Legal Resumes & Cover Letters: Writing Tips & Examples
Having the right skills and education to obtain a legal job is imperative. However, without the right resume and cover letter, obtaining a job in law can prove difficult. Knowing how to write compelling resumes and cover letters makes a difference. The following are tips for writing a proper resume and cover letter when applying for a legal position.
Legal Resume Writing
Your legal resume is a continuously changing document, created for the purpose of marketing you and the skills you develop while in law school. As you earn new degrees, professional experiences through Drexel’s Co-Ops or other internships, and pro bono service, your resume will need to be updated. Knowing what to include – and not include – on your legal resume is necessary in order to start.
Hiring coordinators are often inundated with resumes of candidates all vying for the same position. That’s why it’s so important to organize your resume and make sure that it’s accurate, relevant, and visually appealing. . Others should be able to look at your resume and immediately know where all pertinent information can be found.
Keep Your Resume to One Page.
As hiring coordinators see hundreds of applications, it is important to keep your resume to a single page when possible. There are however some exceptions:
- You have five or more years of work experience prior to law school
- You have an extensive list of relevant publications
- You are applying internationally
- You are applying for positions with the federal government
- You are applying for a public interest fellowship
Consistency is key for keeping your legal resume looking professional and easy to read. Remember to check for consistency and formatting, including:
- Margins to allow for sufficient white space
- Correct spelling (no typos)
- Font types (Times New Roman or Calibri)
- Font sizes
Law is a conservative profession, so you should avoid fonts that are difficult to read, monograms or other designs meant to distinguish yourself, or colored paper in an effort to stand out. The best way to stand out is by presenting your credentials in an orderly and thoughtful fashion that demonstrates your good business judgment.
Check and Re-Check Your Resume Before Sending it Out.
There is nothing more embarrassing than sending out a resume before realizing that you have a spelling error or inconsistencies with its layout. Be sure to review your resume once you are finished. Then review it again. It may also be helpful to have another individual such as a professor or advisor in the Career Strategies Office at Drexel Kline review it and offer suggestions. An objective set of eyes can spot errors, inconsistencies, and suggest improvements.
When Updating Your Resume, Use Compelling Action Verbs.
Since your resume will continue to change over time, verbs that were once present tense for current positions will become past tense when your experience has come to an end. Make sure that you use the appropriate tense at all times.
Legal Cover Letter Writing
Your cover letter is the place where you can truly share your personality and strengths as an attorney. Employers read cover letters carefully with an eye toward the content. A cover letter can make or break your application, so take the time to draft with care. Think of your resume as a listing of your relevant credentials for a job and your cover letter as your personal advocacy tying the two together. Believe it or not, there are certain things that you should also be sure to include and avoid when drafting a legal cover letter.
Do Not Exceed One Page.
Unless you are applying for a fellowship, your cover letter should be no longer than one page. Hiring coordinators are inundated with hundreds of cover letters, so keeping it to a page helps make it easier for them to look over and absorb. It shows respect for both the reader and his or her time. Three to four well-written paragraphs are typical for a cover letter.
Employ a Professional – Yet Personal – Tone.
With anything related to your job, it is always important to keep things professional – especially in the field of law. However, this is also your opportunity to showcase your personality and who you really are, so use it. This is your chance to share your motivation for applying to a specific position and provide the “why” for an employer. You need to walk the line between oversharing and rote recitation of your resume. Try to complete the prompt, “My interest in [family law] stems from….” as a way to express your motivation beyond your resume.
Be Sure to Address Specific Facts.
Though cover letters differ, there are certain things that each should include. Be sure to communicate who you are, why you are interested in the position with this particular employer and why you will work well there. The cover letter is also a great opportunity to highlight any unique skills learned during your time in law school which may help set you apart from other applicants. Avoid explaining or apologizing. You may feel the need to explain a perceived deficiency, but we counsel against raising red flags. Accentuate the positive and leverage the facts that are in your favor.
Read Your Letter Over for Mistakes. Then Read it Again.
With so many cover letters to read, the hiring coordinators look for any reason to rule out a candidate since it makes their job easier. That’s why you need to be sure to read over your cover letter for any mistakes as well as have another individual like a professor or advisor in the Career Strategies Office do the same. The advisors in the Career Services Office welcome the opportunity to review resumes and cover letters (it’s part of our job!).
Proper Formatting is Important
There’s a proper way to format an old-fashioned cover letter and we give you examples. This includes proper salutations. Typically, it’s Dear Mr. [Last Name] or Dear Ms. [Last Name]. A typical closing is “Sincerely” unless you are writing to a judge in which case the closing is “Respectfully.” Other closings such as “Warm regards,” “Best wishes,” and “Yours truly” are too informal and not appropriate for business correspondence. We suggest sending your cover letter as a PDF by email and writing in the body of the email message “Please accept my application for the associate position with XYZ firm. Copies of my resume, cover letter, and writing sample are attached to this email.”
Remember to Say “Thank You.”
The last thing that you want to come across in your legal cover letter is that you are unappreciative and lack manners. Be sure to thank the hiring coordinator for taking the time to consider your application.
Still Have Questions About Applying for a Job in Law?
If you have any questions or would like to know more, contact our Career Strategies Office to set up a meeting with one of our career advisors at Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law.