Tag Archive for Transferring Law Schools

Visiting vs. Transferring Law Schools

Law School Weekly News

Even though visiting another law school and transferring to another law school may have a number of practical similarities, the two processes are very different both in terms of the time it takes to complete the application process and in regards to how it affects your resume and job prospects. As a transfer student you will be a graduate of the new law school and you will generally be treated as if you were always a student there. On the other hand, as a visitor you will merely be an interloper at the visiting law school. You can only transfer before the fall semester of your second year due to the 30 hour limitation on transfer credit and transfer applications are typically due by June or July. So if you have already started your second year of law school then you are not a candidate to transfer and graduate elsewhere, but you may be able to take up to a year of school as a visitor.

Visiting In Law School

If you visit another law school, even if for your last semester or your entire third year, then you will still graduate from your original law school.  The specific arrangements vary from school to school, but the credits you earn at the institution you are visiting will be added to your law school transcript as transfer credits applicable towards graduation.  Since most schools limit such credit to a maximum of 30 hours or so, your maximum visit time is for one academic year.  A visiting semester or year at a particular law school is unlikely to have a positive impact on your resume other than showing an interest in a particular geographic area.  Visiting is usually done as a matter of convenience, such as if your spouse has a job in a different state.  Visiting law students will not receive a degree from the school they are visiting and won’t have full access to that school’s career services and even may get the last pick of course offerings.  Law schools are generally happy to oblige with admitting visiting students as it merely adds to their bottom line with little impact on their resources or the experience of their students.  The visiting application process is fairly menial and is more of a simple administrative process than law school or transfer applications, although a personal statement indicating the reasons you are seeking to visit is required.  That said, timing can still be critical so if you want to visit another school you should look into the process in advance to make sure you have all the documentation in place ahead of the relevant deadlines.

Transferring In Law School

On the other hand, if you are transferring law schools, it is a major undertaking with a significant impact on your life and career. Transferring to a different law school requires an application that is similar to, although not as extensive as, your initial law school application.[1] When you transfer to a new law school you will receive your degree from that school and you won’t even be required to mention your first-year school on most job applications. You will also count in the transfer law school’s employment numbers and you will be an alumnus of their institution for the rest of your life. So law schools are very careful in considering transfer applications and you should set aside a significant amount of time to put together your applications if you decide you want to transfer law schools.

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  1. See 3 Things to Know for Law School Transfer Applications.

5 Things to Consider Before Deciding to Transfer Law Schools

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Many law students who were not successful getting into their first choice law school will consider whether they are a good candidate to apply as a transfer student after their first semester grades come out.[1]  But the decision to transfer to a law school is unique from the initial decision of whether to go to that same law school as a 1L.  In fact, in certain circumstances you may be worse off by transferring to a more prestigious law school after your first year.  This article sets out five factors to consider when deciding whether to transfer law schools and provides advice for mitigating some of the negative factors that can impact you if you decide to transfer.

1) Your Ability to Network Will Be Affected

Your 1L year is a singular and unique experience where you likely developed a bond with many of the members of your first-year class who made it through the same trial by fire.[2]  You will always have a commonality with the members of your 1L class that gives you a networking advantage both during your last two years of law school and, more importantly, throughout your law career.  Starting at a new law school as a 2L or a visitor means that you will be an outsider and you will be viewed differently by your peers than students who completed all three years at the same law school.

This can be overcome, but you should recognize that transferring means you will need to put a lot more time and effort into networking than you did to connect with your 1L classmates.  The one exception to this will be connecting with other transfer students, which will come quite natural to you for the same reasons connecting with other 1Ls is natural, but you should make it a goal to assimilate as much as possible with non-transfer students since it is a much larger networking pool. With a little extra effort you can turn this negative into a positive where you have connections at both your 1L law school and your transfer school, but it will take more effort and time.

2) You May Be Precluded From Law Reviews and Moot Court Teams

Law Schools have come a long way to improve the life of their transfer students by offering better opportunities for journal participation and competition teams.  As a transfer student who was very highly ranked in my 1L class, I would have been a virtual lock for Law Review membership at my 1L law school, but I was precluded from Law Review participation at my transfer school during my 2L year as the Law Review membership had already been set before I was even admitted.  I was still able to write on for my third year as a senior staff member, editor positions were not an option.[3]

Not all schools preclude transfers from Law Review positions for the 2L years, but some have very interesting methods for earning such a position. Take Columbia, for instance, which allows transfer applicants to participate in its law review competition which is held several weeks before the school even makes its decision as to transfer admissions.[4]  It takes a special type of personality to be motivated for a law review competition under any circumstances, but I really want to meet the person that is willing to subject themselves to a law review competition at a law school where they haven’t even been admitted.[5]

3) On Campus Interviews

All schools have different timelines for on-campus interviews with potential employers, but OCIs tend to occur during the Fall of your 2L year.  As a transfer student this means you will be putting your resume with grades from your 1L law school up against your peers with their grades at the likely more difficult transfer law school. This is a mixed bag as you likely have a better ranking at a less difficult law school that will get you past the “top-20% only” restrictions in the application process, but employers will know this and your grades will be less impressive to them than the grades of your peers.  If you want employers who are looking for individuals who scored in the top 10-20% of your 1L law school, they will be interviewing at your 1L law school.  Again, this is not an insurmountable hurdle, but it is something you should be aware of when considering a transfer.

4) All Law School Applications Take Time and Energy…Even Transfer Apps.

I covered the law school transfer application process in more detail in another article,[6] but it will represent a relatively significant investment of your time and resources.  The transfer application process is a lot easier to complete than you initial law school application, but it will involve getting letters of recommendation from your current law professors and so it would be unwise to put it off until just before the deadlines. There are significant demands on your time in law school and so adding even a relatively manageable application process can take a lot out of you.

5) Credit and Course Transfer Limitations

Similar to undergraduate programs, Law schools will generally only transfer a certain number of credits, typically 30 credits is the maximum.[7]  If you took a large credit load during your 1L year or you did an externship at your 1L law school during the summer, or both, then you may end up losing a few credits by virtue of your transfer.  Also, variance in the 1L curriculum of your 1L law school as opposed to your transfer school means you may have more required courses than non-transfer 2Ls including re-taking certain courses.  For most students, these factors are only a minor inconvenience that can be overcome fairly easily, but this factor could be more of an issue if you were planning on early graduation as that may not be attainable with a loss of credits or due to variance in your required course load.


This article focused on some of the factors that may impact you as a law school transfer student in comparison to completing your degree at the law school where you attend as a 1L.  Unfortunately, most of the factors cut against transferring. For that reason, it is generally inadvisable to transfer law schools unless there is a fairly substantial difference between the transfer law school and the law school where you began your legal education. Although, you should take the time to research the specific school you are considering based on the factors above to see if that school has implemented policies that are more favorable to transfer students than what is generally the case.

Feel free to ask us a question in the comments section below if you are considering making the jump to a new law school after your first year.

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  1. All ABA-approved law schools require that you complete 2 years of course credit at their respective schools, and so a transfer occurs after the first year, while a visiting year occurs after the second year.
  2. I use the word “bond” rather than friendship because what I am describing applies even if you did not like a single fellow law student.
  3. I was one of the fortunate ones to be able to write on as I believe there were about twenty five to thirty submissions for only two spots. Relying on the write-on competition for your third year is certainly a gamble and writing a note or comment will represent a significant investment of time that you may not otherwise receive any credit for.
  4. See Columbia’s Journal Policies for Transfer Students.  
  5. Columbia typically admits 35-60 transfer students out of approximately 400 applications. http://web.law.columbia.edu/admissions/jd/apply/transfer-student
  6. See 3 Things to Know for Law School Transfer Applications.
  7. See e.g., USC’s law school transfer policies.  

3 Things to Know for Law School Transfer Applications

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If you are a 1L and the law school you are attending is not exactly your top choice, then you may consider applying to transfer to a different school starting in your second year. This article discusses three things you should know about the law school transfer application process.

(1) Your 1L Class Rank Is Likely the Most Important Determining Factor

Transfer applications are a completely different game than your initial law school application process because you now have an actual law school academic record, which is a much better predictor of future law school success and employment prospects than your undergraduate GPA, personal statement, or LSAT score.  So being in the top third to top ten-percent of your 1L class makes you a great candidate for a transfer, assuming your goal is to move to a more prestigious institution.  Alternatively, if you are outside the top half of your class then you will have a very difficult time trying to move to a higher ranked law school, although a geography-based lateral transfer may still be a possibility.

Other factors that tend to make a significant difference in the initial application process have less sway for purposes of transfer applications.  Undergraduate academic achievements, your LSAT score, and letters of recommendation from anyone other than a current law professor will have little effect on your transfer application.  My experience has been that diversity also does not play as significant a role in transfer applications as was the case during the initial application process.

(2) Transfer Applications Take Time and Energy At A Time When You Will Have Very Little of Either

Even though it’s a different animal, some elements in the application process will seem very familiar including essays or personal statements, letters of recommendation, and of course the fee that each school you apply to may charge.  In terms of maximizing your opportunities through transfer applications, the key is to plan ahead.  It is important to recognize that even the pared-down process still takes significant time, energy and planning.  Transfer applications are a walk in the park by comparison to your original law school application process, but you are also a lot busier during and following your 1L year than you were during your final year of college. You should at least be in the planning phase and assessing the process at your targeted schools before you disappear into your exam season in the Spring.  I would strongly encourage you to identify and meet with the professors who will be providing letters of recommendation before exam season.

(3) Identify and Meet with Your Recommending Professor Prior to Your 1L Spring Semester Exams

One interesting aspect of law school transfer applications is that they require letters of recommendation from one or more of your current law professors. These letters take time to write and law professors are not exactly known for keeping regular office hours during the summer, so you will get a much better result speaking with the law professor during the middle of your second semester.  Obviously you should select a professor from a class where you performed well and that you believe would have good things to say about you as a student.  This means you get to look forward to: (i) going in to meet with your law professor in person,[1] (2) informing said professor that you, one of their brightest students, are applying to transfer from their law school, and (iii) asking them to write a letter of recommendation to help you in that endeavor.

I will note that meeting with a law professor for a transfer recommendation can be a potentially awkward conversation and you will want to make sure that you have a good reason for applying to transfer that you can share with the professor. [2]  The reality is that most law professors are not so invested in their school as to take offense if you decide you want to pursue an opportunity to transfer.  The significant majority of law professors attended a top-ten ranked law school, which is probably not the case for you if you are considering a transfer, and so they both recognize that there may be better opportunities at other law schools and they will understand your desire to pursue those opportunities so long as you have a good reason for seeking a transfer.

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  1. Please do not even think about ducking out on this in-person meeting with your recommending law professor by requesting a letter of recommendation via email. It is a must that you meet with your recommending law professor face to face if you want to receive a valuable letter of recommendation.
  2. Simply stating that you are transferring to improve your job prospects by moving to a law school that is ranked slightly higher in the U.S. News rankings is not going to be very persuasive to either the recommending law professor or the law school to which you are applying. Even if that is the primary reason you are transferring, there are probably other reasons that will sound a lot more thoughtful and persuasive that you should be ready to communicate when you meet with the professor you selected.