A good cover letter will give a potential employer its first look at your personality, and let them know why you are the right candidate for the job. Since the cover letter is your introduction to the organization, you want to make a good first impression.
ALWAYS address a cover letter to a specific person within the organization. NEVER use generic form letters unless you want your resume to end up in the trash bin.
Generally, a cover letter will consist of three paragraphs. The first paragraph introduces you to the company/firm, and will include why you are writing. The second paragraph gives you the opportunity to "pre-sell" the employer that you are the right person for their organization. The last paragraph lets the employer know how you intend to follow up.
Paragraph #1: In the introductory paragraph, you should introduce yourself to the employer and advise as to your current status (1L, 2L, 3L or new graduate). You should also tell the employer why you are writing (applying for summer clerkship or associate position), and why you are specifically interested in the employer (e.g., I am writing at the suggestion of a particular professor or in response to a listing on the Career Development web page).
Paragraph #2: In this paragraph, you will want to highlight your abilities and prove by specific examples your experiences/skills listed in your resume. Here is where you want to show the employer that you have taken the time to research the organization, and given some thought to how or where you believe you fit best with the employer's needs.
Paragraph #3: Close your letter by letting the employer know how you will follow up (e.g., I would like to contact you next week to see if an interview can be arranged). If you are applying to an employer in a different city, suggest dates that you will be in town and indicate flexibility in planning the interview to fit that time, or another if more appropriate. Finally, be sure to thank the employer for considering you for the job.
Like the resume, use high quality bond paper. Make sure that your letter paper matches your envelope, although it does not necessarily have to match your resume. Limit the letter to one page. Again, it is important to address the letter to a person, and not "To Whom it May Concern." If you are responding to an ad that does not list a name, address the letter to the Hiring Committee and open the letter with "Dear Hiring Committee:". Be certain that you have all of your current contact information at the top of the page.
Writing Samples: When an employer requests that you provide a writing sample, you should provide something that you've written in law school, such as an assignment during your first year Legal Research and Writing class; a Moot Court brief; a Law Review or Journal article; or work product from a legal job. If you choose to use prior work product from another job, you MUST ask permission from your previous employer, and redact (black out -- you'll grow very familiar with this term when you start producing or review discovery documents) all identifying information.
A writing sample should be around 5-7 pages in length. If your sample is much longer than that length, you should include only an excerpt which shows your ability to develop an argument and apply the relevant law. All writing samples should include a cover sheet with your name, address, phone, and for what purpose the writing sample was prepared. Additionally, if you are providing an excerpted sample, you should include a very brief recitation of the facts.
Transcripts: If employers do not specifically request official transcripts, then unofficial copies of transcripts will be fine. Jesse Hall will provide you with your official transcript (note that you will need to pay a fee for each official transcript you receive). Unofficial transcripts may be obtained for free on MyZou. Please also note that “transcript” refers to your law school transcript unless the employer specifies that both undergraduate and law school transcripts are required to apply for the job. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to stop by Room 103.