Cover Letter Mistakes to Avoid in a Legal Job Search

Published: Apr 09, 2024

 Education       Grad School       Job Search       Law       Resumes & Cover Letters       
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It should go without saying that writing a cover letter for every legal position you apply for is an excellent idea. This step is probably the most commonly skipped, and failing to submit a cover letter is a very easy way to remove yourself from consideration in the preliminary stages of the hiring process. That said, doing a poor job on the cover letter can damage your application package considerably. In today's post, we take a look at five common mistakes aspiring attorneys make in drafting cover letters and offer tips on avoiding them.

Don't Use an Anonymous Salutation

It is not actually that uncommon for cover letters to have generic or anonymous salutations, along the lines of "Dear Sir or Madam." This seemingly innocuous piece is actually one of your first opportunities to distinguish yourself. Simply by addressing the letter to the correct person at the firm—generally a recruiting manager, hiring partner, or hiring contact—you demonstrate an ability to perform some basic research with the bonus of making the letter a bit more personal for the person reviewing your application. (Incidentally, Vault's law firm profiles are an excellent and easy resource for finding the specific hiring contact at hundreds of the country's best law firms!)

Don't Tolerate Mistakes

To be blunt, there is simply no excuse for typos, grammatical errors, or formatting errors to be present in the final version of a cover letter that you actually send to a law firm. There's no time constraint here; the person reading the letter knows you had as much time and as many passes as you wanted before submitting it. If it isn't grammatically perfect, it reflects poorly on you and will greatly harm your chances of securing an interview. Take the time to proofread more than once and ensure that your cover letter is entirely free of errors. Have friends and family check it as well—multiple sets of eyes are an excellent way to ensure nothing gets missed.

Don't Be Generic

In some ways, this is always the struggle. There are obviously common and accepted structures and forms for application materials like resumes and cover letters, and we don't recommend deviating from them. However, the cover letter, even more than the resume, is your opportunity to highlight what you think may distinguish you from other applicants. This letter should surface and discuss your unique experiences and strengths, and it should be specifically tailored for each law firm you apply to. Do not make the mistake of creating a single form letter that you send to each firm with no changes save the address. This is a space to advocate for yourself and to distinguish yourself. Take advantage of it.

Don't Be Needlessly Verbose

The cover letter should never be more than a single page long, and that means your goal is to convey as much information as possible in the limited space available. You are wasting space and the reviewer's time if your letter is verbose, rambling, or, worst of all, repetitive. Focus on clear, concise language and overall brevity, getting the key points about your experience and interests across as quickly as you reasonably can. Reviewers will appreciate your ability to get to the point, and you'll actually to be able to fit more substance into a single page the more concisely you articulate your points.

Don't Undersell Yourself

It can sometimes feel redundant to draft a cover letter on top of submitting a resume when applying for a position. The key thing to remember is that they serve different functions. The resume is a "neutral" view of your education and experiences, there to be perused and assessed on its own by the person reviewing your application. The cover letter, on the other hand, exists explicitly to allow you to advocate for yourself and your fit for the position. It is common to be hesitant around selling yourself for fear of coming across as arrogant. Temper this fear. Do not be afraid to explain, boldly, why you think you're the best fit for the position. It's what the letter is for.


Your cover letter is a part of the first impression you will make on a law firm, and it is also your space to advocate for yourself and make your arguments to distinguish yourself from the other applicants. If you avoid the mistakes above, your cover letter will already be better than many. Focus on concisely selling yourself without any unforced errors, and you'll land an interview in no time.


This post is an expansion of an infographic originally published by Heidy Abdel Kerim on January 7, 2019.