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Cover Letter and Resume for Legal Professionals

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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.


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 Martindale-Hubble: 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.

Resume

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.

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 r6sume 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 non-legal (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.

Often a resume includes a second page filled with just references. Although this practice has some merit, on balance that sheet is dead weight - an employer who is interested will gladly write in hand during an interview a few names and telephone numbers. Eliminate the heaviness of references and writing samples at the bottom of the first page or the entire second.
 


About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of LawCrossing and an internationally recognized expert in attorney search and placement. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

About LawCrossing
LawCrossing has received tens of thousands of attorneys jobs and has been the leading legal job board in the United States for almost two decades. LawCrossing helps attorneys dramatically improve their careers by locating every legal job opening in the market. Unlike other job sites, LawCrossing consolidates every job in the legal market and posts jobs regardless of whether or not an employer is paying. LawCrossing takes your legal career seriously and understands the legal profession. For more information, please visit www.LawCrossing.com.


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LawCrossing Fact #189: LawCrossing increases the efficiency of your job search by filtering the results and producing listings that are related to your field only.

 

Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts

You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives


Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.

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About Harrison Barnes

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

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