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At my “second tier” law school, we have an annual rite of passage wherein pretty much everyone who is in the top portion of the class contemplates “the transfer.” This is made possible in part because one of the other “more reputable” law schools in the city willingly and odiously siphons off the top students from each of the other local law schools. Because this top tier school — Georgetown University Law School — accepts so many transfers, our school inevitably suffers from brain drain at the end of the first year. I must confess that I was not immune to this temptation. Transferring is an enticing prospect, especially when the school everyone is transferring to is a top 15 school, the best and most reputable law school in a city full of lawyers. In the interests of “marketability,” transferring is a choice a student must consider. High grades are generally the fruits of a first year full of effort and dedication, and each student owes it to him or herself to decide how to use that success to make him or herself as marketable as possible. The reality in the legal world is that pedigree DOES matter to many people — especially to those making hiring decisions for firms and judicial clerkships. Those who think it doesn’t matter in other areas of the law (e.g., public interest and government), however, are kidding themselves. You don’t think the word “Harvard” on a resume gets a second glance — even in a legal aid office? Ultimately, I decided not to transfer. I couldn’t shake the notion that things at a new school might not be good enough to justify the stress of transferring. My school is not perfect, and I have a litany of complaints about it, but it is a good place to study law, and during my first year, I watched a community grow around me that I was simply not ready to give up. I agonized over the initial decision of where to go to law school, and I did not choose my school until I made numerous visits to schools all over the country. To suddenly leave when something slightly better came along would make much of that process a waste of my time. I’m still not entirely convinced I made the correct decision. I had several professors this year, who, for lack of a better word, tank. But I’m guessing there are professors who tank everywhere. I had a hard time getting an offer from a firm this summer, though I had a seemingly endless stream of twenty-minute initial interviews. Was it because I go to a second-tier school or not? I don’t know, and I never will. Plenty of people from my school got great jobs with excellent firms, but I can’t help shaking the notion that if I’d had that “other” school on my resume, I would have gotten a lot more offers. The administration at my school has apparently adopted the approach that no one should transfer and that no student has legitimate reasons for doing so, an attitude I think expedites rather than quells the exodus. I have heard the complaints of several of my classmates who have contemplated transferring. Potential transferees have to schedule a meeting with administrators in order for the school to certify them as eligible for transfer, and this session often turns into little more than an attack on the student’s decision to transfer. While some attempt to talk students into staying is understandable, a wholesale rejection of the student’s reasons for leaving is both unproductive and disingenuous. Students who feel their needs and concerns are not valued will quickly jump ship. The administration needs to realize it cannot wish away the reality of the U.S. News and World Report rankings. Rather than simply discouraging students from transferring, they need to help students assess their needs as law students and as people, and then decide together where those needs can best be fulfilled. The answer changes from person to person. My ultimate feeling is that if the only reason you’re transferring is for the reputation of your new school, you haven’t made a very compelling case to yourself. If, however, you have other concerns that motivate your desire to move, you owe it to yourself to explore those avenues and make sure that you have no regrets when you graduate from law school. The grass, however, is not always greener on the other side of the fence. In choosing the competitive atmosphere that a top law school often engenders, a student can sacrifice community for the sake of a fancy resume. A transferee is a year behind in the socialization process, which can lead to loneliness and even to academic difficulty. I can’t say that everyone I know who transferred had his or her life ruined by the choice, but neither can I report that everyone who did it thinks it was the right choice. It’s a personal choice, but one that you had better think long and hard about before making. It is, without hyperbole, one of the toughest decisions you’ll ever have to make.

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