Cover letter advice

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lawhopeful10
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Cover letter advice

Postby lawhopeful10 » Fri Nov 21, 2014 6:23 pm

I have been doing research online and it seemed like some people advocated a very bare bones cover letter for clerkships just saying your school, journal, recommenders, and that's basically it. My career services however provided me samples that are very long and detailed about why I want to clerk ect. I don't always trust career services though so I was wondering what other people's thoughts were. My CSO said if you have a tie to the geographic area mention it but I feel like if the tie is clear from my resume which they are going to look at anyway it seems redundant. Thanks in advance.

cfr1225
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Re: Cover letter advice

Postby cfr1225 » Fri Nov 21, 2014 9:12 pm

lawhopeful10 wrote:I have been doing research online and it seemed like some people advocated a very bare bones cover letter for clerkships just saying your school, journal, recommenders, and that's basically it. My career services however provided me samples that are very long and detailed about why I want to clerk ect. I don't always trust career services though so I was wondering what other people's thoughts were. My CSO said if you have a tie to the geographic area mention it but I feel like if the tie is clear from my resume which they are going to look at anyway it seems redundant. Thanks in advance.


My understanding is that the bare bones cover letter is the product of Harvard's CSO (maybe that's just empty gossip), which trickled down the USNWR rankings. Accordingly, I understand the general advice to be that the lower ranked the school, the more you should try to make an impression in the cover letter. Bare bones seems to work for T14, but below that maybe try to stand out? Everything I know is anecdotal, so take this advice for what's it worth and no more.

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lawhopeful10
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Re: Cover letter advice

Postby lawhopeful10 » Fri Nov 21, 2014 9:36 pm

Thanks, I'm not at a t-14 so I guess that is something for me to think about.

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BVest
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Re: Cover letter advice

Postby BVest » Fri Nov 21, 2014 11:49 pm

Coming from UCLA/USC/UT/WUSTL, here is my letter that got me interviews (or more precisely, with which I got interviews). It was an in-betweener... not a full page but also not purely a transmittal letter.

Dear Judge Cardozo:

I am a second-year law student at _________, and I am writing to apply for a clerkship in your chambers for the 2015-17 term. Enclosed please find my application.

[Brief (four line) paragraph re personal information about ties to community].

[Brief (five line) paragraph re legal goals].

I look forward to the opportunity to meet with you to discuss my qualifications. Please contact me if I can provide any further information. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Benedict Custer Vest, IV


As a side note, (and acknowledging that it may have just been a typo), be sure before you leave law school to learn the correct abbreviation (and pronunciation, if that's an issue) for et cetera. I'm not trying to be a dick about spelling/grammar on a message board, but that's a pet peeve for many people, and I'd wager that pet peeve is more prevalent among lawyers.

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: Cover letter advice

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Sat Nov 22, 2014 12:19 am

This is just my take, but I think there are generally two problems with the long, detailed letter: 1) it devotes a lot of time/space to why the applicant wants to clerk, which no one needs to be told - judges and people who are already clerking know why candidates want to clerk; and 2) it turns into a resume dump.

I do think that if you have a specific reason to be in that particular district, you should put it in ("I want to do IP lit and so your IP docket is made for me" or "I want to do immigration so I want to clerk in a border district" - though worded better). Or if you have some kind of tie to the region or the judge, definitely put that in, too. And anything helpful/relevant that's not immediately evident from your resume.

I agree that there tends to be an inverse relation between school rank/prestige and amount of material you're advised to enclose. I went to an ordinary school that recommended longer letters, but while I used a bit more than the Harvard/super spartan model, I think it's better to err on the side of barebones-ness - longer letters often looked sort of padded to me. That's just my personal take based on the un-random sample of letters I've seen, though.

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Re: Cover letter advice

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Nov 22, 2014 8:53 am

The other possible problem with the longer letter is that it creates an unnecessary opportunity to have yourself eliminated. The more words you write = the higher the chance that you accidentally misspell something. And if somebody catches that typo, that could be an easy excuse to remove your app from consideration. I figured it was far better to just rely on the same Harvard style cover letter that was just over 100 words long in its body and I knew everything had been spelled correctly that I would use for every judge to whom I applied, rather than spend time crafting and proofing an additional 200 words (or whatever it took to say my connections to the area) for each different judge and open myself up to to typing than instead of then, or some other typo Word or I might not catch. Therefore, it didn't seem like a good use of my time for such a minimal payoff but a potentially fatal error.

I went to a Top 25 school and have received interviews using the Harvard style. Purely anecdotal on my part, but I feel that it is highly unlikely that the cover letter ever moves the judge's needle one way or another. Either the credentials/recommenders get you an interview or they don't.

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Re: Cover letter advice

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Nov 23, 2014 12:39 am

lawhopeful10 wrote:I have been doing research online and it seemed like some people advocated a very bare bones cover letter for clerkships just saying your school, journal, recommenders, and that's basically it. My career services however provided me samples that are very long and detailed about why I want to clerk ect. I don't always trust career services though so I was wondering what other people's thoughts were. My CSO said if you have a tie to the geographic area mention it but I feel like if the tie is clear from my resume which they are going to look at anyway it seems redundant. Thanks in advance.


I am a COA clerk and have reviewed applications. I barely glance at the cover letter before getting to the resume and the transcript. The only cover letter I can recall is an applicant with extreme hardship when s/he was younger.

My advice is: don't bother with the generic "I want to learn..." blah blah. It rings hollow--we all know why you really want to clerk. If you have a personal connection to the judge, an extremely interesting personal attribute (Rhodes Scholar-level) or compelling hardship, go ahead and call attention to that.

You could even look at a bare-bones cover letter as a mark of confidence: my resume and transcript stand for themselves. No need to embellish with generic college application-level copy.

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Re: Cover letter advice

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Nov 23, 2014 10:47 am

In my experience, applicants with longer cover letters generally only manage to hurt themselves with it. I guess it's possible to write a long cover letter that somehow manages to convey something more than the rest of your application but I've never seen it. Instead, I've seen resume dumps or discussions of an interest in an area of law that the court doesn't really deal with.

My advice: go super Spartan. That is, say your name, your year in school, and what you're attaching. Go ahead and add a few sentences on any Actual ties you have to the area, if you have any. If you don't, don't try and manufacture some.

station4
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Re: Cover letter advice

Postby station4 » Sun Nov 23, 2014 1:13 pm

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Last edited by station4 on Wed Apr 15, 2015 3:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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lawhopeful10
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Re: Cover letter advice

Postby lawhopeful10 » Tue Nov 25, 2014 12:19 pm

Thanks everyone this has been really helpful. One quick formatting question. I read for paper applications it is good if your cover letters have your actual signature. For the Oscar applications is there anything special regarding the signature I should know or is it fine just uploading my cover letter in a PDF like I would for any other application. Also do you put the judge's address in the cover letter at the top similar to how you would a law firm? Thank you again.

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BVest
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Re: Cover letter advice

Postby BVest » Tue Nov 25, 2014 1:15 pm

For the address, pretty much like you would for a firm.

The Honorable Learned Hand
U.S. District Court for the _____ern District of ___________
123 Courthouse Street
Anytown, State 12345

Dear Judge Hand:

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BVest
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Re: Cover letter advice

Postby BVest » Tue Nov 25, 2014 1:44 pm

For signature, you can do it with just /s/, but in the long term it's worth taking some time to get a good image of your signature with a transparent background. You can do this in preview if you use mac or a number of tools if you use a PC. You can also find someone on fiverr.com to do it for $5 (search transparent background).

Instructions for Mac:

1.) Sign a blank white sheet of paper several times. Be sure the signatures are totally separate and would have no overlap if you drew a rectangle around them. Use a good pen with a somewhat wide line (like a good roller ball).

2.) Scan the sheet at no less than 300 dpi. More is better. If given a choice, scan it to a PNG file.

3.) Open the file in Preview and decide what your best signature is.

4.) Export file (under file menu) to PNG (again at least 300 dpi) if you scanned it in as some other type of file. Open the PNG file.

5.) Go to "View" (menu) and choose "Show Edit Toolbar" and click on "Rectangular Selection" icon (icon names appear if you mouseover).

6.) Use the rectangular selection to select the best signature, getting the borders of the triangle as close as possible to the signature. Then use CMD-K to crop to just that signature.

7.) Use the instructions here to delete out the background, making it transparent. You may have to try it and do a CMD-Z undo several times before you get it right.

8.) Once you've got it, save it.

9.) Insert it into your word document where you want to to appear. (Insert -> Photo -> Picture from file...). Once in, you can adjust size, and do some other formatting by right clicking (or ctrl-click) and choosing format picture.

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pancakes3
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Re: Cover letter advice

Postby pancakes3 » Wed Nov 26, 2014 7:03 pm

Are these the "bare bones", Harvard-style cover letters you guys are referring to?

Baby_Got_Feuerbach
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Re: Cover letter advice

Postby Baby_Got_Feuerbach » Sat Nov 29, 2014 1:06 pm

BVest wrote:For the address, pretty much like you would for a firm.

The Honorable Learned Hand
U.S. District Court for the _____ern District of ___________
123 Courthouse Street
Anytown, State 12345

Dear Judge Hand:



I addressed my envelopes:

Honorable Roger Rabbit
[Courthouse name, if any, or Federal Building]
180 Abe Lincoln Avenue
Springfield, USA 12345

Should I include "The Honorable" and the court address on my cover letter? Right now it looks like this:

"December 1, 2014

Judge First Last
United States District Court
Eastern District of New York

Dear Judge Last:"


Baby_Got_Feuerbach
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Re: Cover letter advice

Postby Baby_Got_Feuerbach » Sat Nov 29, 2014 2:17 pm



I can make the change on the cover letters and on the envelopes (although it may look weird). Chances the judges actually see the envelopes?

EDIT: FWIW, I'm applying to a judicial internship.

Anonymous User
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Re: Cover letter advice

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Nov 30, 2014 1:55 am

In my judge's chambers, his assistant opens all of the mail, so he won't see the envelope. I would think this would be true in most other chambers as well.




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