Cover Letters And Resumes For Law Students

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Cover Letter

The cover letter, like all correspondence and writings sent to employers, should be typed on good bond paper by a professional typist/secretary on an electric typewriter or a word processor. Style and appearance count impressively in any lawyer's presentation. Substance is important, but a flawless, dignified presentation indicates careful attention to all aspects of a problem. The cost of professionally prepared correspondence and resumes is not insignificant, but the benefit of a thoroughly professional Appearance a favorable impression that prevents rejection on looks alone clearly outweighs the financial detriment. To alleviate the economic burden on law students, many law schools arrange with secretarial pools or printing companies to provide correspondence and resume printing services at a lower cost based on volume. Investigate and use available secretarial services to your best benefit.

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The cover letter should comprise no more than twenty lines of text. The letter should be direct and brief, stating the following:
  1. Position applied for.
  2. Relationship between your professional interest and employer's practice.
  3. If directed to a personal contact, some colloquial thoughts personalizing the contact.
  4. Professional and academic background, relating if possible to employer's practice.
  5. Availability for interviews, specifying dates of travel through certain cities.
The letter should be addressed, if not to a personal contact, to the "Hiring Committee (or Partner)," or "Recruitment Coordinator," and the salutation should be "Ladies and Gentlemen," or "Dear Sir/Madam." If writing to a personal acquaintance, send an informative but conversational letter to the contact, and send a formal, generic letter to the recruitment committee. If you have no personal contact at the firm, do not write to a partner selected at random from some directory: the random selection will forward the letter to the recruitment committee, and the indirect route will cost you at least a few days, and perhaps longer if the lawyer is traveling or inattentive to mail.

The cover letter can be an effective tool of introduction to an unknown employer or an appropriate reaffirmation of a personal contact. More important, the initial impression fostered by the letter should not be unfavorable. The letter should be crafted sensibly and without stylistic error it should at least earn you no demerits.


Although considered here as a contemporaneous attachment to the cover letter, the resume should actually be crafted, typed, and printed during your investigation of prospective employers. The resume" is integral to your presentation and requires painstaking preparation. Often the hiring partner distributes throughout the firm only the resume without cover letter or other attachments. The resume the crux of the written package, must only highlight your educational and employment history. Appearance is crucial here the function of the resume is the gaining of entrance to the firm.

Though there is controversy over the proper length, your resume" should consist of one 8 1/2" X 11" page. Too much length is a hindrance. The firm may receive literally thousands of resumes. A lawyer reviews your resume in a glance; the second page of a two-page resume is often neglected. For most students, one page is sufficient to communicate the highlights. If you can compile enough significant information to cover two pages, do so. Never exceed two. Because brevity of presentation is crucial, resist the urge to sprinkle a second or third page with editorships of high school yearbooks and collegiate intramural football awards. That information is irrelevant to your application for a position as a lawyer, and, more important, your inability to distinguish between significant and unhelpful facts negatively impresses a prospective employer. Resume drafting demands concentrated fact sifting and sure organization. Include aspects of your background that most forcefully shape your legal image.

The resume may be treated in separate sections. Identification of the applicant and immediate personal information should be as brief as possible. Your name appears best in bold block capital letters, with one complete given name and initials indicating other given names. Provide a mailing address and telephone number, and stop. Clutter such as health status, marital status, and age distracts a reader from information relevant to law qualifications. Though it should not, the subject of a woman's marital status may arise during an interview and can be handled then.

The two major areas of a resume" are education and employment histories. Lead with the more impressive background. When in doubt, begin with education. List the name of your law school, its proffered degree with date, and all non employment activities related to your law school career law journal, law school newspaper, moot court, student government, student A.B.A. participation, etc. Grades in law school courses or rank in class should be included if impressive. Include no reference if you rank below the top third of the class. The purpose of the resume is to obtain an interview; look as good as possible on paper.

List the names of other graduate schools from which you received degrees, but include no additional information concerning those schools unless it indicates excellent academic achievement. List the name of the undergraduate institution from which you received a degree, and list other undergraduate institutions only if you would be able to demonstrate in an interview a sound reason (not San Diego's better weather) for attending more than one college. Include in the college list the degree received and the year of award, academic record indicating high achievement, and nothing else. Publications at any educational level should appear in a separate section, as they do in this book.

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Your employment history should optimally include work that is "professional" in Appearance, because Appearance tells more weightily than substance. You should list all jobs related to law practice and others that involved some responsibility, such as assistant manager of a restaurant or sales representative in a real estate office. Do not include, unless you have no better, jobs of lesser managerial stature (file clerk in a real estate office). If your responsibilities, however, included managerial and menial aspects, phrase the description to emphasize the managerial duties; you can discuss details verbally during an interview.

When referring to an organization, include the full name, address, and telephone number. It is not necessary to include the name of a reference in the resume because the employer will not contact a former employer until completing a successful interview with you, during which the employer might ask for a personal reference. To describe the type of work performed at a job, do not use the first-person narrative form ("I prepared pleadings"). Use instead the impersonal noun form "Preparation of pleadings, briefs; assistance at hearings"). If your duties at a firm were more nonlegal (filings) than legal, emphasize the law-related aspects "research" and "data compilation" can become wide-ranging concepts when used imaginatively in a work description. Do not, how-ever, misrepresent. Devote substantial effort to describing adeptly and favorably any given job. Make the "look" good.

In the employment realm, as in all parts of the resume choose selectively among jobs you have held, and do not prate indefinitely, even with law-related work. The practice of splitting a summer between two jobs at different organizations in one or more cities has become common; do not hesitate to describe that circumstance. Law school clinical programs carry good Appearance weight, if your description conveys the merit of the job and not merely the objective significance of a school-sponsored job. judicial clerkships, during school or post-graduation, are impressive, especially if you drafted opinions as well as researched. Assistance in a research capacity to a law professor is particularly attractive.

Publications should constitute a separate portion of the resume. Law-related articles, case notes and comments, and chapters of lawyers' or professors' books should be listed in reverse chronological order, using correct legal citation. Because names of law review articles often distend, abbreviate, if desirable, without distorting the sense of the title. To embellish, italicize the titles. Published work has great Appearance quality, because printed matter impresses the reader by its form, even though form may be the article's most impressive feature.

Miscellaneous items such as languages, hobbies, and other non-professional interests may appear briefly in the final section. Be specific. For example, list "tennis" instead of "sports"; "French" instead of "languages." A prime purpose of the miscellaneous section is to elicit questions from the interviewer. This section will seldom gain you an interview that decision turns mainly on the education and employment sections. This last portion will, however, provide fodder for the last ten minutes of an interview, after a discussion of your professional interests and academic background. So be provocative and arresting but not outrageous. The miscellaneous section should not be added unless you can foresee some interest in conversation arising from it. Do not mention an interest in music listening, which is neither unique nor interesting. If you add this section, be brief.

Many resumes contain a line clinging to the bottom of the page indicating that references and writing samples would be supplied on request. Avoid this unnecessary anchor. If the employer desires references, he will ask for them without your suggestion. An employer will not request a writing sample until the interview is completed. (If not asked, you should foist a sample on the employer anyway.) In general, no writing sample will be exchanged before an interview.

Writing Sample

The writing sample is crucial in a total presentation. More important than the cover letter and resume which reflect facts and organizational ability but do little to win over an employer, the writing sample can demonstrate your mind's operation, your ability of expression, and your development of a complete project. Whether a research memorandum, a chapter of a book, or a law review article, your sample can have an enormous effect on uncertain employers. Writing is the fundamental metier of lawyers, and a cohesive essay can outweigh a mediocre resume* or a botched interview.

Employers ache for good writers. Excesses such as verbosity and convolution burden legal writing. Many law school graduates reflect undemanding schooling. Law school legal writing classes often teach research techniques but not legal writing, and certainly not grammar and sentence structure. Law firms have begun to employ writing instructors to coach young entering lawyers. Employers recognize a problem lack of writing skills and welcome students who indicate a native writing ability. Therefore, a writing sample can be vital in your presentation. Perhaps more than any other facet of your approach to the job search, the writing sample reveals numerous aspects of your ability and can be reviewed at leisure long after an interview concludes.

Published work should be used as a sample whenever possible. Publication lends credibility to your talent. Your sample need not have been published, however; most important is that it be law-related. A substantial memorandum of research suits the task, because it reflects your ability to address specific legal issues and draw conclusions based on particular facts. A young lawyer's work is research-oriented, and thus a memorandum well fits the writing sample demand. A nonlegal essay or article may demonstrate writing ability and thought process, but it cannot indicate legal citation or the application of law to fact. Choose carefully the memoranda submitted to employers; factors in the choice are depth of research, length of the memorandum, complexity of the problem, and the range of issues presented. Some projects allow a researcher to recommend a course of action in conclusion; that facet of a memorandum may stimulate an employer.

Ensure that the citations in legal writing comply with standard forms. The most widely adopted guide on legal citation is A Uniform System of Citation, published by the Harvard Law Review. Consistency, brevity, and clarity of citation are the foremost goals. Citation is tedious but important, carrying much substantive and Appearance weight.

Your writing samples should reflect the suggestions of guides to grammar, style, and legal phraseology. Basic and excellent instruction in grammar and style is The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White, published by Macmillan. Read this book: it is short, clear, and cheap. For additional tutoring look to Plain English for Lawyers, by Richard Wydick, published by the Carolina Academic Press it too is brief, clear, and inexpensive. The Texas Law Review publishes a helpful guide to punctuation and word usage, entitled Manual on Style. The traditional leader in the area of style is The Chicago Manual of Style (formerly A Manual of Style) from the University of Chicago Press. All are available at law school bookstores.

Discussion of the form for student articles and case comments is unnecessary, because law journal editorial boards impose certain formats on their staffs. The form of a memorandum is more meaningfully discussed. Unless the employer mandates a certain format, two forms are acceptable. The first: FACTS (a short capsulization of legal issue); CONCLUSION (the application of law to facts); and DISCUSSION (a lengthy explanation of applicable law and relevance to pertinent facts). The second acceptable format: INTRODUCTION (a description of facts and issues); DISCUSSION (the applicable law and relevance to facts); and CONCLUSION (the results of the application of law to facts).

Different methods of legal citation in memoranda are also appropriate. Citation of cases and statutes may appear in the text immediately following the statements to which they refer. Citations may also appear primarily as footnotes.

See 6 Things Attorneys and Law Students Need to Remove from Their Resumes ASAP If They Want to Get Jobs with the Most Prestigious Law Firms for more information.

A memorandum should be submitted as a clean (unmarked) photocopy of the original, stapled once in the upper left-hand corner. If the work is very large a piece of forty or more pages a bound submission is appropriate, but in general you should hand the employer the form used originally. A published article may be submitted in galley sheets again, stapled in the upper left-hand corner. A sample memorandum is not included here, because limitations of space prohibit a representative piece. You will assuredly have a wealth of material, from work and academia, from which to choose.

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