By Andy A. Edited by Lemon Law School
Transferring to a new law school can be a highly rewarding experience if you do it for the right reasons. In my prior post, I discussed my decision to transfer and how transferring is generally a great way to improve your career opportunities for law firm employment in a major legal market.
Here, I’ll talk about the process and steps you should take if you have committed to transferring. If you want to transfer law schools, you need to start planning early. Here is exactly what I did as a 1L to ensure the success of my transfer to a top 6 law school.
- 1. What does the office of admissions care about?
- 2. Create an organized list of law schools you want to transfer to with details about application requirements and deadlines.
- 3. Seek recommendation letters from your 1L professors as early as possible.
- 4. Make the process as easy as possible for you professors who are writing recommendation letters for you.
- 5. Send your transfer applications to your target law schools as soon as the application opens, even before you receive your final transcript.
- 6. Send your transcripts to your target law schools as soon as it’s released.
- 7. The Waiting Game
- 8. Expiring Acceptances
- 9. Thank your law professor(s).
- Final Thoughts
1. What does the office of admissions care about?
The biggest thing law schools care about when they are assessing a transfer applicant is their 1L grades and class rank. Everything else carries much less weight. We created an infographic of the GPA statistics of last year’s incoming transfer classes at the top 14 law schools here. This should give you an idea of which schools you can realistically pursue.
Current Law School Ranking
Grades are certainly the predominant factor in transfer admissions, but they alone are not determinative. The school you matriculated at also seems to play a part in the admissions process (i.e. 3.9 at a T50 is better than a 3.9 at T100). The process is not very transparent, so don’t feel discouraged from trying your luck even if your GPA isn’t at the 75th percentile.
You can write a great personal statement, but if you don’t have the grades, you won’t get the acceptance. I wrote about why I was pursuing law school and about why I wanted to transfer to the new law school. The personal statement follows many of the same rules as your 0L application, with a few additional considerations.
Think about why you want to transfer and why X school is a good fit. I would include reasons like wanting to take advantage of certain resources at that law school that weren’t available at my current law school and wanting to take classes from renowned academics in the field of law I wanted to pursue. If you have a personal connection to the geographic area where the school is located or other relevant ties, try to emphasize those points.
My personal statement was about two pages, double-spaced. For my top choice, I did specify at the end of my personal statement that the particular school was my #1 choice. I ended up successfully transferring to that top choice law school, so perhaps it made a difference.
I wouldn’t spend too much time on this part of the application. If you’re a law student, you’ve already written a personal statement for a law school before. Just be sure to have a clean and error-free essay.
A great recommendation letter alone won’t get you an acceptance to a top-tier law school either. I feel like the purpose of recommendation letters is just to confirm that you haven’t done anything terrible at your previous law school.
Nevertheless, you should still strive to get the best recommendation letters possible. If you can find a professor that was an alumni of your school, that might have some extra pull. Perhaps a truly glowing, non-boiler plate, recommendation from a professor may give you a small boost. I’ll discuss how to approach a professor for a recommendation letter further below in this article.
I would say that everything else, including having awards, getting onto law review at your 1L school, or even having URM status, are pretty insignificant to the admissions office. The reality is that 0L application concerns like your undergraduate GPA and URM status matter to the school for the rankings and reports, but transfer statistics do not figure into rankings at all.
Naturally, the result is a de-emphasis on some of these factors by the admissions committee. These soft factors may matter when two applicants have similar GPAs/class ranks, but you shouldn’t rely upon them to get you into a better law school.
2. Create an organized list of law schools you want to transfer to with details about application requirements and deadlines.
How to Stay Organized
It’s important to stay organized during the transfer process because there are a lot of moving parts. I made a simple excel sheet for my transfer applications to keep track of everything.
Generally, law schools require the same set of application materials, including (1) Transcript, (2) Letters of Recommendation, (3) CAS Report, and a (4) Dean’s Certification. However, as you can see, some law schools require additional requirements and their deadlines may differ slightly.
Some schools only required one letter of recommendations and others required two. Some wanted a letter of good standing, others wanted a “transfer certification form.” I recorded what I needed to prepare for each school along with important deadlines and application fees. Many law schools offer application fee waivers for certain financial situations. There’s nothing to lose from merely asking either.
Usually, you won’t be able to open the transfer applications on LSAC for each school until the application cycle opens. To figure out what you need to prepare for each school, go on their websites and look under their “Transfer Applicants” page. They will list out exactly what you need to prepare.
Quick Note About Early Action Applications
In my excel sheet above, you’ll see “EA” in red letters by USC and Georgetown. This means that these schools have early action application cycles where you may apply during your second semester of 1L. These schools will make their decisions based solely on your first semester grades. Unlike Early Decision cycles for college applications, Early Action acceptances are not binding.
I applied as an early action applicant to both Georgetown and USC as safety schools. By February, I had received acceptances from both schools based on my first semester grades.
3. Seek recommendation letters from your 1L professors as early as possible.
I suggest that you reach out to professors for recommendation letters as soon as you decide that you want to transfer law schools. You should do so even if you have no idea how your second semester grades will turn out because the transfer application cycle simply doesn’t allow you to wait for your second semester grades to come out before deciding. You have nothing to lose from deciding early.
Law professors are busy individuals. Don’t ask them to write a recommendation letter four weeks before your application is due. I would, at the very least, give your professors notice six weeks in advance.
I personally went into law school with the intention of transferring from day one (not recommended unless you would be content with staying at your 1L school if the transfer process doesn’t work out for you), so I reached to professors out shortly after I found out that I ranked toward the top of my class after my first semester in law school.
However, there is one thing you should be cautious about: some professors frown upon students attempting to transfer. I had friends at other law schools where certain professors would refuse to speak to any student about transferring.
But this seems to be rare, as few professors have such unwavering loyalty to the school to the point where they would pointedly reject a request for a recommendation letter. Keep in mind, most law professors graduated from a top law school themselves, so they understand the appeal. Don’t be bashful about asking, but tread lightly at first just in case.
Before directly asking a law professor to write you a recommendation letter for your transfer applications, you can broach the subject by visiting office hours and asking their opinion about the transfer. I emailed the professor asking to meet during his office hours to “get advice on a law school-related matter.”
Here is the exact email I sent:
I hope you’re having a good week so far. Could I make an appointment with you to meet during office hours? I’m hoping to get some advice from you about a law school-related matter. Here is my availability for the next two weeks:
[insert availability here]
During the appointment, you should start telling your professor that you were exploring the idea of transferring law schools and that you want to get their advice on the matter. This is a good way to see whether your professor will be supportive during your transfer process or not.
The professors I spoke with were really supportive and offered their thoughts about the pros and cons of transferring. After my first meeting with them, I emailed them a few days later to ask them for recommendation letters.
4. Make the process as easy as possible for you professors who are writing recommendation letters for you.
Providing Information for Recommendation Letters
Sometimes, your professor will ask you for certain information so that they can write the best recommendation letter possible. For me, one professor just asked me if there was anything I’d like them to mention in their letter. The other professor actually had me draft a recommendation letter for them to edit to streamline the process.
Uploading Recommendation Letters
You have to apply as a transfer applicant to law schools through LSAC’s system. You need to clearly explain to your professors how they can upload their recommendation letters to LSAC. Luckily, it’s a simple process on their end.
On LSAC, there will be an option for you to add law professors to your account for recommendation letters. After you insert their information and email, LSAC will email a portal to your professors to upload the recommendation letters.
Since this process is relatively simple, I would just explain this to them via email after they’ve completed writing the recommendation letters.
5. Send your transfer applications to your target law schools as soon as the application opens, even before you receive your final transcript.
Law schools review transfer applicants on a rolling basis. The sooner you send in your application, the higher chance you have at getting an acceptance. You should have everything for your application ready for submission before the application cycle opens.
6. Send your transcripts to your target law schools as soon as it’s released.
Unfortunately, your final transcript won’t be released until perhaps weeks after the application cycles open, depending on how fast your current law professors grade the exams. Just send in your official transcript as soon as it becomes available to your target law schools.
I had my current law school’s registrar send my official transcript to LSAC, but I also went ahead and emailed copies of my unofficial transcript directly to my target law schools just so they could go ahead and complete their review of my application. Again, your transfer applications are reviewed on a rolling basis. Get all your materials in as fast as you can.
7. The Waiting Game
This is probably the hardest part of the process. I remember neurotically checking Top Law Schools forums for any updates on acceptances to my target schools. If your 1L GPA is within the range of your target schools, just sit tight. It can take anywhere from 2-6 weeks to hear back about the status of your application.
If you’re waiting longer than six weeks, you could email the admissions office and ask about the status of your application while expressing your continued interest in their law school.
8. Expiring Acceptances
What if you have an acceptance from a law school that is set to expire but you haven’t heard from another law school that you would rather attend? If you want the opportunity to consider both schools, you appear to have a few options.
First, you can ask for a deadline extension for your expiring acceptance. Second, you can email the other law school to check in on the status of your application, politely mention that you have an expiring acceptance, and inform them that you really want to go to their law school. Third, you can just accept the expiring acceptance and withdraw later if you get an acceptance from the other school. You may need to pay the seat deposit before withdrawing, however.
The first option isn’t ideal because it may signal to the law school to which you have an acceptance that you are more interested in other schools. As a result, they’ll be unlikely to grant the deadline extension. However, I don’t think there’s any harm in asking if you expressly provide a vague reason for needing the extension (e.g., “I’d like another week to consider my current options.”).
The second option isn’t ideal either because, unlike the context of an exploding offer from a Big Law firm, law schools aren’t pressured by these tactics. Transfer applicants are more homogenous than law firm candidates because there are fewer variables to consider. 1L grades, class rank, and current school ranking are pretty much determinative in these application cycles whereas law firms must consider many factors on top of grades such as professional skills, work experience, and personality fit. Law schools have a giant pool of transfer applicants with stellar 1L GPAs to choose from. Again, there’s no harm in asking, but don’t expect the admissions office to budge significantly.
The third option is your best shot. Your seat deposit will serve as insurance to the law school in case you withdraw. Unfortunately, this option may be expensive – I remember putting down a total of up to $3000 to hold my seats at several law schools while waiting on higher-ranked law schools to get back to me. I played it safe because I knew this was the only chance ever to transfer to my dream school.
9. Thank your law professor(s).
Whether or not you decide to transfer law schools, thank your law professors who supported you through your transfer process. At the very least, you should write a handwritten thank you note mailed to their offices.
I wanted to buy gifts for my law professors. But after much research on the internet, I read many perspectives (some from actual professors) advising against buying anything of significant monetary value. In fact, some professors online went as far to state that it would make them feel uncomfortable because writing recommendation letters is part of their job.
So, I found a middle ground suggested by someone on a law school forum. Along with a handwritten thank you note, I bought a charity gift for both of my professors for the amount of $10 each. This gave each of them the ability to donate that $10 to the charity of their choice.
After I transferred to a top 6 law school, I continued to stay in touch with these two professors (one of them actually graduated from that law school). I updated them on my achievements and successes at my new law school. This is a great way to show your appreciation.
You get one opportunity to transfer law schools, so make it count. If you made it far enough with your 1L grades to even consider transferring to a top 13 law school, then you should have no issue diligently completing your applications. Don’t drag your feet here.