Q) I would like some advice from someone with real world advice (not someone from the fake world of academia).
Background: I am a 1L at a law school ranked in the 60s (the guy in “Living the Dream” went to my school). I have a wife and 2 babies and am going to school on student loans. I am in the top 10% of my class (maybe even top 5%) after my first semester grades, and I am going to do my best to keep that up. Should I transfer?
My reasons for transferring would be to get into either a higher-ranked or cheaper school (or both). If I stay at my current school for three years, I will be $200,000 in debt just from law school. I don’t care to stay in LA, but I could if the opportunity was right.
Reasons against transferring stem from advice given on this site as well as others. Often, people say that transferring is bad if you are in the top ten percent because you will likely get a good shot at BigLaw, you’ll be on law review, etc. They claim that giving up a top ten position in your current law school for a transfer to a better law school is not the right move.
I do have to say that I like my school. The atmosphere is pretty good and people seem to be happy. I wouldn’t be unhappy if I stayed. But financially, it is a heavy burden for a mediocre school.
What do you think?
A) Great question. We especially loved the swipe at academia along the way. The short answer: If you get into a top-15-ish school, do it. If you don’t, it’s not worth the energy.
For example, if you get into Boalt, Stanford, or UCLA, you should do it. But no matter where you transfer, you’ll be interviewing for summer associate jobs based on your first-year performance at Loyola. In other words, the transcript they’ll be perusing will say “Loyola” at the top, irrespective of the school you actually attend in your second year. Prospective employers will know where you began your legal education regardless of where you finish it.
And since the summer job you secure in your second year (which, as I previously stated, will be based almost exclusively on your Loyola grades) will likely inform where you wind up working upon graduation, transferring schools doesn’t matter as much as you think.
What I’m really saying is that the most important thing for you to do right now is get all A’s this semester. A great first-year GPA means everything. It’s the ticket to a more prestigious law school and a top-tier summer program.
But don’t freak out about any of this. It’s really not that critical of a decision. A swankier diploma will help on the margin, but that’s it. Just work hard and keep getting A’s, and you’ll be fine no matter what. In my book (and most top law firms’ books), top five at Loyola is the moral equivalent of top twenty at a top-fifteen-ish school—if you keep performing well, someone will undoubtedly let you in the proverbial door.
Whether or not you stay there—or thrive there—is up to you. That’s the thing most rankings-obsessed law students overlook: Once you graduate, success or failure is up to you. Not the school you attended. No one ever makes partner because he went to Yale, or doesn’t make partner because he went to Loyola. Fact.