Legal Cover Letters
The cover letter is a written introduction. You should highlight your most relevant skills and genuine interest in the prospective employer.
A cover letter should usually accompany every resume you send out (unless the employer specifically requests otherwise or you are attending a job fair where you are not able to provide one). Many legal employers refuse to review a resume if it is not accompanied by a cover letter.
Sample Cover Letters
Samples are provided at the following links. Please use them as guides only.
- Your cover letter should briefly highlight your qualifications and accomplishments. It should almost never be longer than one page.
- The cover letter is meant to sell the applicant to potential employers – the letter should be engaging, professional, and positive at the same time.
- The cover letter also allows the applicant to demonstrate his or her writing and editing skills. Cover letters must be perfect. Consider this your first writing sample. Many staff members may review your letter during the hiring process and any errors will be found.
- There are two types of cover letters: letters of application and letters of inquiry. A letter of application is written to apply to a specific opening. A letter of inquiry is written to explore potential employment opportunities. For example, you may desire to work for a large downtown firm that does not have a position posted or advertised. You can send a letter of inquiry, stating your interest in future openings.
Customizing Your Letters
- Create an individualized cover letter that is targeted to the employer. This is time-consuming, but well worth the effort. Give the employer exactly what they are looking for. Cover letters should address the qualities requested in the posting, if there is one. For instance, if the firm has indicated that it seeks someone with litigation experience, make sure you specifically mention your litigation experience and/or training.
- Do not simply list the experiences from your resume. The cover letter is your opportunity to tie together your experiences in a comprehensive way to explain why you are a good fit for that particular employer.
- A cover letter should not be addressed to a generic entity such as “Hiring Partner” or “To Whom it May Concern.” Instead, call the firm or organization and ask to whom you should send your application materials. Application materials addressed to the appropriate person make your letter look more like an important piece of correspondence and less like junk mail.
- Replace “your firm” with the name of the individual employer.
- If you have a geographic link to the city where the employer is located, make that very clear in your cover letter. Many firms are reluctant to invest time and money in a law student/lawyer who they deem likely to leave the area after the summer or after a few years. This is especially true of firms outside of major cities.
Prepare personal letterhead using the same format and information as that used in the heading of your legal resume.
Use professional grade resume paper for both your resume and cover letter.
Begin with a formal salutation that uses the person’s last name (rather than their full name). Ex. “Dear Ms. Smith:” rather than “Dear Mary Smith:”
It is more commonly accepted to use “Ms.” in professional situations than it is to use “Mrs.”
3. Introductory Paragraph
If you have a connection to the employer, identify the connection in your opening sentence. Ex. “At the suggestion of Professor Smith at The University of Toledo College of Law, I am writing to……..”
Introduce yourself. Ex. “I am a second year student at The University of Toledo College of Law…”
State your intent. Ex. “I am writing to submit my resume for the [Summer Associate/Law Clerk/Externship] position with...”
4 and 5. Middle Paragraphs
Demonstrate your knowledge of the employer and identify reasons you are applying. If applicable, you may mention an interest in one of the firm’s practice areas and show how your interests and background fit with the firm or organization.
Identify any geographic connection you have to the employer. Ex. “I am from the Adrian, Michigan area and plan to return upon graduation.”
Highlight relevant work experience and/or coursework and demonstrate how your specific experiences translate into skills which will be of use to the employer. Ex. “My past experience working for Lucas County Job and Family Services as a caseworker has provided me with excellent experience in listening to and identifying the needs of clients.” Focus on what you can contribute, not on what you hope to get out of the job.
Demonstrate why you are the best applicant for the position by highlighting relevant personal accomplishments or attributes. Ex. “I have enhanced my strong writing and editing skills through service on The University of Toledo Law Review.”
6. Closing Paragraph
Summarize your letter, and point the reader toward your resume.
Close the letter and thank the reader for their time. Ex. “I would be pleased to have the opportunity to interview with you for the position. Thank you for your consideration.”
Let the employer know that you intend to follow-up with them. Ex. “I will be calling within the next two weeks to ensure your receipt of these materials and to discuss the possibility of arranging an interview.”
7. Signature Block
Be sure to use an appropriate letter closing; some examples include, "Respectfully," "Sincerely," and "Best Regards."
Don't forget to sign your cover letter!
- For cover letters sent electronically, consider creating an electronic signature. You can do this by signing a piece of paper in dark pen and scanning it to create a PDF image that you may later insert as your signature.
- If you use a word (“I,” “It,” etc…) more than three or four times to start a sentence, alter your sentence structure so the word is eliminated.
- Double-check for errors in spelling, grammar, or punctuation – employers use your cover letter to assess your communication and writing abilities and any errors will count against you.
- Research the employer before writing. Firm websites, www.nalpdirectory.com, and www.martindale.com are all good information sources.
- Refer the reader to your enclosures (resume, portfolio, writing samples, etc.).
- If a posting requires that you submit a requested salary, often you will want to provide an acceptable/negotiable range. For more details on what an appropriate range might be for a particular position, please contact OPD staff for salary information.