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Erin Binns is assistant director for career planning at Marquette University Law School.
• Write letters in your own voice. Select words and sentence structures that reflect your personality and writing style. Copying examples from your career services office guides means you’re likely to submit a plagiaristic letter too similar to someone else’s and not representative of you as a candidate.
• Avoid qualifying statements about your credentials with the phrases: I think; I feel; I believe. Using these phrases makes your statements subjective to your opinions and feelings, which weakens them. It’s more powerful to state: My many practical legal experiences position me to excel with your law firm; rather than, I feel that my many practical legal experiences position me to excel with your law firm.
• Make statements that connect you to the community when applying for positions where there’s no obvious evidence of your interest in or ties to the location. Employers know that people tend to stay in jobs longer when they’re personally connected to and/or enjoy the local area.
• Draft first paragraphs that don’t default to starting with “I am a (insert class year) at (insert law school)” unless you know that your status in these regards is critically important to the reader.
• Double- and triple-check that you’ve spelled the employer’s name correctly throughout the letter.
I am a May 2010 law school graduate, and I am familiar with Buelow Vetter’s reputation as an outstanding law firm. I would like to meet with you to discuss my interest in joining your firm as an associate attorney. My legal experiences and academic success position me to contribute immediately to your firm’s practice. I appreciate your consideration of the enclosed résumé, and I welcome the opportunity to introduce you to my qualifications and to learn more about Buelow Vetter.
Had the author taken time to explore the firm’s website, she could have written the following paragraph:
Market yourself in relevant terms. Letters provide an amazing opportunity for you to thoughtfully mix and package the ingredients listed on your résumé into a savory presentation that appeals directly to the reader.
Congratulations on the recent opening of Buelow Vetter in Waukesha, Wisconsin. As a young attorney, I am excited by the opportunity to join a law firm with experienced lawyers who are redefining their practices in a newly established firm. I understand that Buelow Vetter is committed to counseling employers in the areas of labor, employment, employee benefits, and school law, which are practices that match my professional interests and experiences. I would like to meet with you at this time to discuss my on-point qualifications and to learn more about your law firm and how I can contribute meaningfully to the work of its clients as an associate attorney.
I appreciate that Jones & Smith values hiring a law student with superior writing skills. My achievements in writing courses and practical legal experiences evidence my capacity to excel with your firm. I earned honors grades both semesters of Legal Analysis, Writing, and Research and am currently enrolled in an appellate writing course where I continue to refine my writing and research skills. Moreover, as a law clerk with a civil litigation firm, I was given significant responsibilities in drafting briefs in support of dispositive motions. I received positive feedback from the assigning attorneys both formally at my exit interview and informally throughout the summer. In many instances my initial drafts required few, if any, edits prior to being submitted to courts. I am excited to meet and exceed your firm’s expectations while preparing legal documents and conducting research that will advance clients’ goals.
For more information on drafting cover letters, check out “Construct impressive cover letters,” Student Lawyer, vol. 36, no. 6, February 2008, written by Erin Binns.
A well-drafted cover letter can generate opportunities where none existed. Last spring a third-year law student I worked with sent out cold letters to firms of interest. She received an e-mail response from a lawyer noting that his firm wasn’t intending to hire a new lawyer, but the student’s letter was so well written, she earned herself a meeting. Several weeks later, the student had an offer in hand. The firm found “her person to be equally impressive to her letter” and decided to add her to the legal team.
Generate interest in your candidacy and motivate employers to invite you to interview with remarkable cover letters. Exploit the opportunity letters offer you to stand out as a candidate by establishing employer-specific connections and your capacity to excel as a member of its team.
Erin Binns , is assistant director for career planning at Marquette University Law School.