Deciding whether to transfer law schools is an incredibly daunting decision that affects the course of your entire life (trust me, I know). Once you’ve decided that you want to transfer, the process of transferring law schools is overwhelming and uncertain. There are so many moving parts, so many things you’ll have to leave behind, and so little that you’ll know about the future. If you’re anything like me (and basically every other transfer student I know), one of your biggest concerns about transferring to HLS is whether you’ll have opportunities to get involved at your new law school.
Many transfer students (including you, future HLS transfer who is reading this) were very well established at our 1L schools. In fact, we basically had to be, in order to get into HLS in the first place. We may have served as student organization leaders, been on journals, worked as research assistants for professors, or had opportunities for all of these things to happen our 2L year. The thought of leaving that system and those almost guaranteed opportunities and starting fresh at a new school where everyone is already established in their involvements and their friend groups is honestly a little terrifying. It makes some of us wonder whether it wouldn’t be better to stay at our 1L schools, where we could be President of the Law Review, instead of giving everything up and starting at a school that doesn’t make space for us.
I’m here to reassure you that HLS does, in fact, make space for transfer students. There are so many ways for us to get involved during our two years here, and so many ways for those involvements to make HLS feel like home. Consider this article your crash course in opportunities for transfer students here at HLS.
Affinity Groups, Clubs, and Societies
Being involved in clubs and affinity groups, where you can surround yourself with people who have common interests, is one of the few things that helps to keep law students sane. Many transfer students are members of organizations during 1L year that they don’t really want to leave, but have to give up when they transfer. Lots of us wonder if we’ll be able to find the same sense of community at HLS, and are pleasantly surprised to find out that the answer is yes.
There are around 100 student organizations here at HLS, and all of them welcome transfer students to become involved. The best way to find out about all of these organizations, aside from the link in this article, is to attend the Student Activities Fair that HLS hosts during the fall of every year. This is exactly what you probably experienced in undergrad; a bunch of current students at tables in a crowded room where you fight your way to the tables that you’re interested in (and that have the best swag). This is a great way to learn more about what each organization does and get your name on the interest lists so that you can learn more information later on.
Speaking from experience, the affinity groups here at HLS are particularly welcoming when it comes to transfer students. Lots of them hold big social events at the beginning of the year to welcome all new members and to allow people to get to know one another, and if you’re even slightly interested in a group, I highly recommend attending these events. One of the first fun things I did at HLS was spend a weekend in the mountains in Maine with 60+ students from HLS Lambda that I didn’t know, and that weekend brought me some really great friends and a passion for staying involved in that organization. Some other organizations, like the Women’s Law Association, actually require all members to take on some sort of leadership position. This position can be as big of small of a time commitment as you want, but it’s a great way to ease into becoming involved at HLS.
The clubs and societies are the same – they’re always looking for new members who want to get involved, and often host events for new members. I really want to emphasize just how many clubs and societies there are here at HLS; there are clubs for people from certain states, clubs for people who align with a particular political ideology, clubs for people who like to think about certain types of law, and clubs for people who just like to drink. There are also lots of intramural sports opportunities through the law school, and the transfers usually have a team or two. You can check out what organizations you might be interested in ahead of time using this link, or you can wait and be pleasantly surprised at how crowded the Student Activities Fair is. Some of the organizations require an application (like Mock Trial) or an audition (like Scales of Justice), but most of them really just want more members (like you!). Find two or three that align with your passions and interests, and just start attending meetings – it’s the easiest way to get involved.
Journals, Moot Court, and other Academic Involvements
Let’s be honest here. If you’re transferring to HLS, it’s partially because HLS gives students a lot of opportunities to boost our careers. If you’re like me, you were very excited about these opportunities, but also worried that not all of the opportunities would be available for you as a transfer student. I’m happy to say that this won’t happen.
First of all, HLS has more journals than any law school I know – there’s at least 16 of them, not counting Law Review. Most journals are always looking for new members who want to get involved and who care about that journal’s mission or subject matter, which means they love when transfer students express an interest in contributing to the journal. The easiest way to get involved in journals is to reach out directly to each journal you’re interested in once you know for sure that you’ll be transferring to HLS. Most journals have contact information directly on their websites, which you can find here. That’s right – no writing competition, no grade requirement, just a requirement that you be an interested HLS student who has the time and wants to get involved. The only journal that has a writing competition component is Law Review, which is in a league of its own. If you want to participate in Law Review as a transfer student, you’ll have the opportunity to complete the writing competition during the spring of your 2L year, or while you’re in the midst of the transfer application process. It’s competitive, but I promise that every year there’s always solid transfer representation on the Law Review, so don’t think that you shouldn’t go for it just because you didn’t complete 1L at HLS.
In terms of other academic involvements, transfer students are pretty much on a level playing field with the rest of HLS. If you’re interested in becoming a Research Assistant, which is a great way to develop working relationships with faculty and get recommendation letters, keep an eye on the Administrative Updates website. This is where faculty post when they’re seeking new RAs, and it’s updated daily, so you never know what cool opportunities are out there. You can even apply for RA jobs before you start at HLS, which is what I did and highly recommend. If you’re the type of person who wants to get involved supporting other HLS students, you can apply to be on the Board of Student Advisors after your 2L year. From what I can tell, BSAs are basically a group of students who support incoming 1Ls in various ways. You could also become a Peer Advisor (which is basically the same thing?) or a Resident Assistant if you really want to foster community at HLS.
As for things like Moot Court and Mock Trial, those are great ways for transfers to get involved too! The Ames Moot Court Competition is HLS’s main internal moot court, and it starts during 2L fall. A word of advice – lots of transfers want to compete, but nobody knows each other very well then, so the best way to form a team is to reach out to other transfers that you think are kind of cool and ask them to be on your Ames team. If you’re like me, your Ames team of transfers could become your best friends at HLS (see photo above). If you don’t advance through the competition (like my team), no worries! Every year HLS sends students to a variety of external moot court competitions around the country that are often based on subject matter. If you have an interest in one of those, you should reach out to the sponsoring organization (or the organization that seems most likely to sponsor) and see if they send a team.
Clinics and Pro Bono Student Practice Organizations
Clinics and Pro Bono Practice Organizations are a great way to get involved at HLS and in the larger Cambridge community. HLS has a lot of amazing clinical opportunities – there are internal clinics, external clinics, and even ways to make your own independent clinic during your time at the law school. All transfer students have the ability to register for clinics during class registration (and when you first start 2L year, some clinics even have spots saved for transfers). While you’ll have the opportunity to register for clinics right when you start at HLS, many students decide to wait a semester or two before completing a clinic, because getting acclimated to a new law school while participating in a clinic can be overwhelming.
HLS also has a lot of really cool pro bono opportunities through Student Practice Organizations that deal with a wide range of issues. If you’re interested in any of these, reach out to the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs – they’ll be sure to help you get set up with the practice organization you’re most passionate about. Some of these practice organizations are easy to become involved in and will take any new members who can commit any amount of time. Others are much more of a time commitment and have a pretty extensive application process. Make sure to pay attention to this when you’re considering your future HLS involvements.
Campus Activities and Events
Outside of clubs, journals, and clinics, there are so many random fun things that happen at or through HLS during the year that are a great way to get more involved in the HLS life and make new friends as a transfer. HL Central is HLS’s unofficial-but-official source of a lot of really fun social events that happen during the year. They put on events like the fall boat cruise, the winter formal, and the many trips to Boston sporting events. They also sponsor the tailgate for the Harvard-Yale football game which is a big event that’s worth attending (trust me, don’t miss it). If you’re interested in planning events like these, HL Central would be a great place for you. If not, you should definitely still attend the events – they’re a great way to feel like you’re a part of the HLS community. There are also a number of events that are sponsored by various law school entities throughout the year. For example, the librarians often hold themed events and study breaks that can be educational or fun, and the Dean of Students Office subsidizes students who want to participate in a 5K during finals (see photo).
Don’t forget about your best resource for getting involved – Section 8 itself! My best advice is to find 3L friends who know about different organizations and journals, and ask them about whatever it is that you’re interested in. Trust me, they all did the exact same thing, so they’ll be happy to share their words of wisdom. It’s also a good idea to find 2L friends who want to get involved in the same organizations and activities as you so that you have someone to sit with when you attend that first meeting. Finally, if you really love the transfer class a lot (like me!), you can run for a leadership position within Section 8 for your 3L year, which will let you help other transfer students get involved throughout the process.
These are just the activities I happen to know about – there are so many more I’ve never even heard of! The moral of the story is that HLS really does a good job of providing transfer students with opportunities to get involved on campus and in the Cambridge community. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and see what happens. You never know, you could find an organization that you’ll end up running someday, or meet people who will be friends for life.
Annie Forestiere is a rising 3L at HLS who transferred from Indiana University Maurer School of Law after her 1L year. She is Co-President of Section 8, Business Manager of HLS’s best (and only) a cappella group Scales of Justice, and serves as an Online Content Editor for the Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. Annie has been a research assistant for two HLS faculty members, participated in the Ames Moot Court competition, and would have represented HLS at the Williams Institute Moot Court Competition at UCLA if the pandemic hadn’t cancelled the competition. She also is a member of HLS Lambda and the Women’s Law Association, and she performed in the most recent production of HLS Parody.