Paul L. Caron
Dean




Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Organ: The 2021 Law School Transfer Market

This blog posting updates my blog postings over the last several years regarding what we know about the transfer market (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020). With the ABA’s posting of the 2021 Standard 509 Reports, we now have several years of more detailed transfer data from which to glean insights about the transfer market among law schools.

Numbers of Transfers and Percentage of Transfers Decline

As shown in Table 1 below, the number of transfer students received by law schools in 2021 decreased to 1375 (3.6%).  For the last several years, the transfer market has been shrinking, having declined from 5.5% in 2014, to 4.7% in 2016, to 4.0% in 2018, and now 3.6% in 2021.  Aside from a slight bump in 2017, and another bump last year, this drop reflects a continuation of a gradual decline in transfers over the last several years – from more than 2100 to less than 1400 (down one-third) and from 5.5% to 3.6% (also down one-third).

Table 1 – Number of Transfers and Percentage of Transfers from 2014-2021

 

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

Number of Transfers

2187

1979

1749

1797

1494

1294

1612

1375

Previous Year First Year Enrollment

39,800

38,000

37,100

37,100

37,300

38,400

38,500

38,200

%   of Previous First-Year Total

5.5%

5.2%

4.7%

4.8%

4.0%

3.4%

4.2%

3.6%

After an increase in transfers in 2020, we see a decline again in 2021 to 1375 and 3.6% – slightly above where things were in the summer of 2019 but lower than any of the preceding five years.   This may partly be attributable to the larger and stronger first-year applicant pool for fall 2021, which may have enabled some law schools both to grow the size of their first-year class while simultaneously increasing their median LSAT.  With a larger group of first-year students anticipated to be joining the law school this fall, some schools may have dialed back their transfer classes a little bit.  On the other hand, Georgetown remains right where it has been historically in terms of the number of transfers, while Harvard showed its third increase in transfers in as many years, having gone from 32, to 43, to 65, to 71.  This growth may be a function of the smaller first year class Harvard took in 2020 (501 – down from a fairly consistent 560 in the preceding years).  Knowing that it would be welcoming a smaller class in 2020, I suspect Harvard made a conscious decision to welcome more transfers in 2020 and in 2021 to counterbalance the loss of revenue from a smaller first-year class. 

SOME LAW SCHOOLS CONTINUE TO DOMINATE THE TRANSFER MARKET

Table 2 lists the top 15 law schools participating in the transfer market in descending order in Summer 2018 (fall 2017 entering class), Summer 2019 (fall 2018 entering class), Summer 2020 (fall 2019 entering class), and Summer 2021 (fall 2020 entering class).

(Note that in Table 2 and in Table 4, the “repeat players” are bolded – those schools in the top 15 for all four years are in black, those schools in the top 15 for three of the four years are in blue.) Seven of the top 15 for 2021 have been on the list for the largest number of transfers all four years, with two having been on the list for three of the four years (including 2021), and five having been on the list two of the four years (including 2021).  The only newcomer to the list in 2021 is Washburn.)  Notably, three law school that had been regulars in the three previous years did not make the list of the top 15 for 2021 – NYU, Cal Berkeley, and Loyola Marymount. Table 2 also shows that for 2021, the concentration of transfers in the top 15 law schools for transfers declined, dropping from 50% in 2020 to 43% in 2021. 

TABLE 2 -- Largest Law Schools by Number of Transfers from 2018-2021

School

# in 2018

School

# in 2019

School

# in 2020

School

# in 2021

Georgetown

105

Georgetown

105

Georgetown

109

Georgetown

104

NYU

58

GWU

74

Idaho

105

Harvard

71

Arizona State

50

NYU

54

GWU

96

GWU

64

Emory

42

Columbia

44

Harvard

65

Arizona State

43

Cal. Berkeley

36

Harvard

43

NYU

53

Florida State

37

Columbia

35

Loyola-LA

41

Florida

51

Northwestern

34

Loyola-LA

34

Florida

40

Columbia

48

Columbia

31

Northwestern

33

Northwestern

34

Cal. Berkeley

43

George Mason

29

Harvard

32

UCLA

34

UCLA

39

Miami

28

UCLA

31

Chicago

27

Florida State

38

Washburn

28

GWU

31

Hofstra

26

Northwestern

36

Chicago

26

North Dakota

28

UNLV

24

Miami

31

Florida

25

Florida

27

Cal. Berkeley

24

George Mason

30

UCLA

24

Houston

25

Arizona St.

22

Loyola-LA

30

Rutgers

24

Hofstra

24

Rutgers

21

Chicago

28

Houston

23

Total

591

 

613

 

801

 

591

Percentage

40%

 

47%

 

50%

 

43%

As shown in Table 3, if we focus just on the top ten law schools for transfers in, the total is 496 – 36% of all transfers – third highest in the last decade, but down from the last two years when the percentages were 38% and 40%, respectively. 

TABLE 3 – Totals for Top Ten Law Schools for Transfers In as a Percentage of All Transfers for 2012-2021

 

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

Total Transfers

2438

2501

2187

1979

1749

1797

1494

1294

1621

1375

Transfers to 10 Law Schools with Most Transfers

587

724

625

623

583

557

456

496

646

496

Transfers to 10 Law Schools with Most Transfers as % of Total Transfers

24%

29%

29%

32%

33%

31%

31%

38%

40%

36%

In terms of law schools with the highest percentage of transfers in as a percentage of their previous year's first-year class, as shown below in Table 4, only four law schools have been on the list each of the last four years – Chicago, Georgetown, Northwestern and UNLV.  Five law schools have been on the list three times in the last four years – Arizona State, Florida, Florida International, Florida State, and George Washington (including 2021).  There also are four law schools that have been on the list in two of the last four years (including 2021) – Emory, George Mason, Harvard, and Houston. The number of law schools welcoming transfers representing 20% or more of their first-year class has fallen from nine in 2013 (not shown), to six in 2014 (not shown), to four in 2017 (two of which were in excess of 50%), two in 2018, none in 2019, four again in 2020 (with Idaho leading the way at 83%) and now two in 2021.

TABLE 4 -- Largest Law Schools by Transfers as a Percentage of Previous First-Year Class - 2018-2020

School

2018%

School

2019%

School

2020%

School 

2021%

North Dakota

39

Georgetown

18

Idaho

83

Washburn

25

Arizona State

23

Florida

16

Florida

30

Florida State

22

Georgetown

18

UNLV

15

George Mason

22

George Mason

19

Emory

18

Chicago

14

Florida State

20

Arizona State

18

Northwestern

15

Northwestern

14

Georgetown

19

UNLV

18

NYU

14

GWU

13

GWU

19

Georgetown

17

UNLV

13

Loyola-LA

13

Northwestern

15

Harvard

14

Mercer

12

NYU

12

Chicago

14

Chicago

14

Cal-Berkeley

12

UCLA

11

UNLV

14

Northwestern

14

Houston

11

Columbia

11

Columbia

13

Florida Int’l

13

UCLA

11

Hofstra

10

Florida Int’l

13

Vanderbilt

13

Loyola-LA

10

Florida Int’l

10

Cal-Berkeley

13

Florida

12

Florida St.

10

Pepperdine

9

Western State

13

GWU

12

Hofstra

10

Arizona State

8

UCLA

13

Houston

10

Chicago

9.6

Harvard

8

NYU

12

Emory

9

 NATIONAL AND REGIONAL MARKETS –

Starting in December 2014, the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar began collecting and requiring law schools with 12 or more transfers in to report not only the number of students who have transferred in, but also the law schools from which they came (indicating the number from each law school). In addition, the law schools with 12 or more transfers in had to report the 75%, 50% and 25% first-year, law school GPAs of the students who transferred in. This allows one to look at where students are coming from and are going to and to look at the first-year GPA profile of students transferring in to different law schools. 

Table 5 focuses on six of the seven law schools that have been among the top-15 in terms of transfers in for each of the last four years, presented in descending US News rank. (Columbia is excluded here because its list of transfers by school (76) far exceeds the number of transfers in it welcomed (31).)  Table 5 indicates the extent to which these six law schools were attracting transfers from their geographic region and also identifies the law school that provided the largest number of transfers to each listed law school in 2021 as well as the percentage of transfers that came from that school.  Notably, four of these six law schools are on the East Coast (Harvard, Georgetown, George Washington and Florida)(five of seven including Columbia) while one is in the Midwest (Northwestern) and one is in California (UCLA).

TABLE 5 -- Percentage of Transfers from Within Geographic Region 2019-2020-2021 and Top Feeder School(s) for 2021 at the Six Law Schools among the Top-15 for Transfers in 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021

School

Total # of Transfers

19/20/21

Reg.

Regional # of Transfers

19/20/21

Regional % of Transfers

19/20/21

School from Which Largest Number of Transfers Came in 2021

#/% of Transfers from Largest School 2021

Harvard

43/65/71

NE

11/17/19

26/26/27

George Mason

7/10%

Northwestern

34/36/34

MW

23/18/17

68/50/50

DePaul/UIC John Marshall

5/15%

Georgetown

105/109/104

Mid-Atl

51/37/34

49/34/33

American

10/10%

UCLA

34/39/24

CA

22/25/18

65/64/75

UC Hastings/UC Irvine

4/17%

GWU

74/95/64

Mid-Atl

40/48/19

54/51/30

American/Maryland

4/6%

Florida

40/51/25

SE

31/41/19

78/80/76

Stetson

6/24%

For these six law schools, three (Northwestern, UCLA, and Florida) obtained most of their transfers (50% or more) from within the geographic region within which the law school is located during each of the last three years. On the other hand, two law schools (Harvard and Georgetown) had 49% or fewer of their transfers from within the region in which the law school is located in each of the last three years.  George Washington had received more than 50% of its transfers from within the Mid-Atlantic region in 2019 and 2020 but dropped to just 30% from the Mid-Atlantic region in 2021.

Moreover, three of the six law schools had a significant percentage (more than 15%) of their transfers in from one or two particular feeder schools.  For Florida, 24% of its transfers came from Stetson. For UCLA, 17% of its transfers came from UC Hastings and from UC Irvine. For Northwestern, 15% of its transfers came from DePaul and UIC John Marshall.

VARIED QUALITY OF THE TRANSFER POOL

Table 6 below shows the tiers of law schools from which these six largest law schools in the transfer market for each of the last four years received their transfer students.  Four of the six law schools that consistently have high numbers of transfers in (five of seven including Columbia) are ranked in the top 15 in US News, while the other two are ranked in the top 30. Three of the six law schools had 85% or more of their transfers from law schools ranked between 1 and 100 in the US News rankings – Harvard, Georgetown and UCLA (with Harvard and UCLA having 75% or more from top-50 law schools). Two additional schools, George Washington and Northwestern, had between 60% and 70% of their transfers from law schools ranked between 1 and 100.  The remaining law school, Florida, had 76% of its transfer students from law schools ranked 101 or lower. 

TABLE 6 -- Percentage of Transfers from Different Tiers of School(s) for 2019, 2020 and 2021 at the Six Law Schools Among the Top-15 for Transfers in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021

(Bolded data indicates the modal percentage response for each law school.)

 

# of Trans

19/20/21

Top 50

# -- %

19/20/21

51-100

# -- %

19/20/21

101-200

# -- %

19/20/21

Harvard

43/65/71

28/56/59

65/86/83

11/9/12

26/14/17

4/0/0

9/0/0

Northwestern

34/36/34

13/14/13

38/39/38

13/11/8

38/31/24

8/11/13

24/31/38

Georgetown

105/109/104

29/16/51

28/15/49

52/46/37

49/42/36

24/47/16

23/43/15

UCLA

34/39/24

13/19/18

38/49/75

17/19/4

50/49/17

4/1/2

12/2/8

GWU

74/95/64

9/21/17

12/22/27

38/46/27

51/48/42

27/28/20

37/29/31

Florida

40/51/25

2/4/1

5/8/4

3/7/5

8/14/20

35/40/19

88/78/76

Table 7 below highlights the reported GPAs of transfers in for these six law schools.  In looking at Table 7, one quickly sees that of the four law schools ranked in the US News top-15, only one – Harvard -- has a 50th GPA for transfers in 2021 that above 3.9, and a 25th GPA of 3.85 and above. Harvard also is accepting most of its transfers in from top-50 law schools, making it clear that it is accepting transfers in who could have been admitted to Harvard in the first instance.

The other three top-15 law schools – Northwestern, Georgetown and UCLA – are a step below in terms of the credentials of their transfers, with 50th GPAs of between 3.71 and 3.81 (below the 25th GPA for Harvard) and with 25th GPAs of between 3.60 and 3.67. Of this group, only UCLA (75%) is taking most of its transfers from top-50 law schools, so the transfers it is accepting might be people it would have admitted in the first instance.  But for Georgetown and Northwestern, with a majority of their transfers coming from law schools ranked outside the top 50, many of these transfer students may not have had the credentials to be admitted as first-year students.

Once you drop out of the top-15, the other two law schools have a 50th GPA that drops below 3.5, and a 25th GPA that drops below 3.4, with the majority of these transfers coming from law schools ranked 51-100 for George Washington and ranked 101-200 for Florida.  These law schools clearly are welcoming a number of transfer students whose entering credentials almost certainly were sufficiently distinct from each of those law schools’ entering class credentials that the transfer students they are admitting would not have been admitted as first-year students in the prior year.  (That said, the three-year trend generally shows improvement in GPA at all three measures – 75th/50th/25th– for most of these law schools, suggesting that these law schools might be paying more attention to trying to admit more qualified transfer applicants who are very likely to find success at their new law school.)

TABLE 7 -- First-Year Law School 75th/50th/25th GPA of Transfers in 2019, 2020 and 2021 at the Six Law Schools among the Top-15 for Transfers in 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021

School

GPA 75th

GPA 50th

GPA 25th

19/20/21

19/20/21

19/20/21

Harvard

4.02/4.0/4.0

3.95/3.95/3.97

3.89/3.82/3.88

Northwestern

3.76/3.81/3.83

3.63/3.71/3.73

3.48/3.58/3.66

Georgetown

3.77/3.85/3.82

3.67/3.71/3.71

3.56/3.62/3.60

UCLA

3.76/3.66/3.97

3.63/3.59/3.81

3.56/3.47/3.67

GWU

3.41/3.47/3.62

3.23/3.33/3.46

3.11/3.18/3.38

Florida

3.52/3.60/3.69

3.27/3.36/3.49

3.13/3.25/3.27

STILL MANY UNKNOWNS

As I have noted for the last few years, these more detailed transfer data should be very helpful to prospective law students and pre-law advisors, and to current law students who are considering transferring.  These data give them a better idea of what transfer opportunities might be available depending upon where they go to law school (or are presently enrolled as a first-year student).

Even with this more granular data now available, however, there still are a significant number of unknowns relating to transfer students, particularly regarding gender and ethnicity of transfer students and regarding performance of transfers students at their new law school (both academically and in terms of bar passage and employment).  These are questions for which additional research would be warranted.

https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2021/12/organ-the-2021-law-school-transfer-market.html

Jerry Organ, Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink