Students often make the mistake of simply rehashing what is on their resume in their cover letter. A good cover letter should broaden the employer’s perspective regarding your qualifications and why you are a good fit for the position. For example, include any connection to the geographic area, such as the fact that you are looking forward to returning “home” to practice or to be near your family. Explain if you have a strong passion for an area of law. Mention any high grades you received on particular assignments or in certain classes. Explain the effort required to organize an event for your student club and how those skills relate to the position at hand. Your cover letter should be a persuasive tool that convinces the employer you are the the right person for the job!
Students often forget the importance of updating their resume with new honors and activities as they progress through law school. Joined a new organization? Include it under your “Activities” in law school. Or maybe you now have a leadership position in an organization already on your resume. Starting a new internship this semester for additional work experience? Add it to your legal experience with a detailed description of your duties. Have your phone number or address changed? Do you need to change the style of your resume now that you have more material on it? You should constantly revise your resume as you progress through law school. If you have questions about whether an item is appropriate for your resume, contact the CSD or stop by the atrium on Coffee Wednesday from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. for a quick response.
One of the purposes of a thank you note is to distinguish yourself from other candidates. Thank the firm for the opportunity to interview, then remind them why you are the best fit for the position. Focus on the factors that the interviewing attorney(s) seemed to care most about. If they spent a large portion of the interview discussing your connections to the local community, note that you are looking forward to moving back home and to developing meaningful relationships with the local legal community. If the interviewing attorneys focused on your practical knowledge, remind them what legal experiences you have and how well they have prepared you for the position.
The purpose of a thank you note is to express your gratitude for the opportunity to interview and to reinforce why you are the right person for the position. Follow up on any substantive areas you discussed and, when possible, include a reference to a comment from your conversation. For example, if your interviewer mentioned he was working on a huge trial, you might casually wish him success in the upcoming trial.
A writing sample demonstrates your writing abilities and your analytical skills. In an extremely competitive market, it is an excellent resource for law firms to narrow down their candidates. Your writing sample should be 5 to 12 pages in length and should be an example of your finest work. Often, a document from course work is the best choice simply because you will have reviewed it multiple times and have received feedback from your professor. Incorporate any suggestions you receive in that regard and make certain it is a polished product.
A good cover letter should be three to four paragraphs in length and should explain why you are a good fit for the position for which you are hiring. It should be confident, but not arrogant, and should reflect skills beyond what is recited on your resume. A cover letter is a writing sample, so it will be scrutinized by employers. Prepare it sufficiently in advance so that you can schedule an appointment with a Career Services Counselor to review it.
Craft a professional introductory statement. Avoid repeating information that should be clear from your letterhead and resume. Also, resist the urge to tell the employer about the benefits you will receive from working there. Employers are more concerned with what you will do for them. Tell the employer why you will be an asset. Realize you are a commodity and demonstrate an understanding of the business of law practice.
Sell yourself. Words matter. Word choice is a crucial lawyerly skill and will showcase your ability to write persuasively. If you cannot advocate for yourself, how can you convince an employer that you will advocate for their clients?
Be humble but quietly confident in writing about your value and the skills you bring to the table….Most legal employers want to hire bright enthusiastic, and confident people. There is nothing wrong with saying you meet those criteria as long as you do not cross the line into arrogance.
Independently and sequentially, draft one “proof” paragraph for each claim. The proof will consist of employment, education, and other relevant experience. Always write like a lawyer. Make sound arguments. Avoid generalizations and prove everything claimed. Be specific and concise. Always bring your arguments back to the principle that the claim you just proved will benefit the employer.
Reference: “7 Steps to Creating a Great True First Impression” by Joel A. Holt. NALP Bulletin, Vol. 23, No. 8, August 2011.
When students ask me for advice on drafting a cover letter, my best guidance is to start with an outline that reflects the theme or purpose of each paragraph. So many students simply throw together any information they think is helpful without attempting to organize it. Anyone who has ever been involved in hiring for a law firm (and I have) knows that a cover letter is a writing sample. So you must approach it the same way.
First, brainstorm about what makes you a good candidate for the position. Make a list, group similar items together, and find the common theme between them. Then begin that paragraph with a statement that summarizes what the purpose of the paragraph is. Next, list the specific details that back up your claim. For example, if you claim to be a good writer, be prepared to do more than just make a vague, self-serving statement in that regard. Discuss high marks you received on key writing assignments, how you were selected to assist a professor in writing a legal article, or how you obtained a writing certificate.
By following this simple outline with thematic paragraphs, you will prepare a well thought out, organized cover letter that will demonstrate your writing abilities and distinguish you from the other applicants.
It’s time to pull our your resume, update it with any summer experiences, and polish it up so that it is readily available as soon as you find a job opportunity for which you might want to apply. To ensure it is in final form, follow this checklist:
1. Review the resume samples in the Career Services Handbook under the “Application Materials” tab. Don’t have an updated Handbook? Come by our office to pick up one or see us in the atrium each Wednesday from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Grab a free cup of coffee while you are there.
2. Check your heading. Is your name more noticeable than anything else on the page? This requires the right balance of font and size. If you are unsure, run it by your Career Counselor. Don’t have one? Make an appointment by calling our office at 680-7744 or request an appointment online.
3. Check your font. It should be either 11 points or 12 points, and the style should be either Times Roman or Garamond. Use the same font throughout the entire document.
4. NEVER put your picture on your resume. (Yes, there actually are some students who do this.)
5. Proof for typos and spelling by reading the document backwards from the bottom of the page up. This keeps your eye from automatically filling in what it thinks it should see when you read phrases or sentences. By reading backwards, the focus will be on each individual word.
6. Do your descriptions of your work experience convey the specific skills your utilized and list examples? The most specific you can be, the better. For example, list types of motions you prepared rather than simply stating that you prepared motions. It is more impressive to state that you prepared motions to dismiss, motions for summary judgment, motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and motions in limine.
I cringe when a student hands me a resume that devotes a full paragraph to an objective statement. First, objectives are not utilized in the legal field as they once were in the business arena. Moreover, you will note that I said “once were” because they are in fact outdated across the board. Take the objective statement off and use that space to talk about your specific work experiences and the skills you practiced. Or relate a couple of personal interests or other skills you might have. This information is far more impressive than a vague, esoteric statement about what your want to accomplish or achieve, which is purely subjective and utterly meaningless.