Resumes, cover letters and writing samples are the first, and sometimes only, opportunity to make a positive impression on an employer. They must be perfect. Your entire work history and educational career are summarized in a few pages and every detail is a reflection on you. Mastering these documents is crucial to obtaining an interview.
All students and graduates are welcome to meet with a member of the Office of Career Services to have their resumes, cover letters and other documents reviewed before sending them to an employer.
Always submit a cover letter with a resume unless the employer expressly says not to do so. Tailor your cover letter specifically to the position to which you are applying. Cover letters must have correct grammar, proper spelling, good sentence structure and must comply with standard business format. Your cover letter is the first sample of your writing skills. It is essential to proofread!
- Cover letter paper and resume paper should match exactly. Likewise, it is preferable that the heading/letterhead on your cover letter be the same as your resume. Regardless, include your return address, telephone number and e-mail address on the cover letter.
- Be sure to date the letter.
- Address the cover letter to a specific person using the individual's complete and correct name, title, firm/organization name, full street address, city, state and zip code. If you don't know to whom the letter should be addressed or if you have questions regarding the job title or the spelling of a name, call the employer and ask.
- Do not address the cover letter to "Dear Hiring Partner," "Dear Sir or Madam" or "To Whom It May Concern". This makes it appear to be a mass mailing rather than a targeted cover letter. If you exhaust all resources to identify to whom the cover letter should be addressed and are still are unable to identify the proper individual, you may use the terms as a course of last resort.
- When addressing a letter to an attorney, you may insert "Esq." after the attorney's name in the address block. For example: "Charles A. Abrams, Esq." When using the "Esq." designation in the address block, however, do not insert Mr. or Ms. before the attorney's name. Additionally, in the salutation, (i.e., Dear Mr. Abrams:), do not insert Esq. after the name. Also, use Mr. or Ms. in the salutation. Do not use Mrs. or Miss.
- Use a colon, not a comma, after the greeting for business letters.
- Generally, the cover letter should contain at least the following 3 basic paragraphs:
- 1st Paragraph: Tell who you are and why you are writing.
- Use contact names and research findings about the firm as it relates to your interests.
- 2nd Paragraph: Tell what you will bring to the firm.
- Describe your skills; give examples of your achievements and accomplishments and how they will benefit the employer. The focus should be what you have to offer the employer, not how you will benefit from the job.
- 3rd Paragraph: Tell what will be your next step.
- If submitting for on-campus interviewing, express that you are appreciative of their time.
- For all other letters, ask for an interview and state that you will follow-up with a telephone call to confirm that the employer received your information and to inquire if the employer requires additional information. Include your telephone number and e-mail address if they are not included at the top of your letter.
- Thank the individual for his/her time and consideration and mention that you look forward to speaking with the individual soon.
- 1st Paragraph: Tell who you are and why you are writing.
- Close the letter with "Sincerely" or "Very truly yours"; leave space (usually 4 spaces) to sign your name.
- Remember to sign your letters. Blue ink is preferable so the reader knows it is not a copy, but black ink is acceptable. Do not sign in pencil or unusual color ink.
- If you are enclosing a single document (e.g., a resume,) include "Enclosure" two spaces under your name; if you are enclosing more than one document (e.g., writing sample, transcript, list of references, letters of recommendation) include "Enclosures" two spaces under your name.
- When submitting by regular mail, do not staple your cover letter to your resume or other documents. It is preferable to use large mailing envelopes, rather than folding the letter and resume.
Your resume must be perfect. No errors. Do not rely solely on spell check. Spell check does not always find all misspelled words. It is essential that you proofread repeatedly. Have several different people review your resume for errors.
- Use good resume paper. White, off-white or ivory paper is recommended.
- Resumes should be aesthetically pleasing to the eye with sufficient white space.
- Avoid unusual fonts and formats.
- Recommended font size is 11 or 12 as anything smaller is difficult to read.
- Your name, address, telephone number and e-mail address should appear at the top of page
- Typically, a resume should be one page. Someone with an extensive employment history or a professional career prior to law school may require a two pages resume. Contact the Office of Career Services if you have questions regarding the length of your resume. It is better to go with two pages than to crowd the information onto one page.
- Do not number the first page of your resume, but identify subsequent pages, by putting "Your Name" and "Page #" at the top right hand corner of each page, so that if the pages are separated the employer knows to whom the resume belongs.
- Use strong action words in the past tense to describe previous employment and strong action words in the present tense to describe current employment.
- Focus your descriptions on outcomes, results and accomplishments.
- Exclude all data on the resume such as social security number, religion, race, salary, age, weight, height, state of health, marital status, LSAT score, photographs and case citations
- Print each resume on a laser printer.
The Office of Career Services personnel are available to review your resume and there are two computers, a laser printer and a fax machine available in the Office of Career Services for career-related use. You must supply resume paper, resume envelopes and address labels.
- References should be provided in a separate document from your resume. Do not include a line stating "References Available Upon Request" on your resume.
- Obtain references from someone who is familiar with your work and, preferably, from someone who supervised your work. Former employers, professors from law school or professors from undergraduate school are good references.
- Contact the potential reference and be certain that the individual is comfortable being a reference for you and confirm that he or she will provide a positive reference.
- It is recommended to have 3-5 references. Provide full contact information of the reference including name, title and employer of the reference, mailing address, telephone number and e-mail address.
- Provide your references with a courtesy copy of your resume and notify them that you are seeking employment and will be using them as a reference. This ensures that your references will be prepared for a call from a potential employer and can quickly refer to your resume.
- The reference page header/letterhead should match the header/letterhead that you use on your resume and cover letter
Many prospective employers want to see a legal writing sample and will use the sample to evaluate your ability to effectively research and analyze a legal issue. When it comes to a writing sample, the overriding consideration is that it be your very best work and that it reveal your ability to clearly analyze case law or a statutory scheme in a clear, concise manner. Many employers consider a writing sample to be indicative of your potential as a lawyer.
- The writing sample should be error free. No spelling, grammar or punctuation errors. Proofread. You may lose a job due to a sloppy writing sample.
- The writing sample should be 5-10 pages in length. If the writing sample that you want to use is long, you may use an excerpt (e.g., one argument from a brief) and submit it with an explanatory note that outlines the facts so that the reader can immediately grasp the subject matter.
- The writing sample should be your own work, substantially unedited by anyone else. For example, employers know that law review articles are edited extensively, so avoid use of such documents.
- Any document that demonstrates your ability to analyze a legal issue is a good choice for a writing sample. Legal research and writing papers, legal briefs, legal memos, moot court briefs or seminar papers are all appropriate writing samples.
- A legal brief or memo prepared for an employer is also an excellent writing sample. You must, however, get your employer's permission to use the document and you must redact any confidential material. You may rename the party to protect confidentiality (e.g., "ABC Corporation" or "firm name" or "client name") and to maintain readability, but you should inform the reader of the change by providing a brief explanatory note.
- Create a cover sheet for the writing sample. It is recommended that you use the heading/letterhead that matches your resume and cover letter and center the title "Writing Sample" at the top of the document. Use the cover sheet to give necessary background information about the writing sample. For example, give the name of the class, a brief description of the assignment and if the assignment contained any forced limitations (e.g., the type of research allowed, the side of the argument you had to take). If you are excerpting from a longer document, add whatever background is necessary to make the excerpt understandable. Add a header or footer with your name to all pages of your writing sample.
Employers often request a transcript from a job candidate. Usually the job description will state whether the employer prefers an official or an unofficial transcript, and an unofficial transcript is usually acceptable. If there is any doubt as to which type of transcript is required, ask the potential employer. Always double-check to make sure that your name appears on the transcript.
- For current students, an official transcript may be requested through Banner.
- Alumni who don't have access to Banner may request a transcript from the School of Law Registrar. The Registrar's Office requires a written request with your signature. Please complete the Transcript Request Form and mail, fax or drop it off to the Registrar.
- Unofficial transcripts can be printed from Banner directly or can be cut and pasted into a Word document and then printed. Your unofficial transcript does not need to be on resume paper.
Writing a thank you letter after an interview is a must. It establishes goodwill, expresses appreciation and can strengthen your candidacy for the job. Some employers think less of interviewees who fail to send a thank you note promptly.
- Send your thank you notes as soon as possible after your interview (within 24 hours). A typed or handwritten note is preferred. If you send a prompt thank you via e-mail, be sure to follow up with a written thank you via postal mail as well.
- If you have an extensive interview process with several people, sending a thank you note to each interviewer is recommended. In rare cases, a "group" thank you note may be appropriate (e.g. interviews were all substantially similar). In this case, send the thank you note to the person who arranged the interview and request that it be shared with the other interviewers.
- Remember to proofread: check for spelling, grammar and typographical errors. Contact the office for proper names, spelling or titles of your interviewers if you are uncertain of any of the information. A thank you note could actually hurt you if it contains any mistakes.
The Handwritten Thank You Note
- Plain white or cream color notes are preferred, without decorative lettering of "Thank You."
- Write the note on the inside lower half of the folded note card. Do not write on the top half of the card above the fold. Use a comma after the greeting.
The Typed Thank You Note
- The typed note will be longer.
- Use the same heading/letterhead on your thank you letter that you use on your resume and cover letter.
- The conventional format is:
- 1st Paragraph: Thank the employer for meeting with you. Refresh his or her memory by stating when you interviewed and mention topics that were discussed.
- 2nd Paragraph: Reaffirm your interest in the firm/organization. This is an opportunity to mention information that was discussed in the interview. You can also restate why you want the job, your qualifications for the job and contributions you could make to the employer.
- 3rd Paragraph: Thank the employer for his/her time and his/her consideration. If the heading of the letter doesn't include it, enclose your phone number or e-mail address so that the employer can contact you with additional questions.
After the employer makes an offer, you may want to ask the employer additional questions before accepting the offer. You may ask for more time to consider the offer and make your decision.
Some Additional Considerations Regarding Permanent Offers:
- Describe your compensation and benefits package.
- How are raises and bonuses determined?
- What is the percentage of the billing that associates retain for business that is brought in to the firm?
- What is the partnership track? What financial investments are necessary when making partner?
Some Additional Considerations Regarding Summer/Temporary Offers:
- How much will the position pay? Are additional benefits included (e.g., parking)?
- Will there be an opportunity to continue working during the school year?
- How many hours a week are required? Will weekend or evening hours be required?
- If you need to take time off during the summer, negotiate it at the time of acceptance. Most employers will be flexible if you are up-front about the needed time off.
Formal Acceptance of the Offer:
- An offer may be accepted by telephone, but also follow up with a letter formalizing the acceptance.
- Clarify the starting date for a full-time position or the starting and ending dates for a summer position as well as salary, benefits, etc.
- If you accept a position, terminate all other offers immediately by informing the potential employers of your acceptance of the position. This will help maintain a positive relationship with the other employers and will allow the opportunity to be offered to another student or attorney.
- Do not accept more than one offer. Once you have accepted a position, follow through with your decision. Accepting more than one offer is unprofessional and likely to cause problems in the future. If you are feeling pressure about making a decision, ask the employer for more time to decide.