The cover letter that you submit with your resume establishes your reasons for applying for a particular position and interests the reader in your application. Using business letter format, always type letters on standard 8 1/2" x 11" bond stationery, signing each letter individually. Every letter should be personalized to most effectively introduce you and what is unique in your background to a prospective employer. Make sure that names are spelled correctly, that addresses are accurate and that your return address is on the letter and envelope.
The content of this initial employer contact should be clear and straightforward. Let the employer know why you are writing, where you learned of the position (if applying to a specific job lead), why you are interested in the firm or organization, how you can be reached, and that you are eager for the opportunity to interview. Although it should be self-evident, there is never any place for an exclamation point in a cover letter.
Convince the reader to review your resume and grant you an interview. If you seek employment in a geographic area at a distance from the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area, indicate your reason for doing so (e.g., plan to practice in that area upon graduation, originally from the area, have family in the area, etc.) Emphasize any ties you may have to the area as well. In other words, if you grew up on the West Coast but attended undergraduate school and have worked in Texas, it is highly likely that there is nothing on your resume that would indicate your West Coast roots. It would be wise in these circumstances to include both your local and permanent addresses as well as an explanation of your intention to practice on the West Coast upon graduation.
Additionally, when writing to an employer at a distance from Texas, such as Washington, D.C., Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, etc., it is a wise idea to include mention that you: 1) plan to be in the area on specific days or 2) emphasize that you would be happy to make arrangements to meet with them at any time that is convenient. The former is an especially effective way to go since an employer may decide that based on the strength of your resume and the fact that you are going to be in the area anyway, it would make sense to set up an appointment to meet with you during your designated time period. Employers rarely pay for the travel arrangements for screening interviews. Thus, if you indicate that you plan on being in the area, it may encourage the employer to invite you in for an appointment.
The Career Services Office has a handout on writing cover letters that is available in the Career Services Office, as well as on the Career Services website. Sample cover letters are provided in the handout as a guideline only. While the format of the letter should follow the standard business letter format, the actual style and content of a cover letter must be spontaneous and clearly your own to be most effective. Students who are writing to public interest employers should note that their cover letters might be longer and more detailed than those written to the large or corporate practices. The counselors in the Career Services Office will gladly review your cover letters.
For more tips on writing cover letters, including sample cover letters, download the cover letter handout.Unless the employer specifically so requests, it is generally not appropriate to e-mail a cover letter and resume for a legal job. Nor is it usually appropriate to initiate contact via e-mail, unless the employer contacts you first using this method. That said, e-mail can be a very useful tool for informal or follow-up contacts. For example, you may want to e-mail Texas Wesleyan alumni/ae at a firm, especially when you have an interview scheduled at the firm where the alum is working, or you may use e-mail to follow-up with contacts you have already made (such as following up with an attorney who gave you her card at a bar association function); it’s informal and not as intrusive as a phone call. This is a judgment question, and if you have any doubt, ask one of the counselors in the Career Services Office.
Thank You Letters
A Word About E-Mail
Students often ask whether or not they should send thank-you letters to employers as follow-ups to their in-office interviews. Doing so is certainly a thoughtful thing to do and can serve to reaffirm your strong interest in an employer. A poorly written or stilted thank-you letter, however, can sometimes prove more hurtful than helpful to your prospects of securing a position. Many employers, especially smaller firms, appreciate a thank-you letter, viewing it as a courtesy as well as an indication of interest. For large firms with recruiting coordinators, a short thank-you note after a call-back interview to the recruiting coordinator you met (thanking him or her for arranging the interviews and reiterating your interest in the firm) is nice; this note could be e-mailed. It is also nice (and underscores your interest in the firm) to send a thank-you note to the people who interview you at the call-back, or to send a thank-you note to the person you felt most connected to, asking her/him to pass along your thanks to the others (name the others). If you forget the names of the people with whom you interviewed, call the recruiting coordinator; an even better course is to ask for the business card of the person at the end of each interview.
The Career Services Office has a handout on writing thank you letters available for download.
ResumesEvening students often have special problems in developing resumes because of their extensive work experience before coming to law school. The Career Services Office has a number of resources devoted to resume writing, including a handout. You should make an appointment with a Career Services counselor to review your resume before sending it out to employers.