By now, just about every first year law student should be finished with exams and anxiously awaiting their grades and class rank. Most students in the average or lower-tier law school will see if their grades and rank will make them a competitive transfer candidate to a higher ranked school or a “please stay with us”
tuition discount scholarship with their existing diploma mill. If I had a chance to do everything all over again, I would have been more aggressive about transferring.
In the old days, transfer admission was thought to be limited to the top students of lower ranked schools or average students from a higher ranked school. Most schools made that requirement very clear on their transfer student information brochures.
Students with average grades didn’t bother to apply for transfer admission because the onerous academic requirement didn’t justify the effort and potential negative consequences. It was a pain in the ass writing new BS and lofty personal statements – especially if each school required a unique topic. And requesting letters of recommendation from law professors would be awkward because you would appear disloyal. Also, there have been rumors that law schools’ career service offices have punished or threatened to punish students seeking to transfer by threatening to remove them from the on campus interviewing (OCI) list or doing something else to blacklist them. Finally, some schools have been rumored to not release grades and rank until well after the transfer application deadlines have passed.
Today, the law school game has changed and I think everyone – regardless of grades and class rank – should consider transferring. The transfer game has been more unpredictable lately but because many law schools are anticipating decreased enrollment for the upcoming term, they need to make up lost revenue through transfer students. Thus, average law schools are likely to accept more transfer students than they did in the past and will relax admission standards. Accepting more transfer students do not the affect the law schools’ precious U.S. News ranking because their LSAT and GPAs are not taken into account.
The purpose of applying for transfer status is twofold. First, to transfer to a higher ranked school or to a school in an area where you want to practice while negotiating a tuition discount. Second, if you are accepted, then you can use the admission letter as a bargaining tool to obtain a full-tuition scholarship at your existing school or other schools.
The worst that can happen is that all of the schools you applied to will say no and you are stuck at your existing school. If that is the case, then you may want to consider dropping out – which I will discuss later.
You might run into the same problems some transfer applicants have faced. Law professors may not be willing to write a letter of recommendation on your behalf and it is more likely due to orders from the mother ship. It might be possible that you may be blacklisted at your current school’s OCI list – and if that happens, I highly suggest alerting someone about this. If this is a concern, I would contact every school you plan to transfer to and ask how they would address this. But let’s be honest – if you are an average student at the average law school, your chances of employment were not that great to begin with so the blacklist threat should be taken with skepticism.
If you play your cards right, you can nudge your way into a higher ranked school – if that happens, be sure ask for a scholarship to match your existing school’s tuition.
If you have finished your 2L year, consider applying for visiting student status at a higher ranked school with the same strategy in mind.
To be fair, I should point out the drawbacks of transferring. If you are one of the top students in your class, you may miss out on the merit badges automatically awarded to you (law review, moot court, research assistant opportunities, etc.) and it may be more difficult to obtain similar positions at your new school. And of course, transferring to a higher ranked school will not guarantee or make it more likely that you will get a decent job after graduation. But keep in mind two thoughts: (1) Better to leave school with no debt than with debt and (2) with all debt levels being equal, it is better to graduate from a more prestigious institution that will increase your career opportunities.
On a broader perspective, if every law student were to do this, it will result in a rearranging of deck chairs. But most students will end up getting the better end of the deal. Lower ranked schools and trap schools with high unemployment statistics and cost of living will suffer a massive drop in tuition revenue thus making it harder for them to stay profitable.