I have no idea how to write a cover letter HELP!!!

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I have no idea how to write a cover letter HELP!!!

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Oct 06, 2016 4:22 pm

Please help....i have no idea how to write a cover letter for a clerkship.

What the hell am I supposed to write about apart from a rehash of my resume?

HELP!!!

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A. Nony Mouse

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Re: I have no idea how to write a cover letter HELP!!!

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Thu Oct 06, 2016 4:24 pm

This isn't meant to be snotty, but if you google "judicial clerkship cover letters" lots of schools post their guides online and you will find examples/guidance. Major debate is over long v. short. Personally I think short is way better.

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Re: I have no idea how to write a cover letter HELP!!!

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Oct 06, 2016 4:33 pm

Sorry, I've checked the ones that harvard or yale make available but I don't see how they're any different than a rehash of a resume

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Re: I have no idea how to write a cover letter HELP!!!

Postby mjb447 » Thu Oct 06, 2016 4:43 pm

Aside from the very boilerplate cover letter stuff like identifying yourself, listing enclosures, providing contact info, etc., you might want to include a sentence highlighting how any prior experience will help you be a great clerk (rather than just listing the positions you've held), what you want to do with your career following the clerkship, or anything that gives you a connection to the judge or geographic location that wouldn't otherwise be obvious.

In the vast majority of cases, though, a cover letter is not going to move the needle positively at all, and will probably only do so negatively due to typos or awkward phrasing (which is an additional benefit of a short letter - less room to screw up). Honestly, I might omit most of the additions I suggested above for a fairly 'vanilla' candidate, in which case it will probably look a lot like a rehash of your resume.

ETA: The likely reason for what you've discovered in the Harvard and Yale guides is what I've suggested: the cover letter is probably not the place where you're going to positively distinguish yourself from other candidates.

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Re: I have no idea how to write a cover letter HELP!!!

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Thu Oct 06, 2016 4:48 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Sorry, I've checked the ones that harvard or yale make available but I don't see how they're any different than a rehash of a resume

Those are pretty good examples of what the cover letters look like though.

Completely agree with mjb447 on what should be in there. Personally I have identifying info (graduate of law school x, working wherever/third year student at law school x/whatever), term I'm applying for, one line of personalization for that judge (location/experience/personal connection) if I can come up with anything plausible, one-two lines about pertinent work experience that makes me qualified, then a listing of enclosures/rec letters/call me any time for an interview. The personalization is probably the most important bit, honestly.

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Re: I have no idea how to write a cover letter HELP!!!

Postby Boltsfan » Thu Oct 06, 2016 5:21 pm

At my Career Services Office's suggestion I wrote a long(er) cover letter describing what I perceived my strengths to be and how they would make me a good clerk. I ended up landing a COA clerkship pretty quickly, but now that I'm on the other side of the table, I have no reason to believe that the longer style cover letter did me any favors. On the other hand, the longer the cover letter, the higher the probability a stupid typo gets through that gets you dinged.

Unless you have a really interesting story to tell, my advice would be to keep it simple and stick to the basics. Northwestern (I think? small sample size but they all look like this) seems to encourage their applicants to have the shortest cover letters I have seen, so maybe check those out for the bare minimum. Under no circumstances should you send in more than one page.

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Re: I have no idea how to write a cover letter HELP!!!

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Nov 17, 2016 10:56 am

I am a hail mary candidate so i wanna customize my cover letters but im having trouble finding examples of how to do that. (I've written hundreds of non-clerkship cover letters but this seems very different)

Does anyone have advice for how to word wanting to work for a particular judge? Is it appropriate to talk about what they did before being a judge and could anyone give a fake example?

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Re: I have no idea how to write a cover letter HELP!!!

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Thu Nov 17, 2016 11:19 am

I don't know if you would spell it out ("I want to work for you because you used to be at Legal Aid doing fair housing litigation and I want to work for Legal Aid after clerking") so much as explain your own goals and hope they would catch the judge's eye ("I'm writing to apply for a clerkship in your chambers for the 2018-19 term. I am a 2L at Whatever University and my ultimate career goal is to work for legal aid in the area of fair housing."). The more unique the goal, the more helpful it is - "you worked at a big firm and I want to work for a big firm" probably wouldn't differentiate you much.

To be clear, maybe you could do the former; I just think it's harder to do without sounding a little sycophant-y. Someone else may have a better example. (I did write a cover letter telling a judge that I wanted to work for him because I agree with his stance on the war against drugs, but I didn't get hired and I'm not sure it was a great letter.)

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Re: I have no idea how to write a cover letter HELP!!!

Postby mjb447 » Thu Nov 17, 2016 5:25 pm

I agree - I think directly referencing the judge's past work might come off as insincere (although maybe not if your resume/classes otherwise SCREAM fair housing litigation or whatever). Also, maybe not that likely if you do your research, but what if you pick something they hated doing or didn't get much out of? If you've expressly linked your interest in them to that single aspect of their background, you might end up a little worse off.

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Re: I have no idea how to write a cover letter HELP!!!

Postby wwwcol » Thu Nov 17, 2016 8:02 pm

Boltsfan wrote:At my Career Services Office's suggestion I wrote a long(er) cover letter describing what I perceived my strengths to be and how they would make me a good clerk. I ended up landing a COA clerkship pretty quickly, but now that I'm on the other side of the table, I have no reason to believe that the longer style cover letter did me any favors. On the other hand, the longer the cover letter, the higher the probability a stupid typo gets through that gets you dinged.

Unless you have a really interesting story to tell, my advice would be to keep it simple and stick to the basics. Northwestern (I think? small sample size but they all look like this) seems to encourage their applicants to have the shortest cover letters I have seen, so maybe check those out for the bare minimum. Under no circumstances should you send in more than one page.


I agree that a longer cover letter attempting to emphasize strengths likely harms more than it helps, especially if you're saying generic things like, "My experience drafting motions at X clinic improved my writing skills."

The Harvard/Yale model is popular for a reason - it minimizes the chance that a clerk immediately throws out your application because of a typo or because you wrote meaningless platitudes about your legal writing/research/X skill.

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Re: I have no idea how to write a cover letter HELP!!!

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Nov 17, 2016 8:48 pm

A. Nony Mouse wrote:I don't know if you would spell it out ("I want to work for you because you used to be at Legal Aid doing fair housing litigation and I want to work for Legal Aid after clerking") so much as explain your own goals and hope they would catch the judge's eye ("I'm writing to apply for a clerkship in your chambers for the 2018-19 term. I am a 2L at Whatever University and my ultimate career goal is to work for legal aid in the area of fair housing."). The more unique the goal, the more helpful it is - "you worked at a big firm and I want to work for a big firm" probably wouldn't differentiate you much.

To be clear, maybe you could do the former; I just think it's harder to do without sounding a little sycophant-y. Someone else may have a better example. (I did write a cover letter telling a judge that I wanted to work for him because I agree with his stance on the war against drugs, but I didn't get hired and I'm not sure it was a great letter.)


Thank you, that's really helpful. I'm public interest, but nothing particularly distinctive, so perhaps I'm not really adding much by putting the sentence in. I was hoping that adding a sentence tying the judge's public interest orientation to my interest in clerking for them might show that I'm serious about the judge (for whatever miniscule value that potentially adds) but I hear you on the phoniness point.

I guess I'm just not really sure then what people mean when they talk about "customizing" their cover letters. Do you have any suggestions? (other than "I wanna practice in your city" or something like that)

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Re: I have no idea how to write a cover letter HELP!!!

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Thu Nov 17, 2016 9:12 pm

The things that I think are worth customizing:

- personal reason to be in the location, which should usually be something about you and not something about the city being cool (I grew up in your city and want to practice there, my fiance is from there and we want to settle down and raise a family there, my aged parent has retired there and I wish to be close to them - whatever is true for you. People will say manufacture this when they're talking about ties for a law firm; I don't think any boost you'd get is worth lying about it, and I think it'd be especially difficult to get away with that kind of lie in chambers vs. in a law firm, but that's me)

- professional reason to be in that court - if it has some kind of unique docket or the like (I want to clerk in DC because I'm interested regulatory work, I want to clerk on SDNY due to its heavy securities docket, I want to clerk in EDTX [is that the one?] because of its high IP caseload, I want to clerk in a border district due to my interest in immigration law - again, whatever fits; ideally, something that is supported in your resume as well - like, "I did regulatory work during my SA, want to practice in that area, so am interested in clerking on district X" but at least being aware of the specialized docket is helpful)

- personal/professional connection to the judge, which is usually "person X who knows you [the judge's former clerk, your prof, your summer boss] spoke highly of you and very strongly recommended that I apply to your chambers," but could be something like sharing a school. (But again, I don't know that you'd say "I want to clerk for you because you're an alum of school X" as much as you'd want to just put being an alum of that school front and center in your letter.) Or even some other kind of shared experience, if sufficiently unique - there's a former SSC justice in MN who was a professional football player; if I were applying to him and I'd played college or pro football I'd probably throw that in the letter somewhere.

Don't know if anyone else has other/better examples.

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Re: I have no idea how to write a cover letter HELP!!!

Postby lavarman84 » Fri Nov 18, 2016 5:07 pm

A. Nony Mouse wrote:The things that I think are worth customizing:

- personal reason to be in the location, which should usually be something about you and not something about the city being cool (I grew up in your city and want to practice there, my fiance is from there and we want to settle down and raise a family there, my aged parent has retired there and I wish to be close to them - whatever is true for you. People will say manufacture this when they're talking about ties for a law firm; I don't think any boost you'd get is worth lying about it, and I think it'd be especially difficult to get away with that kind of lie in chambers vs. in a law firm, but that's me)

- professional reason to be in that court - if it has some kind of unique docket or the like (I want to clerk in DC because I'm interested regulatory work, I want to clerk on SDNY due to its heavy securities docket, I want to clerk in EDTX [is that the one?] because of its high IP caseload, I want to clerk in a border district due to my interest in immigration law - again, whatever fits; ideally, something that is supported in your resume as well - like, "I did regulatory work during my SA, want to practice in that area, so am interested in clerking on district X" but at least being aware of the specialized docket is helpful)

- personal/professional connection to the judge, which is usually "person X who knows you [the judge's former clerk, your prof, your summer boss] spoke highly of you and very strongly recommended that I apply to your chambers," but could be something like sharing a school. (But again, I don't know that you'd say "I want to clerk for you because you're an alum of school X" as much as you'd want to just put being an alum of that school front and center in your letter.) Or even some other kind of shared experience, if sufficiently unique - there's a former SSC justice in MN who was a professional football player; if I were applying to him and I'd played college or pro football I'd probably throw that in the letter somewhere.

Don't know if anyone else has other/better examples.


Alan Page? More than just a professional football player. He was named to the NFL Hall of Fame and is the only DT in NFL history to win a MVP award.

Sorry, I'm digressing. Yes, Nony makes great points.



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