A cover letter must accompany each resume you personally send to potential employers. It is often the first contact you have with them. This letter introduces you, expands on important points in your resume or parts of your background not mentioned in your resume, and requests an interview. It should be no more than one page (three or four paragraphs).
Research the firm before you write the cover letter. This will enable you to relate your background more directly to the employer’s needs and specific law practice. Firm web sites, firm literature, Martindale-Hubbell, and informational interviews will provide you with information including the educational background of the attorneys to help you identify UALR Bowen graduates, graduates from your undergraduate or graduate institution and those with Arkansas connections. This can be really helpful in the case of long distance searches.
Identifying the hiring partner/administrator
In small local firms generally call the firm and ask for the name of the person responsible for hiring law clerks. If in doubt, ask that person’s title. Direct your letter to that person, using the correct title. For example:
Thomas A. Paine, Hiring Partner
Wallace, Paine & Faison Law Firm
202 West Capitol Avenue
Little Rock, AR 72201-3699
This information may change from year to year for most firms so it is best not to rely on printed manuals, lists, or previous letters. If you know someone in the firm, it is appropriate to copy that person, but be sure to send your letter of application directly to the hiring partner or administrator. Your contact should be able to provide you with the name of the individual to whom your credentials should be sent.
Search the firm’s web site or use Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory or the NALP National Directory of Legal Employers for current information. While no Arkansas firm is listed in the NALP Directory, this avenue might save you the cost of a long-distance call. If the firm is not listed either place, call the firm for the correct information.
In only the most unusual circumstance should you use words such as “Dear Hiring Partner” or “To Whom It May Concern.” Review the firm’s website. If you can’t find the name of the hiring partner, the firm may not consider you the kind of hustling new attorney or law clerk for whom they are looking.
Follow the three-paragraph rule: Zap them with the opening, state the essentials, and close with an ending which will make the reader want to talk further with you. Keep the cover letter brief. One-half page is best, but it should never exceed one page.
The goal of the first paragraph is to get the reader’s attention. There are several different ways to do this. If you were referred by someone who is known to the organization, mention his or her name first. “Mr. John Smith suggested that I write to you about an associate position.” At other times, the best opening statement mentions your strongest qualification or the one most important to the prospective employer. “My extensive academic training, practical experience, and strong interest in labor law may be an asset to your firm.”
The second and third sentences of this opening paragraph should introduce you as a law student or recent graduate and indicate the type of position for which you are applying.
The second paragraph (and third, if necessary) reveals information about yourself and how it relates to the needs of the firm. Your research of the organization comes into play here in permitting you to link your background with the law practice. You can highlight and expand on things mentioned in your resume or discuss things that may have been left off the resume such as high grades in particular courses. Remember, it is the quality of your background that will be important to the potential employer, not necessarily the quantity.
The last paragraph is a direct request for a personal interview. (e.g. “I would be pleased to discuss further details of my legal background in a personal interview.”) Make it easy for the employer to schedule a meeting. Specify times that are convenient for you. Provide telephone numbers or an email address where you can be reached.
How to end your letter
Use a closing such as “Sincerely yours” or “Yours truly.”
Three to four lines beneath this closing, type your full name. Sign either your full name or your nickname in black ink.
Double-space and flush against the left margin, type “Enclosure.” This reminds you to enclose or attach your resume with the cover letter. It also reminds the reader to look for the enclosure.
Use white, eggshell, or light gray.
Match the stationery to the paper used for your resume.
Be sure to use matching envelopes.
It is best if you use the same printing/copying process for a uniform look.
Sign the letter in black ink.
If you’ve not heard from the employer after waiting two weeks for a response, email again and repeat your interest, asking if you can provide additional information. Better yet, call the person to whom you wrote and ask him or her if you can come in. If you are asked for a writing sample, offer to drop it off so that you have an opportunity to meet the prospective employer in person. Don’t wait for the firm to come to you. Be assertive.
You may send other letters as a matter of courtesy and professionalism. Thank an employer for considering your resume, even after a rejection. This allows you to stand out in their mind. Send confirmation letters if an interview is set up for the distant future. The most important letter to send is a thank-you letter after an interview. This letter also gives you an opportunity to reiterate your interest in the firm.