I took the back door into the law school I graduated from, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. After all, my law degree doesn’t have an asterisk next to my name like Barry Bonds’ 756th home run.
People transfer for a variety of reasons. I personally did not get a fantastic LSAT score and couldn’t get into my top choice law schools on the first go around. I attended a safety school that I’d been accepted to and immediately made plans to transfer after my first year.
Knowing right off the bat that I wanted to transfer helped me do well in my classes because I had a lot of motivation with a very clear goal in mind. It also helped me to craft a strategy and develop a timeline to get things accomplished in an orderly manner.
Hopefully this timeline will be helpful to those of you who have decided to transfer or are actively considering it as an option.
Update: Before you read any further about how to transfer, however, I encourage you to first read my post about whether you should even consider transferring at all. And, if you’ve landed decidedly on the “I’m going to transfer” side of the fence, I’ve compiled a list of FAQ’s about transferring law schools.
- Know what you’re getting into. Prep for the reality of starting law school so that you hit the ground running with realistic expectations of what your experience will be like. Have your study space set up and your supplies ready. I highly recommend Robert Miller’s Law School Confidential, which lays out every aspect of your next three years, from selecting a desk to searching for jobs.
- Find a study group, if you haven’t already. Carefully select bright and disciplined people who you can get along with for long periods of time, and who will be able to really help you master the material for the exam.
- Stay caught up with your reading. Try to stay ahead if you can, but definitely do not get behind. If you are currently behind, catch up now.
- Begin outlining your classes. Outlining is an iterative process and thus you should start early because your outlines will change and go through several versions as you refine them. A note about outlining: It’s absolutely okay to avoid reinventing the wheel by using others’ outlines (including mine) to supplement your own outlining process and check for things you may have overlooked or missed. However, in order to do well as possible on your exams, it’s absolutely essential that you do make your own outlines (and study them!).
- Develop relationships. Once you have settled into the school routine, begin developing relationships with professors who you might want to provide you with recommendations. It’s okay to demonstrate genuine interest in a class, but do not become a gunner.
- Start studying for finals. This process should begin about six weeks before your first exam. Aim to master one subject per week and do practice questions. Iron out the kinks in your outlines; meeting with your study group is helpful in accomplishing this goal.
- Finish your outlines. Have all of your outlines up to date for the most recent class session by the time you break for Thanksgiving. Enjoy some turkey and stuffing as a reward!
- Ace your final exams! With well-prepared outlines and a disciplined study schedule, you should be able to kick some ass on your first semester final exams.
- Take time to reflect. With your first semester finals behind you, take this opportunity to decide whether or not you really want to transfer. Think about the qualities you are seeking in your ideal law school environment, both academically and environmentally.
- Research. You have two weeks off for the holidays; make them productive. Using the criteria that you have determined are important in a prospective law school, select several schools that you want to apply to. Look at their transfer criteria, application requirements, tuition costs, etc.
- Evaluate your fall semester grades. Once your fall grades are posted, evaluate your performance and determine which schools from your list you actually have a realistic shot at being accepted to. You might need to revisit your list and add some schools and delete others.
- Stay caught up. Just like fall semester, you need to stay caught up with your reading during the spring. This can be particularly challenging if your law school adds an additional class for spring semester, but is nonetheless imperative.
- Begin outlining. Again, you’ll want to begin outlining during the middle of the semester or so.
- Start crafting your personal statement. For me, writing my personal statement was the most challenging part of the transfer application. Start early so that you can have several people read over it before you have to submit it with your applications. You may need to write more than one statement if the schools you are applying to give different essay prompts. Spring break is a good time to start your personal statement.
- Take care of administrative issues. Finalize the list of schools you’ll be applying to. Register for LSAC. If your LSAC subscription has lapsed, you’ll need to register again. Make sure you have transcripts from your previous degree-granting institutions sent to LSAC. Begin filling out the individual applications. Budget for application fees. Write down due dates.
- Approach your selected professors for recommendations. This can be intimidating and nervewracking. I was afraid that my professors would be insulted that I was leaving their school. To the contrary, they were supportive and more than willing to write me excellent recommendations to my schools of choice. One professor asked me why I was transferring, another said that it wasn’t her business to ask. Be prepared for either reaction. Have all forms ready to give them, with postage-paid envelopes attached and a post-it with due dates on each one.
- Begin studying for spring finals. As with last semester, you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to study, beginning about six weeks before your first exam.
- Submit your applications. Have you applications submitted before finals begin so that you only have to tackle one hurdle at a time.
- Finish the year with a bang! You’ve almost made it – do great on your finals so that you will place high in your 1L class and optimize your chances of getting into the law school of your dreams.
- Request transcripts. As soon as your law school releases first year grades, request official transcripts be sent directly to each of the schools you’ve applied to. Some schools may want your 1L transcripts to go through LSAC, but that usually takes too long considering the admissions directors’ short deadline.
- Sit back and wait. Although it’s difficult to do, you just have to be patient. Many schools don’t make their transfer decisions until sometime in July.
- Select a law school! With a little determination and a lot of hard work, you’ll have a very difficult, but great decision to make – which law school will you attend?
- Get in touch with career services at your new law school. You don’t want to miss the early interview process, as this is when many firms start their hiring process for the following summer.
- Withdraw from your old school. Contact the registrar and any other administrators you need to in order to make sure that you are withdrawn from your classes and that you won’t receive a tuition bill from your old school.
- Notify your friends. It’s a hard thing to do, but make sure you let your friends at your old school know that you’re leaving.
- Start classes at your new law school! Congratulations, you did it! You’ve worked hard, so enjoy your final two years of law school at your new law school.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting more detailed articles about some of the action items listed in the timeline. But for now, this will hopefully provide a helpful perspective of the big picture for those of you already considering transferring. Best of luck, and check back for future transfer articles!