One of the most uncomfortable aspects of trying to transfer law schools is asking a professor from your current school for a letter of recommendation. How exactly does one tell a professor—whose career and scholarship are linked to the school you’re hoping to ditch—“I want out of here, and I want you to help me”? Can you say awkward?
You can, but you shouldn’t. It might not be easy to approach a professor—especially one with whom you’ve developed a close relationship—and ask for his or her endorsement on your ticket out, but it’s a necessary step in the law school transfer process. And if you prepare properly, you can avoid flailing in a pool of discomfort. Follow these 6 tips for an effortless recommendation request.
It’s all about relationships—build them early.
Top grades are absolutely essential for transferring, and it’s easy to focus on the 1L final finish line. But schools are likely going to require a letter of recommendation or two, and you want your references to stand out. But how are you going to submit glowing recommendations if you don’t know any of your professors? You don’t have to be BFF with every professor—figure out with which professors you have connections. Stop by during office hours, schmooze at events, talk after class and take advantage of opportunities to engage them in discussions. Building relationships takes time though, so don’t wait until May to say hello for the first time.
Relax—Don’t feel bad about taking charge of your investment.
Just like your professors made certain educational and professional choices throughout their careers to reach their academic positions, you too must make the appropriate choices for your career. Sure, professors likely have pride in their law schools and want to retain the best students. But with the right presentation and an already-developed relationship, you can show them this choice is best for your legal future. And it’s not like you’re stealing their new puppies or throwing water in their faces, so stop feeling guilty.
Go into your professor’s office prepared. Do your research on transferring, the schools you’re interested in, the application requirements and what you’ll need from the professor. Take time to mull over your transfer plan. You should be able to answer the professor’s questions on what you need from him or her and on your future goals. You want to convey that you’ve seriously considered this decision and aren’t acting hastily. Plus, your professor will probably ask questions and may even try to convince you to stay—you should be ready.
The Good, the What, the Why.
As you get ready for the meeting with your professor, you should prepare a few introductory lines. Start with the good—what have you learned from the professor and why do you value your relationship with him or her. Feel free to discuss your positive impressions of the law school as well. Then transition to the what—although you’ve received a great education at your current school, you believe another school will better fit your needs. Explain your ambitions or personal reasons (e.g. relocation) and why you think transferring is the proper step.
It’s Not You, It’s Me . . . Seriously.
Presentation is important in asking for a letter of recommendation. Even if you wish scores of plagues on your current law school, I advise against barging into your professor’s office and shouting “I demand a letter of recommendation so I can get out of this dump.” Not the way to go. Instead of focusing on the negatives of your current law school, and risking offending the professor, you should make the transfer decision about you. Highlight the ways in which this transfer will benefit your career ambitions, whether it’s your desire to practice in a certain area of law, a certain state, a particular type of job or some other reason.
I’ve chosen you!
The final step is to ask your professor for a letter of recommendation, but it’s not enough to just ask. Tell the professor why you think he or she is the best person to write this recommendation. Perhaps you’ve spoken at length about your career goals. Maybe you were a super star in the professor’s class, or the professor learned about your leadership through your involvement in a law school organization. It’s good to demonstrate that you’re not just randomly picking the professor but that you value the relationship.
Law School Transfer: What You Need to Know
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