Law School Do-Over

January 20, 2016

by Vault Law Editors 

Transferring to a different law school is like an intense breakup: you’ve committed endless hours, the 1L path has been painful and confusing, you’re not sure you really want to break it off, and it’s not as easy as saying goodbye. While breaking up is never easy, sometimes ditching your law school after 1L year is the best move for you. But as a transfer hopeful, you’ll be applying to law school all over again, which means preparation, research, personal statements, recommendations, and numbers. Get ready for the transfer process with these tips:

Should You Transfer?

The decision to transfer is a personal one and may be based on a number of factors: better career prospects, prestige, location, tuition cost, family and other personal reasons. If you think that another school will be a better fit for you, you should seriously consider your options and weigh them against potential disadvantages of transferring.

What Kind of Disadvantages?

You’ve spent your 1L year building your own brand at your law school through your grades, relationships with professors, networking with fellow law students, contacts with alumni, and involvement in clubs and activities. As a transfer, you’ll start with a clean slate. Say goodbye to the stellar grades you toiled for during 1L year, the connections you’ve developed (of course, you can continue your relationships with professors, students, and alumni, but you’ll probably be more likely to obtain job and research opportunities from connections at your new school), and the comfort of knowing the ropes. You’ll have to prove yourself again: reestablishing your GPA and rank, building connections, and getting involved in a world where everyone has already connected and bonded during 1L year. You also may have to relocate, find new housing, and figure out financial aid at your new school. Don’t let the challenges dissuade you, though—look at it as an opportunity to add even more connections and experiences to your professional arsenal.

Now that the Negatives Are Out of the Way, How May Transferring Help Me?

If you feel off-course, transferring is a great way to navigate your legal career toward your goals. For students who didn’t have impressive LSATs or undergrad GPAs, but rocked the curve during 1L year, transferring provides an opportunity to move to a higher-ranked school. For those who used 1L year to figure out in which area of law they want to practice, transferring is the perfect opportunity to move to a school that specializes in that area. And for those with personal reasons (like relocation) or who just don’t like their law schools, transferring is a great option.

Is it Difficult to Transfer?

Transferring is competitive—stellar 1L grades are particularly important. Below is a glimpse at what some of the top law schools generally look for in transfer applicants:

•Columbia Law: top 5-10% of law school class
•Berkeley Law: top 3-5% of law school class
•Michigan Law: top 10% of law school class
•Duke Law: Top quarter of law school class 
•Cornell Law: top 10% of law school class
•Georgetown Law: top 15% of law school class

What do I need to do to Transfer?

Schools may request some or all of the following along with any institution-specific requirements:

•Completed application form
•Letter(s) of recommendation (schools will likely want a recommendation from a current law school professor)
•Certification from your current law school
•Certification from your undergraduate school
•Transcript of your law school grades
•Law school class rank
•Transcript of your undergraduate grades
•LSDAS report with LSAT score
•Personal statement
•Application fee

When Should I look Into Transferring?

You should start thinking about transferring during your first semester of law school (just thinking) because your 1L grades are critical for your transfer application. Once you begin second semester of 1L year, you should begin selecting potential transfer options. Some law schools, like Georgetown and University of Chicago, offer early admission for transfers based on first-semester 1L grades. If you plan to apply for early admission, you have to be on top of your applications early in your second semester and submit them around the middle of your second semester.

But even if you’re applying for regular admission at the end of your 1L year, you should start preparing during second semester. You’ll need to sit down with a professor and ask for a letter of recommendation, gather materials from your law school and undergrad, and work on a personal statement. Plus, it’s a good idea to submit your application early for schools with rolling admission—receiving an earlier decision will help you better prepare for Fall interviewing and journal competitions.

Where Should I Apply?

Consider your reasons for transferring and which schools are the best fit for your professional goals. Also, research which schools are the most transfer-friendly in terms of transfer class size, transfer integration, Fall OCI interviewing for transfers, and transfer journal participation.

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