Well-prepared application materials can make a positive first impression with potential employers.
Review the resources on this page to learn how to prepare a legal resume and cover letter, draft a professional writing sample, and request references or letters of recommendation.
How to Prepare a Legal Resume
A legal resume should highlight your skills and experience. This video gives an overview of legal resumes, including formatting guidelines, an example resume and important tips to keep in mind.
- How to Prepare a Legal Resume (YouTube video)
- Resume Sample (.pdf)
- Resume Sample with Annotations (.doc)
Tips for Drafting a Resume
Resumes and cover letters are the application documents most commonly requested by legal employers.
Both provide a chance for you to highlight your educational background, professional and volunteer experience, and any other relevant skills and qualifications that would make you a good fit for a particular firm, organization or position.
Legal Resume Guidelines
The vast majority of legal resumes tend to follow a fairly specific format, outlined below. The goal of a resume is to highlight your most relevant experience in a visually pleasing, easily digestible way. Resumes are not narrative: they are a list of specific duties and accomplishments that demonstrate what you’re bringing to the table in an interview.
- Standard Formatting: 1 page, 1” margins, and 11- or 12-point font
- Should be skimmable – don’t try to fill every bit of white space on the page
- Main sections:
- Header (name, address, contact information)
- Should include law school experience and previous degrees in reverse chronological order (most recent/current first)
- Should also mention awards, scholarships, memberships, etc.
- Work Experience or Relevant Experience
- Should include legal and nonlegal work experience in reverse chronological order (most
- recent/current first)
- Can also include leadership experience with volunteer organizations – if you include this information in this section, you should title it something like “Relevant Experience” or “Work and Leadership Experience”
- Community Involvement, Skills and Personal Interests
- Should include volunteer experience, any language skills or special certifications you have, and a bullet point that lists a few non-law school interests (get specific!)
Depending on your previous experience, a single page may seem like far too much or not nearly enough space to speak to your accomplishments. In the majority of cases, it’s just about right.
Exceptions to the Guidelines
If you are applying to government jobs, particularly via the USA Jobs website, you will need to prepare a long-form resume. Unlike a traditional legal resume, which will highlight only the most relevant information, a long-form resume will include every position you have held and a specific list of duties and accomplishments associated with it. Because many of these positions come with specific pay bands based on past work and/or educational history, every bit of prior experience can help boost you toward a higher pay band. The CSO can help you craft a long-form resume.
How to Prepare a Cover Letter
The purpose of a cover letter is to craft a story about how your skills, interests and qualifications make you a strong candidate for a specific organization. This video walks you through the process of writing a legal cover letter.
Legal Cover Letter Guidelines
Crafting a strong cover letter is often the most time-consuming part of the application process. It requires knowledge of the firm or organization and a real sense of why you’d be a fit there.
Cover letters are narratives: you are crafting a story about how your skills, interests and qualifications make you a strong potential candidate for a specific organization. That story might focus on specific work experiences, educational background, passion for a cause, or why you originally came to law school. This is where you can expand the story of what you started in your resume.
While you don’t have to completely re-write your cover letter for each application, you should tailor the information you include to speak to that employer’s needs.
- Standard Formatting: 1 page, 1” margins, and 11- or 12-point font (same font/size as resume)
- Main sections:
- Header (name, address, contact information) – use the same one you used on your resume to create visual consistency
- Employer’s Contact Information & Salutation
- Introductory Paragraph
- Should emphasize your enthusiasm for the position, any specific ties to the geographic region, and any specific mutual contacts/acquaintances
- Keep this quick (2-3 sentences is usually enough)
- Body Paragraph(s)
- Should tell the narrative of why you’d be a good hire for the organization – usually, this is a single paragraph, but depending on your situation, two paragraphs might make sense
- For public interest employers, emphasizing dedication to a cause/belief in the importance of public service can be as important as hard skills
- For private firms, make sure to tie your interest in specific practice areas to the experience you’ve had in the past and your other hard skills
- For JD Advantage employers, always make sure you address why you’re interested in doing something other than “being a lawyer”
- Conclusory Paragraph
- Should briefly re-emphasize your desire to contribute your skills to the employer, invite them to contact you, and thank them for their time
- You do not need to physically sign documents you submit electronically (electronic signature is ok), but do physically sign anything you submit in hard copy
How to Prepare a Writing Sample
At some point in the legal job application process, you will likely be asked to submit a sample of your written work.
Your goal in choosing a writing sample is to showcase your best piece of legal writing to demonstrate what you can produce for an employer. Your writing sample should be legal in nature and demonstrate your analytical reasoning/writing skills, relatively recent and relevant to the job you are seeking.
Tips for Preparing a Writing Sample
At some point in the legal job application process, you will likely be asked to submit a sample of your written work. Your goal in choosing a writing sample is to showcase your best piece of legal writing to demonstrate what you can produce for an employer.
Selecting Your Sample
Consider all available pieces of writing before making a selection.
- Your sample should be legal in nature and demonstrate your analytical reasoning/writing skills.
- 1L Tip: You will likely use your best paper, or section of your best paper, from a Lawyering Skills course assignment.
- 2L/3L Tip: You will likely want to use something from Lawyering Skills II, clinic work, 1L summer employment, law review/journal, or an upper-level course with a writing component.
- Your sample should be relatively recent (i.e. written within the past year) to best demonstrate your current abilities.
- Your sample should be your own (i.e. not something you co-wrote with other students or something extensively changed and edited by another person).
- Think about your audience and the job for which you are applying. Is this type of writing relevant to the job you are seeking? Will you be comfortable answering questions about the material in an interview?
Editing Your Sample
Revise your writing to demonstrate your most persuasive legal analysis skills and your most clear and concise prose.
- Incorporate feedback: If the professor suggested edits when grading the work, incorporate those changes. For most situations, it is advisable to request a meeting with your professor for an additional proofread and suggestions. **However, judges often specifically request samples that have not been subjected to extensive editing from writing staff.**
- Redact any confidential content: If you use a writing sample from your clinic or summer work, redact the confidential information and then send to the supervisor to get approval to use the work.
- Select an excerpt if necessary: Consider omitting portions to keep the sample to 5-8 pages. Some employers will give a length limit, but most like shorter pieces. The exception may be judges, who often like to see the entire piece.
- Tip: Use the portion that best demonstrates your legal analysis abilities (such as the discussion portion of the memo).
- Tip: If you plan to cut your entire Statement of Facts section, consider adding details to your cover page or foreword so a reader without that background can still follow along.
- Tip: If you cut out sections, make sure you don’t have references in the body to sections that this reader will not see
- Make sure your submission is 100% free of grammatical, font and spelling errors. This is an opportunity for “free points.”
- Citations: Make sure your citations are properly done using the most recent edition of the Bluebook.
- Fonts: You will probably want to leave your writing sample in the same classical font you used when you submitted it. For most of you, that will mean Times New Roman or Century, size 12. If you decide to change the font or size, remember that formatting issues might arise and you’ll need to pay extra attention to finding and remedying those issues.
Your writing sample should include a cover page, or foreword, that provides the reader with enough context to examine the writing and assures the reader that the submission is your own work. Include:
- Your contact information
- The type of document you are submitting (brief, memo, contract, article)
- Explain what prompted you to write the document (class, work, clinic)
- If the writing is from work or a clinic, indicate that you have permission to use the document.
- Let the reader know whether the information was redacted.
- If the document is an excerpt from a longer piece, explain what section is included and which sections were omitted.
University of Kansas School of Law
Green Hall, 1535 W 15th St., Suite 204
Lawrence, KS 66045
The attached writing sample is from a memorandum in support of a motion for summary judgment. I prepared this document in the second semester of my Lawyering Skills course during my first year of law school. [Alternate wording: I prepared this document as a summer associate at Smith & Jones, and I submit it with permission from my employer. To preserve client confidentiality, all identifying information has been changed/redacted.]
The attached sample is an excerpt from the argument section. The case involved a complaint of discrimination on the basis of disability in violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. On behalf of the plaintiff, I prepared this memorandum in support of a motion for summary judgment that included two main arguments: (1) the defendant unlawfully discriminated against the plaintiff by failing to promote her because of her disability, despite her qualifications to perform her essential functions with or without reasonable accommodations, and (2) the defendant’s proffered nondiscriminatory reason for failing to promote the plaintiff is pretextual, as it had no basis in fact and was a mask to the disability discrimination. The writing sample attached addresses the first argument, and the entire document is available upon request.
How to Prepare References and Letters of Recommendation
A letter of recommendation is a letter written by a professional who can recommend an individual's work or academic performance. This video gives an overview of references and letters of recommendation, when to use each, who to ask to be your references and how to ask them.