Key Tips for Writing a Cover Letter

by the Summer Associate Hub Team

Many firms require a cover letter for 2L applications.  And, even for firms that don’t require them, it is often a helpful supplement to your application, especially when there are certain experiences that you’d like to highlight. 
Cover letters can be tough to get started (as opposed to resumes, where you know where your experience, education, interests, etc should all go).  So here are a few key tips to help you get started and make sure it is on point.
Address it to the firm, but it doesn’t matter who – The cover letter should have a block at the top with the specific firm to which you are applying.  Although this is not critical, and firms know that you are likely using a similar cover letter for other firms, it shows that you took the time to customize it for that firm.  That said, many students spend time contemplating which specific person at the firm to address the cover letter — don’t stress, this does not really matter (and was actually answered on our Recruiting Director Q&A in May 2023).  You can find the Director of Recruiting’s information online and use that.  Or you can use the hiring contact for the office to which you are applying.  Or, you can say “[FIRM] Recruiting Department.”
Do not address the cover letter to the wrong firm.  Do not address the cover letter to the wrong firm.  Do not address the cover letter to the wrong firm.
This happens more often than you might think, and is an easy pitfall given most people duplicate the same template cover letter for multiple firms.  One trick is to ONLY work off of a generic template for each firm, so that you don’t have any info from another firm left in there by accident.  Another trick is to have a strict cover letter checklist – each time you submit a cover letter, run your checklist first without fail (check firm name, check firm spelling, check for typos, etc).
Keep it to one page, about 3-4 paragraphs – Firms are reading hundreds of these, and the expectation is that (especially at this stage in your legal career), you will not exceed one page for your cover letter.
The cover letter should generally be 3-4 paragraphs.  One paragraph to introduce yourself and why you are applying.  Another paragraph to go into some detail about your experience.  Another paragraph to tie that experience into why you would be a great fit for the firm.  The last paragraph should be short, including your contact information and reiterating your interest in the opportunity.
Do not recycle your resume – Writing out your resume in sentences is not helpful – instead, use the cover letter as an opportunity to show a bit more about your experience and yourself.  Go into specifics about a particular project you worked on or the impact you had in a prior role.  Mention specific strengths that you have and give an example from a prior job, student group role, or academic achievement, of how you utilized those strengths.
Customize the substance for the firm where possible – Think about how you can customize the cover letter for the firm in the substance of the letter, not just in the address block.  If you’ve met people at the firm and learned something specific about the firm that interested you, mention that – the firm wants to see that you took advantage of their programs, etc and you got real insight.  If the firm works on a specific practice area that is interesting to you, or you have a lot of experience in, mention that.  If the firm did a specific deal or case that you read about, and you think that is a good example of why you want to work there, mention that.
No typos – Attention to detail is a critical trait for a lawyer – so, a typo in a cover letter can be viewed very negatively by a firm.  After all, if this one letter, when you are making a first impression to the firm, has a typo, can they trust you with client deliverables?
One trick is to write the cover letter, run spell check, and fix anything obvious.  Then, take a break.  Come back to it later and read it carefully, out loud.  You can also ask your classmate or roommate to read yours, and maybe you read theirs as a trade.
Some common pitfalls when it comes to spelling:
  • Do not spell the firm’s name wrong
  • If you include the firm’s full name (e.g., Blah Blah Blah Blah & Blah LLP), get it right.  Look at the firm’s website and get the exact information, including if/where there are commas, where the ampersand goes, and all of that.  Is it Blah, Blah & Blah LLP, or Blah Blah & Blah LLP?   If you are not sure, you’ll find the full firm name 99% of the time in the following places: at the bottom of the firm’s website, by the copyright disclosure, or in the firm’s website terms or privacy policy.
  • Check to make sure you’ve capitalized the correct words.
Always submit as a PDF – Word documents are designed to be edited and are subject to formatting errors once they are sent through the ringer of document uploads, integrations, etc.  Firms have mentioned to us on numerous occasions that they strongly prefer PDFs.  So, once you are ready to finalize, print/convert your cover letter as a PDF and submit it that way.  Open the PDF before you submit it, to make sure it converted/printed the right way (sometimes the font will change or something).
Do not ask ChatGPT to write it – Firms can tell, I promise.  ChatGPT is a crazy tool, but it sounds like… ChatGPT.  ChatGPT can be helpful to proofread or provide suggestions on your cover letter for you to consider (with caution), but asking ChatGPT to write the cover letter completely is a dangerous thing to do.  You may be tempted to ask ChatGPT to write a first draft, since it is easier to edit than to write from scratch —- that might be true, but you better edit it a ton to sound like YOU, not ChatGPT.
Do not address the cover letter to the wrong firm.  Repeating again here because it’s worth repeating!

Summer Associate Hub Team

This content is based on our own experiences as former law students and BigLaw attorneys, and countless conversations with firm recruiting teams, law students, law school career advisors, legal career coaches, and hiring partners.  

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