April 07, 2006
On Poaching & Transfer Law Students
Posted by Christine Hurt

Arrow Gordon's post below on the ethics of poaching law professors from schools hit by disaster, specifically Tulane Law School, reminded me of a quandary I've been ruminating about for a few months.  Does anyone out there have a policy of not writing letters of recommendation for students seeking transfers to higher ranking law schools?  I do not, but I have heard strong arguments from people I admire that they have begun refusing writing these letters of recommendation.  Here's the scenario, which I'm sure fits many schools out there and which is merely Variation #1 of many similar scenarios.

You teach at Private Law School in Your State.  Your law school is lower ranked and more expensive than the University of Your State down the road.  However, you believe in your institution and know that your students receive a quality legal education.  You are committed to raising awareness about the quality of education at Private Law School.  But, each year a number of students that do well in their first year courses seek to transfer to the University of Your State and ask you to aid and abet them in this endeavor by writing letters of recommendation.  These students did not gain admission as first years to State U., but usually are awarded admission as transfer students.  Transferring allows these students to lower their overall law school cost and to reap the benefits of more buyers at the career services office at State U.  You do not like the idea that some of the best of the students at PLS transfer out, do not help placement statistics, do not add to the vibrancy of the institution, and do not become successful alumni.  So, on principle, you begin refusing to help students transfer to State U.

So, I guess this scenario raises two questions.  Do you as a law professor feel an obligation either to write the letter or not to write the letter?  (Assume that you do believe that the student will excel at either school.)  Second, do you feel that the Dean of State U. has an obligation to restrict transfers from PLS?

I tend to side with the student here.  The student will be reaping both short-term (tuition) and long-term benefits from transferring that may be greater than PLS would reap by the student staying.  I'm also not sure I believe that the student owes a duty to PLS for taking the student in the first place.  I guess I think the best answer to this problem is for PLS to compete with State U. for the transfer student by offering scholarships to its top students to stay.  My understanding is that the biggest scholarships of most schools go to students coming in for recruitment purposes, not to students after first-year for retention purposes (or rewarding purposes).  I also think that a "gentlemen's agreement" between Deans to limit the number of transfer students would be wrong.  (Antitrust experts?)  Anyway, I wrote such a letter for a student last summer, and she is now at Northwestern.

I'd like to hear what others think!

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