By Andy A. Edited by Lemon Law School
This is the first post in the “Why You Should Transfer” law school series. Both authors in this series were both students who transferred to top-tier law schools. You can read the second post, written by my team member at Lemon Law School here.
It’s no secret that the more highly ranked and prestigious the law school you attend is, the better your chances are of breaking into Big Law or obtaining other prestigious public interest jobs after graduation. But some may wonder whether transferring law schools is actually worth it.
So is transferring law schools worth it? For many first-year law students, transferring to a top law school is worth it. Successful transfer students have much more opportunity to land their dream job, to get involved in a wider range of extracurricular activities unavailable at other schools, to expand their network to include peers from elite law schools that may provide other invaluable career opportunities in the future, and to have more fun in general.
I understand transferring is not for everyone, so I’ll also include reasons against transferring. To round out the pros and cons of transferring, I’ll also relay my personal experiences as a transfer student at NYU Law. Let’s take a look at these in detail to see how transferring can potentially benefit you.
- Pros of transferring law schools
- Cons of transferring law schools
- Final Thoughts
Pros of transferring law schools
1. Better Job Opportunities
Whether your goal is to work at a large firm (BigLaw), to pursue a prestigious clerkship (working for a judge), or to apply for prestigious public interest positions, transferring from a non-top 10 school to a top law school will most certainly open doors for you.
Prestigious large firms actively target students from top law schools at their job fairs (called Early Interview Week or On-Campus Interviews). As you can see in the chart below, the following top law schools have very high proportions of students accepting offers from BigLaw firms. For instance, in 2019, 55.51% of NYU’s students entered Big Law after graduation. Keep in mind that many students at these top law schools have opted to pursue other fields such as public interest and academia.
You can compare this data with BigLaw employment statistics with schools like Brooklyn Law School and University of Houston Law Center with only about 18% and 16% of their students, respectively, going into BigLaw.
I transferred from a decent school ranked 20-30 on U.S. News Rankings (USNWR) to NYU Law. It was still possible to get a BigLaw position at my previous school in a secondary market (e.g., Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Denver), but those positions were only open to students in the top 10-15% of their class. Even if you reached the top 15% of your class, you still faced an uphill battle in interviews because you were competing with students from more highly-ranked schools.
At NYU Law, any student who wanted to pursue BigLaw was given many more interview opportunities from firms in all legal markets, especially primary ones (e.g., New York, California, D.C.). Before Early Interview Week (EIW), NYU Law’s office of career services provided me with a list of over 60 large firms (with distinct office locations). I was to rank them by preference to secure 20-30 interview slots. Very few firms had GPA cut-offs, and if your first-year grades were good enough to get you into a school like NYU as a transfer student, chances are you qualify for most firms.
After NYU ran our preferences through an algorithm, all students participating in EIW received around 20-30 screener interviews over the course of three days at a hotel in Times Square. By the end, many of my classmates, including myself, received anywhere between 6-13 callback interview invitations. Your chances of getting at least one offer from these 6-13 callback interviews are very high.
Compare these results with a non-target law school. At the school from which I transferred, much fewer firms participated in the school’s job fair. Competition is much more stiff because there are fewer offers to go around. Thus, if you want to increase your chances of getting a job in a BigLaw firm, transferring to a top law school can definitely help.
However, I will caveat this by emphasizing that there are certain regional schools that do well in placing their students in secondary markets. This may be true for schools in regions like Seattle, Atlanta, Minnesota, and Colorado. I’ll discuss this point further toward the end of this article.
As for prestigious clerkships, highly ranked schools also have strong clerkship programs and numerous connections to Federal and Supreme Court Judges. Many of my peers from NYU Law are clerking for these judges.
For students interested in public interest, schools like Yale Law, NYU Law, UCLA Law, and Stanford Law have top-ranked, comprehensive public interest law programs. At NYU Law, we had numerous scholarships and the Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) for students interested in public interest, and a summer funding program to award students serving in public interest internships.
The reason why only 55.51% of students at NYU go into BigLaw is that NYU Law attracts many aspiring public interest lawyers (probably constituting most of the remaining 44.49%). Many of my friends have taken on prestigious public interest positions after graduating from NYU Law. As an added benefit, many of these schools have better LRAP programs that can significantly help with student debt.
2. More opportunities to expand your skill set as a future lawyer
Top law schools are well funded and present many opportunities to explore niche fields of law. For instance, if you’re interested in learning more about the technology industry and how startups and social enterprises operate, many top law schools have a student organization focused on exploring social enterprise and startup law. At NYU Law, the Social Enterprise & Startup Law group (SE-SL) organizes an annual all-expenses-paid-fo trip for 12 students to travel to a foreign country to meet with local startups and social enterprises and to explore local culture and food. I can’t speak for all non-top 10 schools, but the law school from which I transferred from didn’t even have a similar school organization or any opportunities to travel abroad.
Also, iTrek Law, an external organization, invites students from top law schools to visit Israel every spring semester. iTrek covers all expenses including your flight, hotel, food, and other activities. I took advantage of this trip to meet with important people in the legal field like a former Israeli Supreme Court Chief Judge and a representative from Knesset (the legislature in Israel). My NYU Law group and I also traveled to the Dead Sea, drove ATVs in the Golan Heights, and so much more. Again, the school I transferred from, while a respectable regional school, did not have this opportunity for me.
Top law schools like NYU also provide funding for students to attend legal conferences in different cities. A few classmates and I took advantage of the funding to attend a legal conference on the West Coast. 75% of our total expenses (e.g., flight, hotel, car rental, Uber) were reimbursed by NYU! These conferences present great opportunities to dive into niche legal fields and to expand your network. I think it goes without saying that my previous law school did not have this opportunity.
There are many other organizations and opportunities at NYU Law and similar top law schools that provide opportunities to fully immerse yourself in a niche field. You can pretty much find any topic of interest within the organizations here (we even had a Cannabis Law group).
Opportunity to Explore Non-Legal Classes
Many top law schools like Yale and NYU allow their students to take certain courses at their respective business schools for credit. I do realize that a small handful of non-top law schools have the same opportunity, but these schools’ business programs are usually not as highly-ranked as schools with top-tier law schools like Berkeley Haas School of Business or Harvard Business School.
If you want to become a BigLaw lawyer in a transactional field, you will want to gain some business sense to provide the most value to your clients. You can take classes like corporate finance, valuation, social enterprises, accounting for lawyers, and more.
I was interested in underwriting and participating in real estate deals in the future (it’s not hard to learn how to do this), so I met the real estate professor at NYU Stern with some questions. He ended up pointing me to his real estate agents and other crucial resources. He also offered to look over my first real estate deal (when the time comes in the future), and to contribute as an investor if the deal was good enough. The craziest opportunities come when you least expect them.
NYU also gave us the option to pursue a JD/MBA degree (only one extra year for the MBA on top of 3 years of law school) at NYU Stern. I didn’t personally enroll in the JD/MBA program, but many of my classmates did. Whether a JD/MBA is worth it for you depends on your current circumstances and your ultimate goals. An author here at Lemon Law School wrote a detailed article about whether a JD/MBA is right for you here.
Keep in mind that not all top law schools allow transfer students to participate in dual-degree programs (e.g., Duke Law doesn’t allow transfer students to enroll in dual-degree programs).
And if you don’t have time in your course schedule to take those classes, one of my friend’s M&A Simulation class professor recommended this resource: a celebrity professor at Stern (Professor Aswath Damodaran, known as the “Dean of Valuation” on Wall Street) has released free, in-depth online business school courses with practice questions on his personal website here.
Yale Law School allows their students to take non-business and non-legal courses (e.g., intro to computer science) at Yale’s other graduate and undergraduate schools for credit as well.
There’s a reason why top law schools are allowing their students to explore these fields. The legal profession is evolving to a state where lawyers need to be knowledgeable about fields outside of the law to provide the most value to their clients. You can keep up or get left behind.
In addition to the opportunities the school itself offers, I believe the location of your law school is an important part of your legal education. Many top law schools are located in or near cities with large, diverse industries. NYU Law occupies a prime location in the center of Manhattan. We border Washington Square Park and have easy access to Brooklyn, Midtown, Central Park, and etc. from a subway station one block from the school (West 4th Street).
But why does this matter?
Your second year and third year at law school can be as busy as you want it to be. Many of my classmates took on career-building activities outside the scope of law school. The major benefit of living in or near a major city is that you have opportunities to further expand your network and even get relevant work experience outside of school.
I had enough time in my schedule to take on a part-time legal internship at a startup in Manhattan. NYU Law was close enough that my commute was only 5-10 minutes via subway. I learned a lot about how startups operate and am applying these lessons learned in a BigLaw firm to help some of my clients in the technology industry. I also learned how to read through and understand certain types of contracts while at that startup.
I was also given an offer to work at a mid-sized SaaS startup partly because I was previously a summer associate at a prestigious law firm in the relevant field (I ended up declining because my schedule was too congested at the time).
Many of my classmates also took on externships and other internships at both legal and non-legal industries. For instance, a friend of mine worked as an analyst intern at a private equity fund next to Central Park. Cities like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco truly have many opportunities for law students to supplement their legal education. I’m sure other large cities may offer similar opportunities.
3. More opportunities to expand your network
At many of the top law schools, no one really knows that you’re a transfer student unless the class sizes are really small (like Yale or Stanford). Regardless, there is pretty much no stigma attached to being a transfer student. Students at these top law schools treat transfer students just like any other student. I ended up making a lot of non-transfer friends in addition to staying close with the other transfer students.
At a school like NYU, your friends will go on to do amazing things in their careers. It is inevitable that you will create a strong network at these schools that may open career opportunities in the future. You can also tap into the alumni network for advice. When I was a student at NYU Law, I cold-emailed an alumnus on the NYU Law Board of Trustees to get some advice on a particular career path. He was enthusiastic about helping me out and immediately set up a date for a phone meeting.
Remember – the legal world is smaller than you think. If you pursue networking seriously without appearing overzealous, the relationships you form during law school may pay off in your future career. We wrote a detailed article about how to approach networking with lawyers here.
4. More opportunities for fun
Not all top law schools are located in the most vibrant places (i.e., Cornell and Duke), but many are. Stanford and Berkeley are in the Bay. NYU and Columbia are located in New York City! How can you beat that? New York is at center stage for tourism. Every trendy, hipster, or luxurious bar or museum is right in our backyard. NYU and Columbia offer free tickets to most museums in NYC, and these schools frequently give broadway tickets away for free or at significant discounts.
I believe the schools in San Francisco, Boston, and D.C. have similar benefits for their law students. Coming from a regional law school in a small college town, NYU really changed my personal life. You should enjoy your time in law school. Once you start work as an attorney, you’ll find it difficult to make time for other aspects of your life.
I want to note that this is more of a fringe benefit – this reason should not be the basis for your decision to transfer law schools. Your reasons should be based on balancing advantages like better employment opportunities with disadvantages detailed below like taking on a substantial financial burden.
Cons of transferring law schools
Of course, transferring law schools is not for everyone. Here are a few reasons why you should not transfer law schools.
1. You attend a strong regional school.
If you are a student at a respectable regional school with a high employment rate, you may be just fine staying where you are. As a first-year student, you develop a close group of friends that may be hard to leave.
When I received my acceptance to transfer to NYU Law, I definitely had second thoughts about leaving my current school for this reason. As I mentioned earlier, attending a strong regional school will give you ties to opportunities and alumni in the region. If this is where you envision yourself living in the future, transferring is probably not worth it.
2. You have a full or substantial scholarship to attend your current school.
Let’s face the facts. Law school is expensive. The average law school debt is $200-300K, and it takes anywhere from 4-10 years to pay off (potentially more if you don’t make BigLaw money). If you have a large tuition scholarship at your law school, it will make your life after law school much easier.
Transfer students are also generally not eligible for internal scholarships. We pay full tuition to attend.
3. You lose your GPA and rank from your previous school.
Once you transfer to your new top law school, your grades and rank reset. On my transcript, I basically have a “credit received” designation next to my first-year classes. Also, most transfer students are unable to qualify for certain law school awards like Order of Coif (awarded to students in the top 10% of their graduating class) unless they take many more extra courses to compensate for the lack of first-year grades.
I want to note that if you’re already employed by graduation, your current employer won’t care about the Order of Coif. One of my 1L professors who was in the Order of Coif plainly stated that this award was more like a pat on the back. His previous employer (NYC BigLaw firm) didn’t care about it at all.
Nevertheless, if this is something you care about, consider it carefully. One piece of good news is that most transfer students end up doing really well at their new school because they have already developed great study habits during 1L. Transfer students were at the top of their classes at their previous schools for a reason.
4. You don’t want to work in BigLaw or in a competitive public interest position.
People attend law schools for many reasons. Some want to take over a family firm in the future. Others are passionate about helping their local communities in different ways. These are all perfectly legitimate reasons to attend law school. BigLaw is a great place to start your career, but your ultimate career goal may not require experience in a large firm.
5. Burning Bridges
Sometimes transferring is frowned upon by your current school. I was fortunate enough to have supportive professors, with whom I occasionally keep in touch, in my transfer process. However, I had friends at other schools where their professors would refuse to talk about transferring. Your law school dean may even meet with you to convince you to stay.
Also, although you may be able to stay in touch with your professors, you lose the ability to go to them for future letters of recommendations. I had some amazing first-year professors that were really supportive of me whom I could no longer turn to for references or recommendations. Those professors are there to help students at their school. You would be starting from scratch in terms of professor relationships at your new school.
These are all things to consider when transferring law school. Balance the pros and cons depending on your circumstances and talk to people you trust about transferring. If you have any questions about what it’s like to be a transfer student, feel free to comment below.