When Should Law Students Transfer Schools?
Getting through the first year of law school is tough, getting through with good grades is even tougher. The good news is that good grades may open doors from schools that previously rejected you. Depending on your career goals, transferring might be in the cards for you.
The dirty secret – transferring is not that tough
When law students transfer, statistics (LSAT, GPA) do not count for the all-mighty US News and World Report rankings. That means if law students finished in the top 30% of their first-year class, they have a shot at transferring somewhere. Schools can now pick transfer students that perhaps have more interesting backgrounds, and can now ignore your sub-par LSAT, or mediocre undergrad GPA. Take it from someone that did it—it is very doable.
What is your career plan?
I just wrote about why going to a lower-ranked school may ultimately benefit your career. Depending on what type of law you want to practice, and where you want to practice, you might want to stay put.
For example, if you want to practice where you currently attend school, you should probably stay there. Transferring to a more prestigious east coast or west coast school might not have a drastic impact on your career.
Do you want to work at a huge firm that only hires for top 20 schools? Maybe you should transfer. Do you want to become a professor someday? Most people will tell you that you should go to highest ranked school and do law review. If the new school offers classes in a specialized area of law that you want to practice, that can be a big plus.
Will it cost more?
Again, think about what you want to do as a lawyer. You might have an awesome scholarship at a smaller school, and come out with little debt. Transferring to one of the big boys might pad your resume, but they probably will not offer you a scholarship.
Is it the right decision for you?
Conventional wisdom is that you should go to the best law school possible, no matter what. Ignore that. Go read my post on lower-ranked schools. Talk to professors and other lawyers in the area. Do you need a “more prestigious” degree to do what you want?
If you are a rockstar at your “unknown” school, think twice before leaving. You will be a little fish in the sea at your new school. The competition will be tougher. Your grades will probably be wiped clean (ok, that is a good thing). You are too late to apply for a journal or law review. You have to make new connections with professors. Your 1L support group is gone. Take it from someone who went through it—it can be tough.
It can also be very rewarding. You will push yourself harder and learn more. A higher-ranked school can certainly open more doors for you, depending on what you want do. You may have access to better resources—professors, facilities, etc. If you make the most of those resources, you can open more doors for yourself. Those additional options, however, should only matter if they are attractive options.
If you already know what you want to do, and your current school will get you there with lower debt, think hard before jumping tracks.