QI just finished my first year at T3/T4 law school located in the Northeast. I am currently ranked in the top 3% of my class. I entered the school with a full-tuition scholarship which I don’t imagine losing. My question is whether I should be transferring to a higher ranked school. I’m hesitant about taking on $100,000 worth of loans in this job market but at the same time I know I stand a better chance of securing a job if I graduate from a more competitive school. Do I graduate from a T3/T4 with no debt (living at home rent-free), top of the class, on Law Review, or do I transfer to a T1 school, take on the debt, and take my chances? I’m nearly certain I will transfer if accepted to a top 20 school on the east coast (although I’m not sure I have a shot), but should I also be considering transferring to schools outside the top 35? I want to stay in the Northeast and work in either NYC or Boston. Please help me.
ATough choice, I’ll admit that. Stick around at the T3/T4 and, despite acing things and coming out without debt, you’ve got a tough road ahead if you want to work in a big firm, particularly in New York or Boston. The chances for that are pretty slim. Assuming you can transfer to a top 20, your chances to big firm stardom increase only marginally. Besides, which is better? Top of your class at a T3 or middle of the road at a top 20? A top 100? Not a whole lot of difference. So, do you want to roll the dice, though a bit deftly loaded if you transfer, and gamble up to $100K in student loans? Or graduate with a JD, become a lawyer, and have no debt (and thus plenty more options available, at least financially)?
If you are hell-bent on getting to a big East Coast law firm, then there’s not much use dissuading you. But please look hard at your motivation. Maybe readers will have better advice, but unless your heart is set on BigLaw and you want to get there at a hefty price, I wouldn’t gamble, especially today. I’d stick with the T3 and start tracking down alumni now and become a nuisance to career services. Work them hard to move your way into a decent job, albeit at a smaller firm in your region and outside the so-called premiere league that unfortunately continues to mesmerize law students. Good luck.