Before I offer any advice realize I am anonymous internet poster as is anyone else posting on this board or others. Therefore everything you read should be taken with a grain of salt. I know nothing about you, your situation, or what is best for you.
With that said I have gone through law school and as a mock trial coach my team participated in the Law School competition at STCL this spring, and I was impressed with it. I am not from Houston and have never been there until that competition, but I thought STCL did a great job.
With that intro here are things ALL TRANSFER STUDENTS should consider. Location, Personal Feeling about the school, going from star to anonymous, what rankings "really mean", cost, and the reality of legal education. LOCATION:
Is not much of a factor going from Houston to Houston won't be to dramatic a change. Many individuals in your position will transfer across the country without thinking of the implications of adjusting to a new city, new apartment, new life etc. Since they are both Houston and I am speculating the distance is not to far you can probably keep your current apartment, maintain friends etc. So that is not much an issue. PERSONAL FEELING ABOUT THE SCHOOL
I have visited quite a few schools when I was a OL considering, when I was doing mock trials competitions, and in my role as a mock trial coach now. From my week dealing with everyone at STCL I was honestly impressed. However, my opinions are probably different than yours and what I liked you may have hated and vice versa. If you really did not enjoy your experience as a 1L then maybe Houston will be better. However, if you really did enjoy it you will not see your professors, first year classmates, and so forth.
Whether you enjoyed the school or not is your own personal opinion, but it is something to consider. When I was a 1L I could have transferred, but I really liked my school. Others transferred and most were not happy with the change, but others were it is a highly personal decision, but you obviously did well first year and I imagine made some friends and you still have two more years of law school make sure your at a place you enjoy. FROM STAR TO ANONYMOUS:
Congrats on being in the top 15% first of all I imagine on the first day 100% of people were convinced they would be there, but you made it so good job.
Now to the advice portion this is one thing some of my friends that transferred did not enjoy. They went from being top of the class with good professor relationships, friends, etc to being an anonymous person that doesn't know anyone. After first semester grades came out they had a reputation for being "smart" and then they had confidence. Going to the new school and being back to anonymous hurt some people others did well. Consider your confidence and comfort levels you will have to start over. Some people are good at doing that others are not and whether you can handle that transition is a question only YOU can answer.
Rank Improvement. This a collateral consequence that was great for me I was in the top 15% exactly like you when I finished 1L and then the top 5 or I guess 7% must have transferred up and when second year grades came out I was in the top 8%. I did well second year, but I am only speculating that the top 5 or so percent transferred out helped me move up and put me in the top 10%. The top 10% at any school looks pretty good so that is just something to consider. I didn't even really think about it until second year grades came and that is the only reason I could think of why my rank shot up so much, but I could wrong. COST
This is always something to consider and if you don't have a scholarship NEGOTIATE for one. I would recommend getting the transfer paperwork in process and tell the school your planning on transferring unless you get some money. You don't even have to intend to do it, but if you take those steps the school will probably throw some money your way. If they don't then that is a factor in favor of Houston. I got an extra 15,000 in scholarship money by doing that and always remember law schools are businesses first and foremost don't be afraid to negotiate with them.
I also don't know much the cost differences between Houston and STCL are, but you could easily find out. If Houston is 40k and STCL is 20k I don't know if it would worth an additional 40k accruing interest to transfer, but it might be. Or the costs might be the same it is pretty easy to look into on LSAC. RANKINGS:
I imagine this is the main reason for your proposed transfer. Remember that U.S. is nothing more than a for-profit, unregulated magazine, offering an opinion. They rank more than law schools they claimed New Mexico was the best place to live http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/real-estate/articles/2009/06/08/best-places-to-live-2009
. I will admit I am slightly more interested in New Mexico, but I am not going to make a life altering choice by moving across the country to live there because U.S. News magazine said it was "THE BEST." I see so many OL's, 1L's, and so forth make life altering choices based on this magazine and you really shouldn't. It has some impact, but it is nothing more than a magazine at least in my anonymous internet poster opinion.
From my experience p the only people that really care about rankings are OL's, law students, and the people like me who spend way to much time anonymously typing on the internet. There might be a law firm out there somewhere that cares about the difference between Houston and STCL, but most firms are probably more focused on solving their client's problems opposed to what U.S. News ranked x school.
I will admit I am not familiar with the Houston legal market so maybe it matters out there and that goes to my main point I know nothing about you, your situation, what's best for you, or even about the Houston legal market. I can only speak on my law school experience and what I realized after so I could be 100% wrong. REALITY OF LEGAL EDUCATION
I am certain the education at Houston is not much better or worse than STCL. I am speculating your first year consisted of Torts, Criminal Law/Procedure, Property, Contracts, Civil Procedure, Legal Writing(app-add) whatever your school calls it, but a writing course. I imagine you read Palsgraff in Torts, Pennoyer in Civil Procedure, the Hairy Hand case in contracts and so did everyone else across the country at every ABA school.
The same will likely be true moving forward and you will take Evidence, Con Law, Corporations, Wills & Trusts, and other courses where you will learn the same thing whether you attend STCL or UH. Then you will take Barbri no matter what school you attend and stress out for months praying that you pass. TRIAL ADVOCACY IN FAVOR OF STCL:
I was thinking about it the other day and the only real differences in legal education would be trial ad,negotiations, writing, and maybe research courses. Those are things you CAN teach differently there different negotiation strategies, trial tactics and so forth. STCL is extremely good at trial advocacy they almost always win at any competition I have been to or make it pretty far. If trial advocacy is what your after for that particular aspect of the law I would say STCL beats Houston. CONCLUSION:
My post may seem slanted in favor of not transferring, but as I mentioned take everything I say with a grain of salt. I know nothing about you, your situation, whats best for you, or even the Houston legal market. From what I have seen most people aren't happy with their transfers, but that usually has something to do with moving cross-country, which you won't be doing.
It is a difficult decision and you really need to look deep down and think what is best for "YOU" you are only 1/3 of the way through your legal education and you have 2/3's to go then the wonderful experience of the bar. Make sure you are in a place you will be comfortable with and suits you best. Don't let me, U.S. News, or any other anonymous internet poster make your decision. This is going to be 2 more years of YOUR life, 40-80k more of YOUR money, and YOUR legal career. Nobody knows what is better for you than you.
I would recommend getting the paperwork started to negotiate for scholarship money you might lose $60 bucks on a transfer app, but you could end up saving 10 or 15k in tuition which would be great.
Good luck to whatever you decide.