but it’s pretty clear the law school isn’t being at all helpful to its students who want out.

It’s not common for schools to delay grades so long as to be past the transfer deadline at better law schools. But there are certainly schools that use all sorts of tricks to keep their highest-performing students from jumping ship.

Last year, we ran a post about the policy at Loyola – Los Angeles that prevents students with open transfer applications from participating in OCI. I suggested that students who don’t yet know the outcome of their transfer applications should be allowed to participate in OCI at Loyola over the summer. At the time, Loyola Dean Victor Gold suggested that the policy would be tweaked in some way.

Well, here we are, over a year later, and a tipster emailed this concern into Above the Law:

In your item from a year ago about the Loyola OCI restrictions on transfer applicants, Dean Gold is quoted saying, “We are working on some changes to the policy this year…”.

I’m just finishing my 1L year, and think it might be worth my time to spin the transfer wheel. I’ve scoured the LLS site and my student handbook, and find no mention of the policy, neither as articulated last year nor as updated.

I don’t want to inquire and risk punitive or retaliatory action.

That’s wonderful, because you really want your top-performing students to fear retaliatory action for asking a simple question.

Look, it’s obviously a tough situation for lower-ranked law schools. They want to keep as many tuition dollars as possible, and they don’t want their best students — who have the best chance of landing Biglaw jobs, clerkships, etc. — leaving for better opportunities. But it’s wrong for these schools to openly or subtly discourage students from taking advantage of the transfer market, especially when these schools can’t guarantee that their best students will have access to the best jobs available.

You can’t keep a wonderful law student trapped in a mediocre law school. If you love something, set it free; if it returns, it’s yours forever; if not, it was never meant to be.

Earlier: Loyola OCI Follow-Up


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