How to Write a Legal Cover Letter and Templates

The purpose of a cover letter is to express your reasons for sending a resume to a particular employer. For example: “I am writing in response to your job notice with the Office of Career Services at Harvard Law School” or “I am writing because I am interested in environmental law, and your firm is at the forefront in the field.” In addition, it is your opportunity to expand on the general information in your resume, to make it specific to the particular position to which you are applying.



A good cover letter:
  • describes all of the positive things you bring to a particular job;
  • explains what you can do for the employer, not what the employer can do for you;
  • shows your interest in, or ties to, a particular position or geographic area;
  • permits the employer to view you as a well-rounded person with good organizational and writing skills;
  • is the first writing sample that a potential employer sees;
  • uses the same heading as on your resume;
  • always includes a date;
  • uses standard business letter format (see examples in this handbook);
  • uses the correct employer name and contact name, with the correct spelling of the person’s name;
  • identifies the desired position or type of position specifically and, if applicable, explains the circumstances that lead you to apply;
  • focuses upon the writer’s relevant skills, training, or experience, either by highlighting the resume or adding information;
  • refers briefly to the resume or any other enclosures;
  • requests an interview;
  • does not exceed one page, with approximately three fairly brief paragraphs;
  • is always accompanied by your resume whether you mail it in response to a job notice or as part of a targeted job search mailing that you initiate;
  • is printed on the same paper stock as your resume (and should have matching envelopes, which you can usually purchase with resume paper); and
  • thanks the employer.



Address Your Cover Letter to a Person
Cover letters must be addressed to a particular person by name and title (Hiring Manager, Hiring Chair, Partner, Recruiting Coordinator). If you do not know the name of the proper contact person, call the employer and ask the receptionist for the name of the person in charge of hiring. Consider addressing your letter to someone who works in your area of interest or to a Harvard alumnus – in other words, someone likely to take an interested look at your resume.

Letter Writing Style

Be persuasive and creative with your cover letters. Try to put yourself in the employer’s position: s/he has already reviewed fifty letters and resumes in the previous hour. Some review over 1,000 per week. Make your letter easy to read and interesting, and illustrate the skills and talent you bring to the table.

Salutation

Your letter should be addressed to a specific person, and the salutation should be followed by a colon, not a comma.

        Dear Mr. Smith:

Aim for Three Paragraphs
  • First paragraph should grab the reader’s attention by explaining why you are writing him or her. An employer wants to know why you have written his/her company/firm/organization and how you can contribute. Learn as much as you can about the employer before writing the letter. The information will enable you to demonstrate that the decision to write that specific employer was an informed one, not just because their name appeared on an employer list. If the employer is in another geographic location, mention your connection to that location. For example, you may be applying for positions in your hometown or that of your spouse. Also mention your plans to take the bar examination in that state.

    Second paragraph should convince the employer that they should meet and hire you. Present your experience and skills in detail and discuss how your experiences translate into skills that will be useful to the employer. If there is a job description, pay attention to it and carefully echo the language from the description in your letter. Always keep in mind that they want your skills to match the job they are seeking to fill.

  • Third paragraph should thank the employer for his/her time and consideration and express your availability for an interview. Include your telephone number and email address so they can easily reach you. If you plan to travel to the area to which you are applying, mention this in the third paragraph. Employers often will take your request for an interview much more seriously if you tell them in your cover letter that you plan to be in their city on a particular day.

    A cover letter should contain the following:

    - A statement of who you are, without stating your name and what you want, at a minimum. For example “I am a first year student at Harvard Law School, and I would like to be considered for a summer position at [name of firm/organization].”
    -  A reminder that a resume is enclosed for review. For example: “Enclosed is my resume,” or “As my resume reflects...”
    - A statement of your skills and accomplishments. Make sure to be creative and specific about your skills and accomplishments by giving examples. This paragraph is essential to sparking interest in the prospective employer, so make it work for you. 

    For example:
  • “As you will see from my resume, I have done extensive research in the areas of juvenile rights and child custody while in law school. That work led to a publication in The Family Law Reporter. I enjoyed the challenge of developing the project and welcome the opportunity to bring the same energy and enthusiasm to projects with your law firm.”

    “As a small firm specializing in complex business litigation and white collar criminal defense, your firm is perfectly suited to my individual strengths and skills. During my time at Harvard, I have focused on business and criminal law, achieving academic honors in four of the last five semesters.”

    “As my resume reflects, I have developed the research and writing skills that will benefit your firm. For over a year, I have been working as a law clerk for a personal injury firm, completing legal research and drafting documents such as legal memoranda, motions to dismiss, and motions for summary judgment. Prior to law school, I worked as a paralegal in the real estate, commercial law, and estate planning department of a large law firm where I...”

  • - A conclusion, in which you tell the reader what you would like him or her to do next. For example: “I would welcome an opportunity to meet with you personally at your convenience.”


If you plan to email your resume, cover letter and transcript to an employer, make sure to attach them all in one PDF and label the PDF so the employer may easily find it at a later date e.g. Brian Smith Application Materials.pdf. 
Also, make sure you sign the cover letter by cutting and pasting your signature into your on-line cover letter. In the body of the email, address the recipient as “Dear Mr. or Ms. and their last name and briefly state that you have attached a cover letter, resume and transcript for their review.

Targeted Mailings


Avoid the use of mass mailings or services that charge a fee to mass mail. The better approach is a targeted mailing, in which your resume may not have been solicited but, through research and networking, you have identified employers most compatible with your goals and qualifications.

Great cover letters are highly personalized to the employer you are contacting. A “personalized mailing” may sound like a contradiction in terms, but mailings can be personalized much more than is commonly thought, even if you start with fairly standard language as a model. For example, a mailing can be personalized by writing different letters for different types of employers. You could tailor one letter for a small, general practice law firm, one for civil litigation firms, one for government agencies, etc. Drafting several different model letters for different types of employers allows you to make specific statements of your reasons for wanting to work at each one.
You can also draft letters for different geographic regions. For example, if you are originally from the West Coast and wish to return there to practice law, you might say something like:
As a native Californian, I attended college at UCLA and always intended to return to Los Angeles after law school. Harvard's excellence in litigation training drew me to the Midwest... 




Here are some samples:


April 1, 2018

Larry Lawyer
Gould & Ratner LLP
222 North First Street, Suite 800 

Los Angeles, CA

Dear Mr. Lawyer:

I am writing to express my strong interest in the law clerk position at Gould & Ratner. I am a first-year law student at Harvard Law School. I am interested in Gould & Ratner because of its focus on corporate and business law.

As my resume illustrates, I have a strong background in legal research and writing. Prior to law school, I attended the University of California, where I majored in English and was a Research Assistant to Professor Michael Smith for whom I conducted research on recent changes to the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure. My undergraduate coursework and debate experience required that I develop excellent research, writing and public speaking skills.

During my first semester of law school, I developed strong legal research and writing skills. In my legal writing class I wrote a ten page legal memorandum on a medical malpractice issue. My education and experience have honed my legal research and writing skills and confirmed my interest in practicing law. Based on my experience, education and enthusiasm, I am confident that I would be an asset to your firm.

I would welcome the opportunity to interview and learn more about your firm. Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

Signature
Susan H. Student 



March 7, 2018


The Honorable William D. Maddux
Circuit Court of Cook County, Law Division 50 W. Washington, Suite 2005
Chicago, IL 60602


Dear Judge Maddux:

I am a first-year student at Harvard Law School and am interested in obtaining a judicial externship with the Circuit Court of Laos County, Law Division for the summer of 2017.

I believe my strong analytical, research, and writing skills would make me a valuable extern. During my first year at Harvard, I received a CALI Award for the highest grade in my legal writing section. In my legal writing course, I completed a research memorandum involving a medical malpractice claim and a trial level brief in support of a motion to dismiss in a domestic violence case. Prior to law school, I wrote for the University of Michigan newspaper where I honed my editing skills and attention to detail.

I am very interested in civil litigation, specifically personal injury law, and would value the opportunity to extern in the Law Division. I have enclosed my resume, unofficial transcript, and a brief writing sample. If you find that my qualifications meet your needs, I would be grateful for an opportunity to interview. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
Signature
Samuel F. Student 

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