By Deborah ArronQ: I would like to practice law in Chicago, and am currently enrolled in a II-tier school in the area where I am in the top 10 percent of my class. Would it be wise to transfer to UCLA, ranked #16 in the nation? Or should I stay at my school in Chicago?
A: When selecting law schools, its generally a good idea to graduate from a first-tier law school, preferably the highest ranked school you can get into. But when you want employment in a particular geographic area, its better to graduate near the top of a second-tier school in the same geographic area than to graduate in the middle of your class (or lower) from a school outside the area. The value of an out-of-state diploma from a highly ranked school diminishes the less national the schools reputation. And face it. UCLAmy alma materis not Harvard, Yale, or Stanford.
In your situation, youre well positioned to get a job in Chicago by attending and doing well at a local school, even though its not ranked as highly as UCLA. Going to UCLA can still be a very good decision, though. Your resume will stand out in Chicago as a graduate of a well-regarded California school. And if your grades will transfer, and you feel confident that youll be able to maintain your performance in a more competitive environment, so much the better.
Then again, the job hunt process itself will be a lot more onerous from a distance. Far fewer Chicago law firms will participate in on-campus interviewing at UCLA. You might want to consider finding your first job at a good law firm in Los Angeles and then transferring to Chicago as a lateral associate.
Thats the logic supporting your choice. But many good decisions are made for more subjective reasons. Does UCLA offer academic or clinical courses that you cant get at your school? Are you craving sunshine without humidity? Do you simply need to get away from home? If reasons like those tip the balance in favor of a move, do so without guilt. It sounds like youll do well whatever you choose.