1. Put Yourself in the Employer’s Shoes
Never forget who your audience is and why you are writing this letter, it should be employer-focused. In your first
paragraph, you need to quickly and clearly answer the employer’s unspoken questions
“Who are you?”
“Why have you contacted me?”
“Why should I be interested in meeting you?”
To answer the last question, you need to do some research on the firm. An effective cover letter will
(a) Highlight skills and abilities of most interest to the specific employer reading your letter based on your
knowledge of their needs
(b) Demonstrate that you are familiar with their particular organization.
2. Don’t Re-State Your Resume
Your cover letter should not re-hash your resume. The cover letter is an opportunity to make explicit
how the skills you developed previously will be beneficial to this particular employer. The second
paragraph of your letter should articulate explicitly where your characteristics and experiences meet
their needs. Your introductory sentence or two can assert accomplishments, e.g., “I have developed
strong writing skills” or “solid analytical abilities,” but you must have examples that support your
claims or conclusions (awards, commendations by employer, professor). If you cannot think of any
experience or award that demonstrates this quality or attribute to support your proposition, don’t
make the claim. It cannot just be your opinion.
A successful cover letter is concise, quickly absorbed, sounds genuine and rings sincere. Don’t write
complex, convoluted sentences, or use obscure words in an effort to sound sophisticated and highly
educated. Instead, you will come across as pompous and insincere and your letter will be discarded
before the reader gets to the signature line. Confidence and competence will be best conveyed
through simple, straightforward language. Don’t use outrageous superlatives. Remember that you are
a law student building your legal career on a solid academic and practical foundation. Avoid phrases
“I’m the perfect candidate for this position because…” or “I am confident I will exceed your
expectations in every way.” Blunt statements like these rings hollow. Make plausible claims and be
sure to support them with credible accounts from your experiences
4. Lying – Don’t!
Don’t manufacture a story, or embellish an experience or credential to impress a prospective
employer. One lie begets another and, typically, you get caught somewhere along the way and the
results will be devastating. Integrity is critical in this profession. You want to begin developing a
reputation for being trustworthy and honest now.
5. Avoid Typos and Grammatical Errors
Your sentence structure, punctuation and spelling should be flawless. Don’t give the employer a
reason to toss your application in the “reject” pile. Does the inside address match the salutation?
Always address your letter to the person responsible for legal hiring, not simply “Hiring Partner.”
Make sure the right letter goes into the right envelope. These things may seem intuitive, but many
qualified candidates are immediately rejected for seemingly “minor” errors. Attorneys will cut you
no slack for a simple typo or, even worse, letters that are sloppy, reflect poor editing or proofing. Nor
should they! If you can’t produce a final product that is flawless about yourself, why would an
attorney trust you to competently handle client matters? Don’t rush to get them out or prepare the
letters when you are too tired to be aware of mistakes. Take the extra time to do the job well and you
will receive a better response to your letters.