Many law students who were not successful getting into their first choice law school will consider whether they are a good candidate to apply as a transfer student after their first semester grades come out. But the decision to transfer to a law school is unique from the initial decision of whether to go to that same law school as a 1L. In fact, in certain circumstances you may be worse off by transferring to a more prestigious law school after your first year. This article sets out five factors to consider when deciding whether to transfer law schools and provides advice for mitigating some of the negative factors that can impact you if you decide to transfer.
1) Your Ability to Network Will Be Affected
Your 1L year is a singular and unique experience where you likely developed a bond with many of the members of your first-year class who made it through the same trial by fire. You will always have a commonality with the members of your 1L class that gives you a networking advantage both during your last two years of law school and, more importantly, throughout your law career. Starting at a new law school as a 2L or a visitor means that you will be an outsider and you will be viewed differently by your peers than students who completed all three years at the same law school.
This can be overcome, but you should recognize that transferring means you will need to put a lot more time and effort into networking than you did to connect with your 1L classmates. The one exception to this will be connecting with other transfer students, which will come quite natural to you for the same reasons connecting with other 1Ls is natural, but you should make it a goal to assimilate as much as possible with non-transfer students since it is a much larger networking pool. With a little extra effort you can turn this negative into a positive where you have connections at both your 1L law school and your transfer school, but it will take more effort and time.
2) You May Be Precluded From Law Reviews and Moot Court Teams
Law Schools have come a long way to improve the life of their transfer students by offering better opportunities for journal participation and competition teams. As a transfer student who was very highly ranked in my 1L class, I would have been a virtual lock for Law Review membership at my 1L law school, but I was precluded from Law Review participation at my transfer school during my 2L year as the Law Review membership had already been set before I was even admitted. I was still able to write on for my third year as a senior staff member, editor positions were not an option.
Not all schools preclude transfers from Law Review positions for the 2L years, but some have very interesting methods for earning such a position. Take Columbia, for instance, which allows transfer applicants to participate in its law review competition which is held several weeks before the school even makes its decision as to transfer admissions. It takes a special type of personality to be motivated for a law review competition under any circumstances, but I really want to meet the person that is willing to subject themselves to a law review competition at a law school where they haven’t even been admitted.
3) On Campus Interviews
All schools have different timelines for on-campus interviews with potential employers, but OCIs tend to occur during the Fall of your 2L year. As a transfer student this means you will be putting your resume with grades from your 1L law school up against your peers with their grades at the likely more difficult transfer law school. This is a mixed bag as you likely have a better ranking at a less difficult law school that will get you past the “top-20% only” restrictions in the application process, but employers will know this and your grades will be less impressive to them than the grades of your peers. If you want employers who are looking for individuals who scored in the top 10-20% of your 1L law school, they will be interviewing at your 1L law school. Again, this is not an insurmountable hurdle, but it is something you should be aware of when considering a transfer.
4) All Law School Applications Take Time and Energy…Even Transfer Apps.
I covered the law school transfer application process in more detail in another article, but it will represent a relatively significant investment of your time and resources. The transfer application process is a lot easier to complete than you initial law school application, but it will involve getting letters of recommendation from your current law professors and so it would be unwise to put it off until just before the deadlines. There are significant demands on your time in law school and so adding even a relatively manageable application process can take a lot out of you.
5) Credit and Course Transfer Limitations
Similar to undergraduate programs, Law schools will generally only transfer a certain number of credits, typically 30 credits is the maximum. If you took a large credit load during your 1L year or you did an externship at your 1L law school during the summer, or both, then you may end up losing a few credits by virtue of your transfer. Also, variance in the 1L curriculum of your 1L law school as opposed to your transfer school means you may have more required courses than non-transfer 2Ls including re-taking certain courses. For most students, these factors are only a minor inconvenience that can be overcome fairly easily, but this factor could be more of an issue if you were planning on early graduation as that may not be attainable with a loss of credits or due to variance in your required course load.
This article focused on some of the factors that may impact you as a law school transfer student in comparison to completing your degree at the law school where you attend as a 1L. Unfortunately, most of the factors cut against transferring. For that reason, it is generally inadvisable to transfer law schools unless there is a fairly substantial difference between the transfer law school and the law school where you began your legal education. Although, you should take the time to research the specific school you are considering based on the factors above to see if that school has implemented policies that are more favorable to transfer students than what is generally the case.
Feel free to ask us a question in the comments section below if you are considering making the jump to a new law school after your first year.