Cover Letter Checklist - George Mason University School of Law

Cover Letter and Legal Resume Checklist
Note: these checklists highlight some of the common features and frequent errors found in cover letters
and resumes sent to traditional legal employers and to some law-related employers, such as legal
publishers, policy organizations, public and private libraries, and bar associations. For more
information and samples, consult the Resume and Cover Letters: Guidelines for Students and Alumni.
For ideas on resumes to be sent to non-legal employers, consult with a CAAS counselor.
Cover Letter Checklist
General Matters
Is your cover letter on white, off-white, or very light gray bond paper and does it match your
resume and reference list paper?
Do you include your name, address, telephone number and e-mail address at the top of the
letter? In effect, create your own stationery by putting your address at the top of the page in a font of
your choice. Be sure your e-mail address is business appropriate (avoid funny addresses or addresses
with college or family nicknames; when in doubt use your GMU email address). Be sure to check your
e-mail account regularly during your job search.
Is the letter addressed to a specific person? Do not address letters to “hiring partner” or “legal
recruiter” if at all possible.
Is the person’s name spelled correctly? Do you include the correct prefix – Ms. or Mr.? Please
note if the letter is addressed to an attorney, and he or she chooses to use Esq. after his or her name,
you do not include a prefix when stating the name in the address block. John Smith, Esq. is correct,
but Mr. John Smith, Esq. is not correct. In the salutation line, you would address the individual as Mr.
Is the employer’s name spelled correctly? Remember that many law firms are no longer using
commas to separate names and some use “and” vs. “&.” Check employer punctuation carefully.
Do you state the correct address for the employer?
Do you use a colon in the salutation line? A cover letter is a business letter, and thus you
should not use a comma in the salutation line.
Is the letter short and one page? Aim for three paragraphs and no more than four or five.
Updated 10/06
Is the letter confident, yet modest and conservative in tone? Avoid statements that may be
perceived as arrogant or pompous, such as “I am confident my experience would serve your firm well”
or “I have the skills necessary to be an excellent associate.” Instead use phrases like “Based on my
experiences and academic record, I believe I could contribute to the litigation and regulatory groups.”
Remember, many legal employers are looking for people who can work well with a team.
THE RESUME AND COVER LETTER GUIDE? CAAS has seen several letters in which students
have copied language from the samples sent to the same employer, and the EMPLOYERS HAVE
Do you italicize the name of any law journals, books, or magazines you mention?
Do you remember that compound sentences need commas before the conjunction and that
complex sentences do not always need commas before the conjunction? Compound sentences have
BOTH a subject and a verb following the conjunction. Example:
Compound sentence with comma: I am a second-year student at George Mason University
School of Law, and I am also a native Californian.
Complex sentence without comma: I am a second-year student at George Mason University
School of Law and a native Californian.
Paragraph 1
Do you state your class year, your law school, and the kind of job for which you are applying
(i.e. summer, permanent, part-time)?
If someone referred you for the position, do you mention that person?
Do you check your terminology for the position in which you are interested? Be very careful
with terminology like “summer law clerk” or “summer associate” or “summer intern” or “legal intern”
or “law clerk.” These terms mean different things to different legal employers and may or may not
traditionally be paid positions. If there is a job posting, use the terminology used in the job posting.
When in doubt, use the phrase “summer position” for summer jobs and “law clerk” for school-year
jobs. Note that most large law firms hiring during the Fall Recruiting season refer to their summer
help as “summer associates.” Smaller firms and the government may OR may not use this phrase.
Avoid references to computerized and other job banks. For example, avoid sentences like: “I
read your job posting on the Symplicity CSM system.” Most employers do not technically know or
care about what recruiting and job posting database a school uses. Instead, they may know only that
they are participating in George Mason’s recruiting program or that they posted a job at the school.
When targeting outside the DC area, and if you have specific geographic ties to the target area,
do you mention that fact?
Updated 10/06
Paragraph 2
Do you develop a theme about yourself? The theme should tell the reader why he or she should
want to interview you. Themes can focus on a concentration in some area that is relevant to the job, a
practice area fits with the employer, or general skills that any employer would appreciate (i.e., legal
research and writing, oral communication, management). Note: students applying to LARGE FIRMS
THAT HAVE MULTIPLE PRACTICE AREAS may want to be careful in flagging only one specific
practice area interest. In those firms some practice areas are hotter than others, in general, and some
are more active within the firm. Unfortunately, students may not be able to tell which practice area is
growing, which practice area is leaving the firm, which practice area already has too many associates,
etc. Thus students may want to highlight a few of the firm’s practice areas in which they have an
interest in the third paragraph of the letter to show why they are interested in the employer, but also
appear flexible and willing to work in other practice areas. Students applying to GOVERNMENT
AGENCIES AND SMALL TO MIDSIZE FIRMS should express an interest in the area(s) of law in
which those employers specialize. Generally, those employers have a limited number of practice areas
and will want to know if applicants have an interest in those fields.
Do you introduce your theme in the topic/introductory sentence of paragraph two?
Do you draw on concrete examples from your school and work experiences that prove your
theme? For example, to prove a theme concerning strong research and writing skills, a student could
highlight success in LRWA classes, research performed and memoranda drafted during an internship
or summer job, participation on a journal or in a writing competition, a thesis paper drafted in college,
Do you avoid repeating everything on your resume to prove your theme? For example, avoid
sentences that merely follow the chronological order of your resume, such as: “I majored in chemistry
in college. After graduation, I worked at the Patent and Trademark Office. This year, I joined Heller
Ehrman, where I focus on patents.” Instead, select only the most relevant and significant experiences
to highlight and describe in your letter. If an experience does not clearly relate to your theme, do not
include it in the letter.
Paragraph 3
Do you include a sentence indicating why you are interested in the particular employer to
which you are applying? You can demonstrate an interest in an employer in two ways: (1) express an
interest in some of the employer’s practice areas or (2) express a more general interest in the employer
as a whole (i.e. interest in working for a large firm, working in public service, etc.)
Do you state that you would like to interview for/meet to discuss the position?
Do you describe the materials you have enclosed (i.e. resume, transcript, writing sample)? Do
you check on each letter that you have actually enclosed the materials you list in the letter, as
requirements vary from employer to employer. Note: you are NOT enclosing a “COPY of your
resume”; you are enclosing your actual resume.
Do you thank the reader for his or her consideration?
Updated 10/06
If you are applying to employers outside of the DC area, do you note when you will be in that
particular area (i.e., spring break)? Noting when you will be in town may entice the employer to
schedule an interview with you.
If you are enclosing materials with your letter, did you note “Enclosures” or “Encs.” or
“Attachments” below your signature block, at the bottom of your letter, flush with the left margin?
Updated 10/06
Legal Resume Checklist
General Matters
Does your heading include your name, address, telephone number and e-mail address? Be sure
your email address is business appropriate (avoid funny addresses or addresses with college or family
nicknames; when in doubt use your GMU email address). Be sure to check your email account
regularly during your job search.
Do you format your resume in a conservative and traditional manner expected by most legal
and law related employers? Avoid shading text, inserting text boxes, or using the resume function in
MS Word to format your resume. Use bolding and italics carefully and consistently. Use white, offwhite, or very light gray heavy bond paper.
Do you use a font and font size that are easy to read? Try to avoid using fonts smaller than 10.5
throughout the resume. Some portions (like job descriptions) can be 10.5 point font if necessary, but
aim to use 11, 11.5, or 12 point font for most of the resume.
Is your resume concise? Generally, legal employers expect one-page resumes from students
who have been out of college for less than 10 years. Legal employers will expect no more than a twopage resume from students who have been out of college for more than 10 years.
If you have a two-page resume, do you include your name and “page two” at the top of the
second page?
Do not include an “Objective” section.
Do not list references on your resume or state that references are available on request.
Do you list your education section first and then your experience section?
Education Section
Do you list all schools attended since high school in REVERSE CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER
(starting with the most recent school first)? You do not need to include high school. Schools attended
during college study abroad programs do not need to be listed separately; they can be subsumed under
your college listing.
For each school, do you list the degree earned or expected, the month and year you were
graduated or will graduate, and the location of the school (city and state)?
Do you include the activities in which you participated or honors earned underneath each listed
school? Students who participated in many activities during college may wish to include only the most
significant activities, particularly activities that involve writing (like school newspapers) or show a
strong work ethic (like varsity sports). Please note, some employers may disfavor certain political,
social, or religious activities (i.e., involvement in student political groups, fraternities, church
Updated 10/06
organizations). Unfortunately, you do not know in advance who your reader will be and how he or she
will react. You must decide for yourself whether you want to include those kinds of activities.
If you are in the top 50% of your law school class, do you include your class rank on your
resume? Do you check your GPA and/or class rank? If you are trying to record your exact class rank
in terms of percent (i.e., top 43% instead of top 45%), do you include your actual class position (i.e.,
139/213) so that employers are not confused by your resume and your transcript (which records class
ranks only in increments of 5%)?
Have you considered the proper use of your Writing GPA? Recently, several employers have
advised CAAS that they find the writing grade point average confusing and, in some cases, have
mistaken it for the student’s overall grade point average. Instead, you can highlight your strong
writing grades in your cover letter. If you do include a writing grade point average, make sure an
employer will not confuse it with your grade point average. Perhaps include both your grade point
average and your writing grade point average or avoid abbreviations and spell out WGPA as “Writing
Grade Point Average.”
If you were on the Dean’s List in college, do you include the number of semesters (i.e., 3
semesters) or school years (1994-1995) you were on the List?
If you have received merit-based scholarships, do you include them?
If you worked during college or graduate school to pay for all or a significant amount of your
education, do you include this fact?
Experience Section
For students who came to law school straight from college, do you list most of the jobs you
held each summer you were in college or jobs you held during the school year? Any job reflects a
work ethic; college jobs do not have to be legal in nature to be listed on a resume.
For students who worked prior to attending law school, do you list all or most of the jobs you
have held since college graduation? If possible, avoid having large gaps, or unaccounted-for time, in
your work experience. Legal employers will look to see what you have done with your life since college
– i.e., working, taking classes, or volunteering.
Do you include the job you currently hold (internship, summer, permanent)?
For each job you list, do you include the following:
(1) the name of the employer,
(2) your job title,
(3) the location of employment (city and state), and
(4) the dates of employment?
Do you start all descriptions of the work you have done with action verbs (i.e., drafted,
researched, supervised, managed)? Use action verbs regardless of whether you are using a paragraph
or bullet format to describe your work. A list of action verbs is in the Resume and Cover Letter
Updated 10/06
For students who have been out of college more than 10 years, do you need a job description
for old jobs? It is perfectly acceptable to list old jobs without job descriptions in order to save space
but to nevertheless highlight the work experience to the prospective employer.
Do you use present tense when describing the job you currently hold and past tense when
describing former jobs?
Do your work descriptions clearly convey what you did? Avoid general statements like
“Assisted with the ABC project” or “Worked closely with the XYZ team.” Those statements do not
reflect what skills you used/acquired. Keep in mind that legal employers are looking for previous
experience with research, writing, analysis, communication, project management, and
supervision/leadership. Legal employers will look to see if you developed those skills in other
employment settings because those skills also are needed in the legal profession. To the extent
possible, try to describe your experience with an eye towards those skills.
Do your work descriptions focus on you rather than the employer? Avoid descriptions of the
employer’s business or industry setting.
Skills or Language(s) Section
If you choose to include this section, do you keep it short and highlight ONLY significant
skills? Computer skills are not generally looked for by legal employers; these employers assume you
have the basic computer skills necessary to conduct legal research and writing.
If you speak a foreign language or languages, did you include this section on your resume?
List all languages and your level of fluency.
Interests or Community Activities Section
If you choose to include this section, do you keep it short and highlight ONLY significant
interests and activities?
If you choose to include this section, do you highlight ONLY interests that you are prepared to
discuss in a professional manner? For example, do not list reading as an interest unless you are
prepared to discuss your favorite book or author, the last non-legal book you read, etc.
If you choose to include this section, do you avoid mentioning personal information such as
marital, family, or health status?
Updated 10/06
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