Monday, November 21, 2005
A law student writes:
I am currently a 1L at [a top ten law school by just about all measures], and I think that I'm interested in pursuing a career in teaching. The blogs I've read on seeking a job in academics suggest that it's preferable to go to a top 5 school. If I'm capable of performing well enough, do you think it would be a smart move to try and transfer to a higher ranked school like Harvard or Stanford?
Everything else being equal, of course, if you want to get into law teaching it is best to go to Yale, Harvard, Stanford, or Chicago in roughly that order (and not some mythical "top 5"). But everything else is rarely equal, and there are reasons to choose other schools with top faculties if their strengths better mirror a student's interests.
But the precise question here is different. What if you're already at one of the 15 or so schools that produce a decent number of law teachers? Is it worth it to transfer to one of the top four?
In general, it probably is not worth it to transfer, for the following simple reason: to get into law teaching, you have to have reputable faculty in your corner, which means you have to get to know them well enough during your time in law school that they can offer meaningful and enthusiastic support for your academic ambitions. As it is, law school is relatively short as far as this objective is concerned; if you transfer, you have even less time to make the relevant impressions and connections (only two years) and, moreoever, if you've transferred to a school that produces a lot of law teachers, you'll have lots of competition for the attention of the relevant faculty. So my general advice would be: stay where you are, and begin cultivating the professional and intellectual relationships that are so important for getting into law teaching.
That's my general advice, but there are exceptions. One possible exception pertains to Yale, which has such a disproportionate lock on the law teaching market, that it may be worth exploring the transfer option for Yale, notwithstanding all the preceding problems. Again, though, it will depend on factors like whether Yale will meet your particular intellectual and academic needs (in many areas, other top schools are as strong as or better than Yale), and also on what kinds of relationships you establish with faculty during your first year of law school. A student who is in a position to transfer to Yale from, say, Michigan or Texas or Penn has also likely made a powerful impression on his or her teachers, the kind of impression that may be more important in terms of academic opportunities down the line than the "Yale name."
Another exception would be relevant for students with very particular intellectual interests which their home school can't meet as well as one of the top four. A first-year student at Texas or Georgetown or Michigan with a strong interest in law and economics and academic ambitions probably should think about transferring to one of the top four, each of which are much stronger in that area. Conversely, a first-year law student mostly interested in law and philosophy would have no reason to transfer from Texas or Michigan, since in most respects these schools offer as much or more for philosophically-minded students than the top four. We could, of course, multiple examples of this kind.
I invite additional comments on this general question; non-anonymous postings will be very strongly preferred.