Should I Transfer Law Schools After My First Year?


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Ian E. Scott, Esq.

By Ian E. Scott, Esq. Bio

If you go to the airport and get upgraded from economy to first class, you should accept the upgrade without asking any questions.  Human nature is such that most want to apply the same philosophy to many aspects of life and want to upgrade homes, cars, and even law schools.  The current system allows you to “upgrade” law schools by transferring to a different higher ranked school after your first year and this option could put your dreams of going to an ivy league school well within reach.  In some cases a transfer makes sense but “upgrader” beware as higher rank does not always mean better.

What Does A Transfer To Another Law School Mean?

After you have completed one year of law school, you are eligible to transfer to another law school.  If you transfer after your first year, you will get the degree from the new law school that you go to instead of your old school.  If you transfer after your second year, you will get the degree from the school that you went to for the first two years.  I attended Brooklyn Law School for my first year and then transferred to Harvard Law School.  As such, I received a law degree from Harvard Law School that does not indicate that I went to Brooklyn Law School for my first year.

There are two primary reasons for transferring.  First, people transfer because they have a personal change in their lives such as a spouse that gets relocated to a different city.  The second reason that students transfer is to “upgrade” schools.  This upgrade is done because a law school’s ranking is very important and students will often try to move from a second, third, or fourth tier school to a first tier school.  This is what I did when I moved from a school with a rank in the mid 60s to Harvard Law School, ranked number 2.  Attending a highly ranked school, especially in a poor economy, could have a significant impact on your ability to find a job and your other opportunities as a lawyer.  Not all moves are beneficial however so you should make an informed choice if you choose to transfer.

How Much Of Jump In Rankings Is Needed To Make A Transfer Worth While?

Many students wonder whether or not they should transfer schools based on a small or moderate jump in rankings.  I know one student who transferred from a school ranked around 70 in New York City to a school ranked around 60 that was also in New York City.  This move made absolutely no sense to me.  I met him during the summer at Brooklyn Law School (the school he transferred to) and he was not the sharpest knife in the drawer and this was evident by more than just his school change.

The point of this story is that you should only change schools if the jump you are going to make is going to put you in a substantially better place than you are.  I could have easily transferred to Fordham law school (which is ranked in the 30s) from Brooklyn (ranked in the 60s) but I did not even apply because the move was not worth it.

The key if you decide to transfer is to make sure that the jump is significant.  As a general guide, you should jump at least 35 points in the rankings and higher if you can.  Also, the move should move you from one tier to another or from a first tier school to a top 5 school.  I know students who moved from Brooklyn Law School to schools ranked from 20-30 and they had a tough time during the on campus interview process and did not substantially benefit from the transfer.  Make your jump count!

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