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Cover Letter Guidelines for Paralegal Resume

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A cover letter must be:
 
  1. One page in length. No exceptions. A letter that is longer than one page means you are probably gushing, pleading, or explaining too much.
  2. Three paragraphs. Make the following three points of emphasis:
     
    • Why you are writing and who you are?
    • Skills, value, and contribution you make to specific job or situation
    • Action step-ask them to take action or tell them the action you will be taking
  3. Written in the active voice. Avoid the passive voice. Instead of "One point of emphasis is," write "I emphasize"; do not say "some of the skills that should be considered are," say, "Consider these skills." The passive voice tends to be a weak construction that people use when they are writing instead of when they are speaking. The direct active voice gives a feeling of vitality to your letter.
  4. Easy to read. Do not use multisyllabic words when short, simple words will do. Overcomplicated letters that only attempt to impress and intellectualize defeat the purpose of the cover letter.
The initial Paragraph of the Cover Letter


The first paragraph, generally, should be no more than three to four sentences. State the purpose of your communication in the first sentence. The K.I.S.S. Rule (Keep It Simple, Stupid) applies here. This rule simply means, do not over think this process. Get to the point, and when you are done, go on to the next; when you are done with all your points, quit. Start with your most important points in the first paragraph: Who you are and why you are writing.
 
  • A recent graduate of a paralegal program, a paralegal with experience in an internship, or a paralegal with a certain kind of experience in certain practice areas.
  • If it is a networking letter, begin by referring to the name of the person who is the key reference name. That immediately identifies you with the reader.
  • The advertisement to which you are responding.
  • The practice area around which your interest/experience and their firm revolve.
  • A geographic area to which you are moving.
  • Specialty kinds of experience or educational background which will make you stand out instantly.

In the first two sentences you should have covered the basics:

I am a recent graduate of ABC Paralegal Institute and recently had a stimulating internship experience with a busy personal injury firm here in town. Since you practice in this area, I would like to speak with you about the potential of performing some contract work for you and your firm.

If you have a four-year degree, be sure to include that in your first paragraph.

In this opening, you are immediately addressing who you are and why you are contacting them. You have already qualified yourself in two ways and have offered a proposition. Since in this example we are not responding to a formal job advertisement, we lower the stakes with an offer of contract work. Attorneys are often much more willing to talk about occasional work than a full-time offer. Remember, your goal is to obtain an interview-to get seated in front of a decision maker. If you have not referred to full-time work in your cover letter that does not mean therefore that you cannot talk about it in the interview. This is a secret to all approaches, whether they are written or oral. If in your opening statements you say something like. "I am available for part-time, temporary, contract, or full-time work," you will get more interest than if you ask for a full-time job alone. The reason is simple: The total number of full-time permanent openings is smaller than the total number of paralegal employment opportunities.

You are not committing yourself to every offer you get. The mere fact that you have broadened the area of discussion to include a wider array of work does not obligate you. You must consider every offer, query, and interview and then decide which to accept.

The "Law of Mutual Arising" is a Chinese concept that simply rephrases a Newtonian law of physics: "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." People in sales are often instructed on how to lower resistance. They are told to be more "soft sell," so that people will be less defensive. The same thing applies in the cover letter. Ask for a job and the corresponding resistance will be, "Why, I don't have a job!" Ask for less (time for an interview or a part-time or temporary job) and the resistance to your request is lowered. So, one approach is to state that you are available for all types of work, instead of limiting your scope to a full- time job. This opens up more possibilities and reduces rejection. It is likely that a firm will have some kind of work, whether it is temporary, part- time, or contract. The other way to lower rejection through lowered stakes is to not ask for employment at all, but rather ask for time.

I would appreciate an opportunity to sit down with you and discuss the role of paralegals in your practice area.

This can be phrased a number of ways, but the key point is that you are not asking for a job, you are seeking time to talk about the market place, the practice area you have designated, what it is like to work in a firm such as this, what particular problems or challenges the attorney faces which you might specifically be able to help with. This method is employed particularly in face-to-face networking, telemarketing, and just chatting with people socially; it starts with a paragraph in a cover letter.

In a fully engaged job search, you will be called on to write different kinds of cover letters. With most advertised leads, the direct approach is natural and logical. You are writing because of an advertisement. Most net working leads, however, were generated through your own effort and the efforts of your friends and associates, so the natural approach is to ask for an interview or a session in which you can freely discuss all upcoming potential openings. In direct mail, the theory is to open your-self up to as many possibilities as can be activated. You are working a "numbers game" and you invested dearly in a large mailing. Any conversation you can get, over the phone, or in person, has a monetary value to you. In the case of direct mail, you want to appear as accessible and flexible as possible. So, every time you write a cover letter, remember the first paragraph is to focus on where you are coming from and what you are after. Your opening paragraph should cover the WHO and the WHY and then close so that you can quickly get to your skills, value, and potential benefits.
 


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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.

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