Can't I just start at a shitty law school and then transfer to a better one?

Short answer:  No, not really. The problem is that everybody else has the exact same idea. It's true that the people who finish at the top of their 1L class (the top five percent, let's say) have a chance of transferring up to a better school. But that means the bottom 95 percent don't have a chance. And even though everybody thinks they're going to be in the top five percent, that's obviously impossible.

I think it basically works like this:  Let's say there are 100 1Ls at prestigious School X College of the Law. Out of those 100 people, not all of them are gonna make it. There's one guy who decides after two weeks that law school sucks, so he drops out. (Don't ask me why he was there in the first place, but good on him for quitting early if he hated it.) And there's the girl who does well in her classes, but decides she wants babies instead--so she's gone too. And there's the rich kid who goes insane during the first semester, fails every class, and ends up coming back two years later, after rehab or whatever, as a repeat 1L. That's three empty spots at School X.

School X wants as many tuition dollars as possible, so School X admits three incoming transfer students as 2Ls. Of course there are lots more people who WANT to transfer up than there are available seats, so School X gets to be selective. The students who get chosen tend to be the kids who kicked serious ass at some Lesser Law School.

In my section at Hastings, we lost a few of our stars after the first year. One of them, I think her name was Amy, got the single highest grade in not one but TWO of our three classes during the first semester. The odds of this happening, if all students were equally skilled, is 0.03%--that's three in 10,000. Yep, that girl was GONE after year one. I can't remember where she went, but it was somewhere a lot better than Hastings. She was smarter than we were. One other guy transferred to Berkeley. He was a badass, too.

The point is this: When you walk into your first 1L class, you are going to find yourself sitting alongside a hundred other people who are approximately as smart and as hardworking as you are. Yes, I know you've never gotten less than a 3.5 in your life. Neither have any of the other people next to you. And guess what: Law school has very little homework, and no extra credit. You can't force yourself to get A's like you did in undergrad. At Hastings, all of our 1L classes were graded via a single exam essay at the end of the semester. There was no way to tell how you were doing until the exam, and no way of making up for a bad performance on an early assignment because there were no early graded assignments. Just sit down at the end of the semester for three hours, write an essay about Tort law, wait four weeks, and see what you got. The curve was centered around a B+. Almost everyone got a B or B+ in every class. A-minuses were awesome. B-minuses were common, even for people who had never received a single B-minus as an undergrad.

My own law school grades were almost completely disconnected from how hard I studied. In Contracts, one of the only classes I liked at Hastings, I did all the reading, went to every class, made my own outline, visited the professor at office hours, had a study partner, and even did multiple practice final exams. I was sure I'd get an A. Yep, I got a B (not even a B-plus). In Professional Responsibility, I didn't go to a single class. Nor did I do the assigned reading. Instead, I got the professor's hornbook, took the exam without studying, and got an accidental A.

Long story short, it's very naive to think that you're going to finish at the top of your class and transfer. Everyone is smart, and everyone is going to bust their ass trying to finish at the top. It's possible, but it will take brains, incredibly hard work, and also a lot of luck. If you want to go to Prestigious School X, the best way to get there is 1) crush the LSAT and 2) apply very early in the rolling admissions cycle. Let me know how I can help.