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The Purpose of a Cover Letter and Resume for Law Students

published February 25, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
Published By
( 15 votes, average: 3.9 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.
A good letter and resume accomplish three things. First, the letter tells prospective supervisors why you want to intern with them, as opposed to the many other offices you could have contacted. Second, your resume highlights the training and qualifications that make you useful to their work. And third, your letter and resume continue to convey absolute professionalism-this time in written form.

Your Cover Letter: Why This Office?

Nothing gets others' attention faster than genuine interest in who they are and what they do. Conveying such interest is a main objective of the internship-seeker's cover letter.

If you did your assignments in your law school well, you already know why you are interested in the offices you have targeted. These offices have a high probability of meeting your personal learning objectives and career goals. You have researched the work they do, and it is the same work that you would like to pursue as a career. You may even have learned something about the educational and professional backgrounds of key individuals in this office and found something that you admired. If you have done these things, then each cover letter has almost written itself.

Cover letters should be no more than one page long. They should have a formal business.

The body of the letter usually conforms to the following outline:
  1. Introduction: Begin with a short introduction reminding the reader of the recent telephone (or in-person) conversation about a possible internship. This paragraph should be short-only one or two sentences in length- and convey a cordial tone.
  2. Rationale: A longer paragraph follows, stating two or three reasons for wanting to intern with this firm. Describe learning objectives that are consistent with work performed in this office. Mention other features that attracted you to this office, such as its reputation or its computer facilities. Avoid citing features that are not work related (such as convenient location or anticipated compensation).
  3. Internship essentials: This short paragraph explains essential details of the internship such as the date it begins and the number of internship hours needed. Also refer here to your enclosures, which are (1) your resume; (2) a copy of your program's internship brochure, guidelines, or policy statement, if one is available; and (3) possibly some work samples.
  4. Closing: End with an upbeat sentence stating when you will contact them again. Make sure your letter creates a bridge to an appropriate next step.

Each office is unique and each offers different career and learning opportunities. For that reason, it is to your advantage to tailor your cover letters to each office. Let each letter speak honestly but specifically of the recipient-office as if it were the only internship letter you were sending. Such personalization creates maximum impact on those you most want to reach.

Your Resume: Emphasize the Relevant

Countless job-hunting guides and resume "how-to" books are on the market, providing extensive and detailed instructions on creating a resume. Generally, all such guides describe two ways of presenting your background and experience in a resumed chronologically and functionally.

The oldest method is the chronological resume. Under the customary headings (mainly education and work experience), information is listed in reverse chronological order, beginning with the most recent experience at the top of each list, and then working backward through time.

From an employer's point of view, the chronological resume" has only one advantage: it accounts for the applicant's entire professional history. Any gaps in the applicant's employment history (such as for child-rearing, hospitalization, or-heaven forbid-jail sentences) become easy to spot. An explanation can then be requested. In other words, the chronological resume" becomes a basis for screening out candidates but rarely any reason for hiring them.

The chronological resume has far more disadvantages than advantages. Chronologically listed job titles tell little or nothing about what applicants actually did in their jobs, what achievements were attained, and what skills were developed. For applicants with a limited job history and also for many career changers, the lack of achievement-based information in their resumes can cripple their job search.

A word of caution about functional or achievements-style resumes: do not become too imaginative in describing skills or accomplishments. If a description of a summer job in the complaints department at Macy's reads like a job description for president and CEO of the company, all credibility is lost. At the same time, avoid being too ambiguous about the nature of previous employment. Provide enough specifics so that earlier jobs are not mysterious.

Look for examples of difficult achievements and useful skills-every student has several. Describe them in meaningful detail, and keep the descriptions within the realm of verifiable reality. For an intern's functional or achievements-style resume, specific items can be listed under some of the following categories:
  • Computer skills (every student should include this)
  • Organizational ability
  • Drafting experience
  • Research experience
  • Analytical skills
  • Writing experience
  • Litigation experience (or experience in criminal law, probate, environ-mental law, etc.)
  • Administrative or managerial experience
  • Technical expertise (such as nursing, engineering, accounting, bookkeeping, or others, if relevant)
  • Experience with clients or customer relations
  • Problem-solving ability
  • Publications

Resume guides and job-hunting manuals typically recommend limiting your resume' to one page and, in many offices, a one-page resume is what employers expect. For young candidates with limited work experience, the one-page rule is probably easy to follow. For mature career changers, this may be a difficult restriction.

Additional relevant information can sometimes be discretely added in an addendum. For example, a list of relevant courses might be separately prepared, including a short description of each course and of key assignments you performed. To avoid having this taken as a second page of your resume^ let it carry a separate title such as "Paralegal Courses Completed."

Because each internship office is different, your cover letters were tailor-made for each office. You can do the same for your resumes. For example, you may have learned that one office needs research assistance whereas another expects a great deal of client contact. Your prior experience may cover both of these skills. To save resume space, elaborate on your research experience only in one resume and include lengthier details about previous client/customer relations in the other. This technique adds details only where they are needed, keeping each customized resume to a single page.

Using a good word processor makes it easy to customize your resume. If a master resume is put on disk, then each printed resume can be a slightly modified version of the original. Remember though, you are not making things up out of thin air. You are emphasizing different aspects of your training and experience for different internship settings.

Alternative Summary

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’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads 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.

More about Harrison

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

published February 25, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
( 15 votes, average: 3.9 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.