By Jay S. Edited by Lemon Law School
This is the second post in the “Why You Should Transfer” law school series. You can read the first post here.
Transferring law schools is one of the best opportunities for law students who perform exceptionally well in their 1L year. Transferring could have a wide-ranging impact on your career opportunities, and for many, can put the golden ring of BigLaw within reach. Ambitious law students should be aware, however, that there are some trade-offs that can make this a difficult decision.
1. My Journey to Transferring
You may have already seen a post by my colleague and co-writer for Lemon Law, Andy A. Like Andy, I transferred from a T30 to a T13, and I found the experience to be well worth it. That being said, unlike Andy, I didn’t go to my law school with the intent of transferring. I knew it was an option, and I thought it could be good for someone who was hell-bent on a BigLaw career, but that person was emphatically not me.
I went to law school as a slightly older student after a few years working in a large company as an analyst. After a few years of soul-searching, I knew that I wanted to go to a law school but I was not sure exactly what career path made sense for me.
Many of our readers will probably agree that before you go to law school and work in the legal industry, it’s exceptionally hard to understand whether you would enjoy the practice of law. That’s why I frequently shake my head while reading certain online posts which frequently have the hawkish approach of “If you don’t 100% know you want to practice law, don’t go to law school.” The fact is that very few people know they can commit 100% to anything, let alone a life-long career.
However, I was the kind of 0L that was enamored with the idea of being a domain expert as well as a counselor and advisor to those in need. I was also keen to gain the kind of power and knowledge that seemed to be characteristic of lawyers at the highest levels of our government. After working a few years, I became more confident with my ability in writing and analysis and I felt that I had the potential to make for a good lawyer.
All this is to say that it’s OK to go to law school (even one outside of the T13) if you don’t necessarily know what you want to do. I was bouncing around ideas ranging from clerking for a federal judge, to working in government, to practicing at a regional BigLaw. Part of the law school process is that you learn precisely what it is like to be a practitioner through clinics, externships/internships, and summer programs. However, not having clear objectives is not an excuse to go to law school on a whim or to go to a law school with poor recruitment prospects – it still took me several years to consider and deliberate over which law school I should attend.
The first semester of law school teaches you some truly hard lessons as you start to really figure out what parts of the law appeal to you. I truly enjoyed Contracts and Legal Writing, but I got crushed by Torts and Civil Procedure, so the indicators started to point me in the direction of transactional practice. This is not to say that a B in Property suddenly means that your career in Housing Law is shot, but it’s definitely a dissuading factor.
Attending career panels and presentations hosted by the law school also helped me put the black letter law into practical contexts and opened my eyes to what makes sense for my skill set. After doing this for several months, my career dowsing-rod made it more and more clear that BigLaw rather than public interest litigation work made the most sense for me.
That realization simultaneously made it easier for me to focus on my goals because I actually had an objective, but it also brought the reality of my chances of success into sharp light. Even with my good grades, recruitment at a regional T30 probably put my chances of getting a BigLaw Summer Associate job at 30%. It was also clear that missing that 2L summer job in BigLaw would essentially close off full-time BigLaw opportunities unless I got lucky. After some research, it became clear that transferring would be my best bet at bringing the odds in my favor.
2. Career Opportunities
The career opportunities at my new T13 were incomparable to my T30. The probability of obtaining a Summer Associate job at some of the top firms jumped to an overwhelming majority. Combined with my high GPA, the T13 recruiting pipeline made it much easier to get a Summer Associate job at one of the Vault 100 firms. All of the mass mailing and cold calling strategies that I was considering a few months ago were suddenly irrelevant.
Likewise, it was simply unnecessary to go to networking events and law firm visits because the law firms would go directly to the students and host events at the school. I should caveat this by saying that this was pre-COVID19 and I was in one of the largest legal markets in the country, but regardless it was clear that career opportunities at the T13 school were simply multiples better.
Andy briefly wrote about the recruiting numbers for the top schools in his article, but you can pull the employment reports yourself to see just how impressive they are. For a taste of this, take a look at the below 2019 employment report from Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. 58% of the class took jobs in large law firms of 500+ attorneys and that accounts for individuals who self-selected for other careers. The numbers simply don’t lie.
From my admittedly subjective view, conversations with my transfer class, and observations of online forums, I think the vast majority of those who transfer are happy with the results and do not regret doing so. Much of this is no doubt attributable to the increased career opportunities provided by higher-ranked schools. While I will admit that prestige and BigLaw are not everything, at the end of the day, work is a big part of life and being nearly guaranteed employment is an incredible benefit to attending a T13.
This is something that I rarely see discussed so I thought I would comment. The educational opportunities at well-established schools, which include but are definitely not limited to the T13, are indisputably better and more varied. Leading legal scholars cut their teeth on lower tier law schools and adjunct positions before positioning themselves for tenure-track positions in the T13.
While I will be the first to admit that a lifelong academic or legal scholar may actually be less effective at teaching than a young practitioner, in broad strokes the best teaching talent tends to pool at the top. Beyond that, the well-established schools often have more professors and clinical professors in absolute terms. Meaning that there are simply more clinics, courses, and seminars that can appeal to your direct interest. As an illustration, every school has Intellectual Property classes, but how many can say that they have a Patent Litigation simulation class?
Beyond the classroom, well-established schools also are entrenched in their local legal community, with alumni and connections within the industry. Many of these directly contribute to sourcing in-semester internships or externships. Frequently, these individuals look for law students to be a part of everything from marijuana advocacy to prison reform engagements. While this is not exclusive to the T13, it is almost assured that you will find an extracurricular activity that you are passionate about in a top school.
4. Community and Social Life
My final comments regarding the transfer process relate to social life. While law students have the reputation for being Type A, goal-oriented people I think potential Transfers should not be so quick to dismiss the impact transferring will have on their network of friends and professors.
1L is one of the most formative academic experiences you will go through. You will probably never spend as much time together with any group of people as you do with your section in class and the library. The friendships and bonds that emerge as a result of that are something that lawyers treasure and lean on even years into their career. This is similar, albeit to a lesser extent, for professors with whom you develop a strong professional relationship.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t transfer because you have a cool group of friends – that would be short-sighted. I am saying that the reality is that you will likely sacrifice friendships and connections as a result of leaving the school. The majority of your peers will view you as doing the best thing for yourself and won’t judge you negatively for it.
Still, some students will see it as a betrayal to the school while others might view you with jealousy for jumping ship. Regardless, the reality is that many of the bonds you made in 1L might simply disappear. At the minimum, you won’t have the opportunity to build those relationships further, especially if you move to a new geography.
At the same time, you will face a certain amount of stigma at your new school depending on where you go. As I mentioned earlier, many of the friendships developed during 1L persist through the rest of school and you will be a new face that cannot relate to the crazy class they had last year or the class drama that happened right before finals. This is not to say that you won’t be able to make friends, as two years of remaining schooling is plenty to develop close relationships but you should be prepared for a certain amount of awkwardness for being the new kid on the block, especially if your transfer class is small.
It’s not all bad – the transfer stigma is not a negative one since everyone views transfer students as impressive and successful people. Moreover, if you have a particularly large transfer class which is common at some of the larger schools, the Transfer Class accounts for such a large number of students that it’s practically equivalent to a new section of students. This Transfer Class will likely become your new cohort since you all have the same shared experience.
If you are reading this article, chances are you are thinking about transferring. No matter what stage of law school you are in, whether it be as a 1L or 0L, take the time to review what your goals are and identify what you actually need to get there. Transferring is undoubtedly a great option for successful 1Ls and a great way to position you for a career opportunity, but it’s a difficult and expensive path if you are doing it just for clout and prestige.
While transferring works out for most people who opt for that path, there are many sacrifices both socially and financially that go into the decision. I hope this article helped your decision-making process and provided you with some insight into how to preemptively deal with some of the challenges. Send me a comment if you have any questions or feel free to discuss in our comments section below.