I’m Top Tier at a Mid-Tier Law School


QI would like some advice from someone with real world advice (not someone from the fake world of academia).

Background: I am a 1L at a law school ranked in the 60s (the guy in “Living the Dream” went to my school). I have a wife and 2 babies and am going to school on student loans. I am in the top 10% of my class (maybe even top 5%) after my first semester grades, and I am going to do my best to keep that up. Should I transfer?

My reasons for transferring would be to get into either a higher-ranked or cheaper school (or both). If I stay at my current school for three years, I will be $200,000 in debt just from law school. I don’t care to stay in LA, but I could if the opportunity was right.

Reasons against transferring stem from advice given on this site as well as others. Often, people say that transferring is bad if you are in the top ten percent because you will likely get a good shot at BigLaw, you’ll be on law review, etc. They claim that giving up a top ten position in your current law school for a transfer to a better law school is not the right move.

I do have to say that I like my school. The atmosphere is pretty good and people seem to be happy. I wouldn’t be unhappy if I stayed. But financially, it is a heavy burden for a mediocre school.

What do you think?

AGreat question. The short answer: If you get into a top-15-ish school, do it.  If you don’t, it’s not worth the energy.

For example, if you get into Boalt, Stanford, or UCLA, you should do it. But no matter where you transfer, you’ll be interviewing for summer associate jobs based on your first-year performance at Loyola. In other words, the transcript they’ll be perusing will say “Loyola” at the top, irrespective of the school you actually attend in your second year.  Prospective employers will know where you began your legal education regardless of where you finish it.

And since the summer job you secure in your second year (which, as I previously stated, will be based almost exclusively on your Loyola grades) will likely inform where you wind up working upon graduation, transferring schools doesn’t matter as much as you think.

What I’m really saying is that the most important thing for you to do right now is get all A’s this semester.  A great first-year GPA means everything.  It’s the ticket to a more prestigious law school and a top-tier summer program.

But don’t freak out about any of this. It’s really not that critical of a decision. A swankier diploma will help on the margin, but that’s it. Just work hard and keep getting A’s, and you’ll be fine no matter what. In my book (and most top law firms’ books), top five at Loyola is the moral equivalent of top twenty at a top-fifteen-ish school—if you keep performing well, someone will undoubtedly let you in the proverbial door.

Whether or not you stay there—or thrive there—is up to you. That’s the thing most rankings-obsessed law students overlook: Once you graduate, success or failure is up to you. Not the school you attended. No one ever makes partner because he went to Yale, or doesn’t make partner because he went to Loyola. Fact.

Ex-Bitter is a former big firm lawyer who now doles out advice to anyone who asks. Got a question? Email it to advice@bitterlawyer.com. Or read more Advice from an Ex-Bitter.

24 Comments

  1. Steve

    March 18, 2009 at 12:42 am

    Great advice

  2. Bill Dugan

    March 18, 2009 at 3:28 am

    One thing you gotta look out for and what I think militates against transferring–new environment, new people are different, and can become a problem.  You seem to be thriving at Loyola, but if you go somewhere else, you may encounter a bunch of a-wipes, who will likely treat you as an outsider from a sh–t school trying to horn in on their parade.  (After all, just think how catty the oafs are on this website to each other).  Yea, you have some big debt, but don’t think the other places will start peeling off megabucks to have you go and study there.  In the end it’s up to you, but if your’re familiar and happy with the place you’re at, then you gotta be wary of moving to somewhere else.  I would be and I went to what they label a top 20 school.  It didn’t guarantee me squat, though I was not in the top 1/2 of the class.  Since you have a family, it’s more than just all about you.  Keep plugging and get the best grades you can, and in the end you’ll do fine.

  3. Anonymous

    March 18, 2009 at 4:44 am

    The Dugmeister!  Making sense!  Go for it, dude!

  4. Pacific Reporter

    March 18, 2009 at 5:40 am

    I think even transferring to UC Davis or Hastings would be better than staying at Loyola.

    But apparently Loyola has some new policy that if you’re trying to transfer, you can’t participate in Loyola’s OCI. Because Loyola’s OCI occurs to early, if you try to transfer and don’t get in anywhere or decide not to transfer, you’ll have missed Loyola’s OCI and you’ll be fucked.

    http://abovethelaw.com/2009/03/are_top_loyola_law_students_ge.php

  5. Wilbur Moore

    March 18, 2009 at 5:45 am

    Pacific Reporter may make sense, but will this dude be able to do well at those schools?  The last thing this guy needs is to move somewhere else, and be in the middle (or back) of the pack at those schools and then wind up without any job with a wife and 2 little kids to support.  Dude, think of the wife and 2 kids, You need a friggin’ job, and hopefully a good one, and youre more likely to get one if you are high up in the class at Loyola, than in the middle or the bottom at a good school.  Loyola also should have some religous alumni, so maybe if you can play your religous cards right, say a novena or two, that could work in your favour.

  6. Been There

    March 18, 2009 at 5:50 am

    I’m a recent graduate from the same school and was in a very similar situation after my first year there.  Here’s the really good news for you:  the law school is almost certain to give you scholarship money if you finish in the top 10% after the first full year.  They don’t want their stars transferring, and you will be a star if you finish in the top 10% or better yet, the top 5%.  I was top 5% and received a 75% scholarship.  Keeping it was easy too—just had to keep a GPA above 2.7.
    Here’s some other good news.  The top firms in LA readily recruit the top students from your school.  I’m not sure how the economic collapse will affect that, but in the past we routinely place summers at O’Melveny, Latham, Gibson, Skadan, White & Case, Jones Day, Paul Hasting, and a dozen other very good firms.
    Just some food for thought.

  7. Been There

    March 18, 2009 at 5:58 am

    You might want to check this out:  http://abovethelaw.com/2009/03/are_top_loyola_law_students_ge.php#more.  Your decision on whether to transfer might have been made for you.

  8. Craig

    March 18, 2009 at 6:55 am

    While I am from the “fake world of academia,” I was in a similar situation to yours last year. I decided to stay where I was, mostly for the reasons already stated; I was comfortable, was given a scholarship, and was confidant in my ability no matter what school I graduated from. I ended up easily finding a job in the field I wanted to go into (which was not corporate, Big Law). As Bitter Lawyer stated, once you get that first job, at least for me, your path is basically set. You have to perform once you are there though. You have to give them a reason to want to pay you big money after graduation. On the other hand, I’m sure I would have done just fine if I transferred schools, although there would have been a lot more hassle and a definite adjustment period.

  9. Anonymous

    March 18, 2009 at 6:59 am

    @ Pacific Reporter:
    TOO!

  10. question

    March 18, 2009 at 7:01 am

    is bu and bc considered top tier? are they the loyola of boston?

  11. Craig

    March 18, 2009 at 7:05 am

    This was the best, most thought out advice Ex-Bitter has given out thus far. Maybe Ex-Bitter just needed a “great question,” to step his game up a notch.

  12. wiseacre

    March 18, 2009 at 7:22 am

    If it weren’t for Loyola’s new policy, I’d suggest that it couldn’t hurt for you to at least apply to other schools so you’d have the option to transfer if you got in someplace great.  UCLA routinely takes top 10% Loyola people; Berkeley takes almost anyone in the top 5%.  you’ll also get at least a 75% scholarship for next year, so factor that into your calculus. 
    I could’ve transferred up from a T2 but didn’t, and then ended up sweating for about 6 months after graduation until i landed a great job.  transfer guarantees a great job–firms love the ambition and most won’t hold your prior school against you.

  13. Anonymous

    March 18, 2009 at 7:25 am

    I’d go to UCLA for the chicks.

  14. SoCal

    March 18, 2009 at 8:16 am

    Completely agree with Craig!

  15. BL1Y

    March 18, 2009 at 8:37 am

    Not even the kids at T5 schools are completely safe, especially if they’re in the bottom third of the class.  But, if going to a better school comes with a good enough scholarship, I’d take it.  As already stated, your 1L grades are the most important ones.  If you can get your foot in the door at a firm and then reduce your student loans, you’ll probably put yourself in the best position you can hope for.

  16. Anonymous

    March 18, 2009 at 9:19 am

    i Agree with Craig.  What did he say?

  17. Desi

    March 18, 2009 at 9:50 am

    GOOD question

  18. Lucy

    March 18, 2009 at 10:13 am

    Desi, where is Ethyl and Fred?

  19. ME

    March 18, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    This was good advice.  Nice job Ex-Bitter.  You were tough, but fair on my question.  Here, you were thoughtful and rational.  Great job all around!

  20. Desi

    March 18, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    ha ha

  21. DantheMan

    March 18, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    I think UCLA does have some cute chicks – well atleast I have heard that from friends haven’t been myself.

  22. Anonymous

    March 19, 2009 at 6:52 am

    Great advice.  On the money.  Thanks.

  23. Anonymous

    March 19, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    What section at Loyola?  We all want to know…

  24. Partner BigLaw

    March 20, 2009 at 6:37 am

    Yes, I’m a partner… and yes, I love a site called Bitter Lawyer.  I went to Loyola. It’s a great school and there’s no need to panic.  The advice given here is very solid.  If you can transfer to a top school, do it, but if not, just get good grades, work hard and the rest is up to you!

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