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Cover Letter Guidelines

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A cover letter is generally your first contact with an employer.  If it is well written, it will lead the reader to your resume and hopefully an interview.  It is important that you make a good first impression because legal employers view your cover letter as your first writing sample. 

Your cover letter must be:
      grammatically correct
      brief and succinct

It should also:
      highlight your most significant qualifications
      not be a detailed account of the information already appearing on your resume
      include a few selected accomplishments or special skills that reflect your suitability 
      for the job

A cover letter should illustrate your enthusiasm for the position, and should point out ways in which the skills and talents that you possess will transfer to the position you are seeking.  Identify your strengths and research the employer so you can tailor your cover letter specifically for the position.  Resources for researching prospective employers include files in the Career Development Office, employer websites, Martindale-Hubbell, state and local legal directories, the NALP (National Association for Law Placement) Directory of Legal Employers, and Chase students, graduates and professors.

It is considered unprofessional to submit a resume to a legal employer without including a cover letter (unless a resume only is specifically requested without a cover letter which is rare). 

*This handout is intended to provide you with ideas only.  Employers will recognize and look negatively upon similarly written cover letters (especially if they all come from Chase students) which will compromise your opportunities.  Students must draft their own uniquely tailored language.

Cover Letter Format

Print your cover letter on 8" x 11" resume quality paper (such as medium weight bond-not copy paper) which is white, off white or very light grey (not marbled or speckled).  Your cover letter, resume and list of references should all be on the same paper.

A one inch margin on all sides is suggested.  Three or four short paragraphs on one page is an ideal length.  Anything longer is unlikely to be read.  Single space within each paragraph, and double space between paragraphs.  Use standard business format for your cover letter and include proper headings and salutations, left justification, paragraphs not indented, and equal margins.

Use a Serif font (not a San Serif font) that is businesslike, conservative and easy to read such as Times New Roman, Bookman Old Style, Garamond, New Century Schoolbook or Palatino.  Your cover letter and resume fonts should be the same.  The font size for your cover letter should be 11 or 12 point. 

Always proofread.  Spelling, typographical and sentence structure errors make a poor impression and often result in elimination from consideration.

Mail your cover letter and resume in a 9x12 envelope so they remain unfolded to create a better visual impression.  The address on the outside of the envelope should match the address on your cover letter.  Type your envelope addresses using the same font as your cover letter and resume.  Handwritten envelopes are unprofessional.

Cover Letter Content

Your Name and Return Address
Type your name and return address in the top left-hand corner of your cover letter.  It is acceptable to create your own letterhead as long as it matches that of your resume (see "Contact Information" of "Resume Guidelines" for more information).  Avoid using abbreviations (St., Ave., Blvd., etc.), although it is acceptable to abbreviate the state using the U.S. Postal Service abbreviations. 

Example: Christopher Cooper
               123 Chase Street
               Highland Heights, KY 41099
The date
The date should appear two lines beneath your return address on the left-hand side of the page.  Write out the date in full; do not use abbreviations.

Example:  January 1, 2008

Addressee and Title
The addressee's information is included two lines below the date on the left-hand side.  Include the name, correct title and address of the person to whom you are sending the letter.  The top line includes the full name of the addressee.  If you are unsure to whom to send the cover letter, contact the firm, research the employer's website, refer to the NALP directory or contact our office.   

On the next line, state the individual's formal business title.  On the next line, state the name of the firm/company.  This is followed by the company's address.  If the addressee is an attorney, include "Esq." at the end of the name (and omit "Mr. or "Ms.")  If you are provided with a specific contact person, you can generally address your letter to the Office Manger, Recruiting Coordinator, Hiring Partner/Manager or Director of Human Resources/Manager. 

Example:   Mrs. Christine Chapman
                 Director of Human Resources
                 ABC Company
                 456 Corporate Avenue
                 Cincinnati, OH 45234

Example:   Fred J. Franklin, Esq.
                 Funny Firm
                 888 Fun Boulevard
                 Cincinnati, OH 43489

Example:   Honorable Harriett Humphrey
                 Fifteenth Circuit Court 
                 101 Main Street
                 Chase, Ohio 41232

The salutation is located two lines below your address and should list a specific person such as "Dear Mr." or "Dear Ms." followed by the individual's last name and a colon.  Even if you have a previous relationship with the person, remain formal in your salutation. 

You should never address a cover letter to "To whom it may concern:" "Dear Gentlemen:" "Dear Sir or Madam:," etc.  Confirm the gender of the addressee and spelling of his/her name.  If you do not know the name of the addressee, it is better to use general salutations such as "Dear Hiring Manager" or "Dear Hiring Partner:" rather than "Dear Sir or Madam:," "Dear Gentlemen:" or "To whom it may concern:".  

Example:  Dear Ms. Chapman:
Example:  Dear Mr. Franklin:
Example:  Dear Judge Humphrey:

First paragraph
The opening paragraph serves as an introduction to the rest of your letter so keep it short, to the point, and convey your purpose in writing.  Introduce your educational status and state immediately and concisely the position for which you are applying.  Convey a few highlights about yourself (about three skills/attributes) that make you a qualified candidate to catch the reader's attention and entice him/her to read further. 

Example:  I am currently a third year student ranked in the top 30% of my class and am interested in obtaining a __ position with your firm.  Academic achievement, Law Review participation and experience as a law clerk make me a strong candidate for this position.  I am confident these qualifications would make me an asset to your firm.

It is not necessary to state your name and where you learned about the position.  For example, do not begin with "My name is Charles Cooper, and I am writing this letter because I want to apply for the clerk position posted with the Career Development Office at Chase College of Law."

If someone has referred you, you may want to mention this in the opening sentence.  If you have a prior connection with the person to whom you are addressing the letter or to another lawyer at the firm, you might begin your letter by describing the connection. 

Second paragraph
In the body of the letter, focus on the talents and skills you posses that meet the needs of the employer.  Use the body to highlight and supplement key items on your resume.  Do not give a detailed account of your resume.  Emphasize law school honors and activities, legal writing and research proficiency, talents and skills gained from work or volunteer activities, and activities that highlight your leadership, teamwork or organizational abilities, self-motivation, and enthusiasm.

Briefly emphasize the contributions you can make and how your qualifications will benefit the organization.  Discuss how your skills relate to the requirements of the position.

Example:  In addition to my strong background in litigation, I offer significant business experience having worked in the legal departments of two large corporations.  I am sure that my experience researching employment law issues would prove particularly useful in the position of law clerk.

Third paragraph
Describe your interest in the firm.  Perhaps the employer is located in a geographic area in which you are interested.  If so, identify your connection to that area. The employer may otherwise appeal to you because of its practice areas, commitment to the community, client services, reputation, etc.  Firms are not impressed with broad generalizations or puffery.  Present yourself as knowledgeable about the firm and what particular attributes attract you.

Final paragraph
The closing paragraph should be clear and concise.  Thank the reader for his/her consideration and request the opportunity to interview for a position.  Provide the reader with a telephone number or email address in order to contact you to request additional information or set up an interview.

The closing
The closing should appear two lines below the body of the letter and should be aligned with your return address and the date (flush left).  Close with "Sincerely" and then space four lines down and type your name as it appears on your resume. 
Always remember to sign your name.  People often forget to do this which sends a message of being inattentive to details.  Sign your name with a dark ink color.

If you are enclosing a resume or other materials with your letter, you may include an enclosure line, flush left, under your typed name listing the documents or the number of documents enclosed.  If you choose to do this, please be careful to be accurate as many students inadvertently type the incorrect number of enclosures or fail to list a document.  To avoid this, we suggest that, in your closing paragraph, you reference the fact that you are enclosing your "application materials" or list the documents in your closing paragraph.