A Sample Cover Letter for Legal Job Seekers

Follow a format and keep it succinct

Businesswomen sitting in waiting area
••• Chris Ryan/Caiaimage/Getty Images

A good cover letter or introductory letter for attorneys is an invitation to the reader—the hiring manager or maybe the senior partner of the law firm—to move on and read your resume. It's your opportunity to convince her that she simply has to meet you and learn more about you. But too much creativity can be a drawback.

You'll want to exude professionalism and temper your enthusiasm just a bit, and you'll want to follow a tried-and-true format.

First, Get the Caption Right

Include your full name, and be sure to use the one under which you've been admitted to the bar if you're a lawyer. Give your street address, not a P.O. box, including your city, state, and zip code. Include your phone number with a notation as to whether it's a cell phone or a landline. Give your email address—many employers prefer to reach out to interesting candidates by email first.

Enter the date below this information, then the name and address of the law firm. Below that, enter an "ATTN:" line with the name of the individual within the firm who will be reading your letter. Alternatively, you can name the individual on the first line and cite her position directly beneath this, above the company name. Both formats are acceptable.

Of course, you'll start out with "Dear [Insert name of hiring manager or partner]:" Now it's time to get down to business.

Your Opening Paragraph

State the position for which you're applying in your opening paragraph, and explain how you learned of the job opening. This is also a good place to mention the name of anyone who referred you, a mutual acquaintance, or perhaps a tidbit of knowledge you have about the firm—maybe a major case they won or legal argument they made. This demonstrates that you took time to do a little research.

Try to craft your opening in a compelling way that will encourage the reader to read on. It's OK to toot your own horn a little. For example, you might say: “As an award-winning paralegal with 20 years of personal injury experience, I am writing in response to the position of litigation paralegal advertised in the Main Street Legal Journal.”

Explain Your Skills

Use the next paragraph to detail your education and your experience. Keep in mind that this is all mentioned in your resume as well, so you're not going to go into every finer detail here.

Your letter should offer a brief summary of what the reader will learn if he looks at your resume next: what law school you graduated from, where you're admitted to the bar, where you've worked, and what you did for those law firms. Try to confine all this to no more than four sentences if possible.

Next, match your skills to the requirements of the position and highlight any relevant awards you've received, as well as other accomplishments. Support your statements with evidence whenever possible. Don't merely assert that you're a skilled writer. Back it up with some sort of proof. Mention that you won two legal writing competitions and have published over 100 articles.

Don't just say that you contributed to your previous company's bottom line. Note that you implemented new software that saved the legal department over a million dollars.

You can break up dense text with bullets to promote readability. Endless lines of text can be off-putting.

Make Sure Your Reader Reads On

Use your closing paragraph to thank the firm for considering your application and tell your reader why you would make a good addition to his team. Explain how your background, skills, experience, and past achievements make you the perfect candidate for the job.

Then request a meeting or an interview. Indicate how and when you'll follow up on your cover letter and be sure to mention the best way to reach you. This would be a good place to direct the reader to your P.O. box if your physical address isn't your mailing address but you want to receive notification of a potential interview by snail mail.

The Finishing Touch

Sign off with "Respectfully yours" or something equally formal, place your signature above your name, then add the all-important "Enclosure(s)" line. List and bring attention to everything you're including with the letter, in order.

Proofread...Then Proofread Again

All this effort is for naught if your reader doesn't go on to look at your resume and any other documents you've included. Minor, avoidable errors can cause him to put your letter—and your resume—aside after one glance.

You're looking for a job in the legal profession, and this means you should possess good attention to detail and some superior writing skills. Check for typos—they'll jump out at you more readily if you go back to it cold, perhaps the next day, not right after you wrote it. Check for grammatical mistakes and proper punctuation. Now you're ready to send it off.