Cover Letter Advice
The cover letter is a sample of your written work and should be brief (preferably one page), persuasive, well-reasoned, and grammatically perfect.
A good cover letter:
- Tells the employer who you are (e.g., a first-year student at YLS) and what you are seeking (e.g., a summer intern position);
- Shows that you know about the particular employer and the kind of work the employer does (i.e., civil or criminal work, direct client service, "impact" cases, antitrust litigation);
- Demonstrates your writing skills;
- Demonstrates your commitment to the work of that particular employer and converys that you have something to contribute;
- Shows that you and that employer are a good "fit;" and
- Tells the employer how to get in touch with you by email, telephone, and mail.
Determine to whom you should address the cover letter. If you are applying to law firms, address your letter to the recruiting director. For NALP member firms, use the NALP Directory to obtain contact information. (NALP also provides a useful mail merge feature for generating multiple letters). For other employers, you can refer to their websites, or contact the office to determine to whom your materials should be directed.
Although there are many ways to write a cover letter, the following format has worked well for students in the past.
- In the first paragraph of your cover letter, explain why you are sending your resume to the employer: “I am a first-year student at Yale Law School and am seeking a position with your organization for the summer 20xx.” If you are applying to public interest employers and are eligible for SPIF funding, you can mention that here.
- Use the second paragraph to explain your interest in the employer, including your interest in the employer’s geographic location, reputation, specialty area, or public service.
- In the third paragraph, stress why this employer should hire you. Elaborate on the qualifications that you possess that will make you an exceptional summer intern or attorney.
- The final paragraph should thank the employer for taking the time to review your application and tell them how to reach you. You may wish to state that you will contact the employer in a couple of weeks to follow-up and then actually do so. This is especially true with public interest employers who are often understaffed and will appreciate your extra effort.
Additional CDO Resources
Sample Cover Letter for Legal Job Seekers
A good lawyer cover letter is your foot in the door when you're applying for a job with a law firm. It's an invitation to the reader -- the hiring manager or maybe the senior partner -- to move on to your resume. It's your opportunity to convince him that he simply has to meet you and learn more about you.
But too much creativity can be a drawback -- you'll want to exude professionalism and tempered enthusiasm.
Here's a sample legal cover letter to guide you.
Get the Caption Right
Include your full name -- be sure to use the one under which you've been admitted to the bar if you're a lawyer. Give your street address, not a P.O. box, including your city, state and zip code. Include your phone number with a notation as to whether it's a cellphone or landline. Give your email address -- many employers prefer to reach out by email first.
Enter the date below this information, then address who you're sending the letter to the name and address of the law firm and, below that, an "ATTN:" line with the name of the individual within the firm who will read your letter.
The Body of Your Lawyer Cover Letter
Dear [Insert name of hiring manager or partner]:
State the position for which you are applying and explain how you learned of the job opening in your opening paragraph. This is also a good place to mention the name of anyone who referred you or a mutual acquaintance.
Try to craft your opening in a compelling manner that will encourage the reader to read on. Toot your own horn a little. Example: “As an award-winning paralegal with 20 years of personal injury experience, I am writing in response to the position of litigation paralegal advertised in the Main Street Legal Journal.”
Now it's time to explain your skills. Use the next paragraph or two to detail your education and experience. Keep in mind that this is all mentioned in your resume as well -- your letter should be a brief summary of what the reader will learn if he looks at your resume next.
Match your skills to the requirements of the position and highlight any relevant awards and accomplishments. Explain how your background, skills, experience and past achievements make you the perfect candidate for the job. Support your statements with evidence whenever possible. Don't merely assert that you're a skilled writer.
Mention that you won the two legal writing competitions and have published over 100 articles. Don't just say that you contributed to a company’s bottom line. Note that you implemented new software that saved the legal department over a million dollars. Break up dense text with bullets and use short paragraphs to promote readability. Endless lines of text can be off-putting.
Make Sure Your Reader Reads On
Use your closing paragraph to thank the firm for considering your application, then request a meeting or interview. Indicate how and when you will follow up on your cover letter and mention the best way to reach you.
If your physical address isn't your mailing address but you want to receive notification of a potential interview by snail mail, this would be a good place to direct the reader to your P.O. box.
All this effort is for naught if your reader doesn't look at your resume and any other documents you've included. Sign off with "Respectfully yours" or something equally formal, place your signature above your name, then add the all-important "Enclosure(s)" line. List everything you're including with the letter, in order.