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Your cover letter is an excellent opportunity to communicate your personality, enthusiasm and professional strengths to an employer. While there is a standard format for a cover letter, it is important to make your cover letter distinctive and personal; do not be afraid to think outside the box. Go into detail about your background and skills instead of reiterating what is already on your resume. Keep in mind that your letter gives the employer a sample of how well you write. Be careful about typos, spell-check your letter, and edit any grammatical mistakes.

For more detail on crafting a well-executed cover letter, review the OPIA/OCS Cover Letter Workshop.

After following these guidelines, current students, admitted LL.M.s, and alumni may submit their resumes, cover letters, fellowship application materials, and other application materials for review by an OPIA adviser (after October 15 for 1Ls).

  • Length & Tone
    • Do not exceed one page
    • Use a personal, yet professional, tone in your cover letters
    • Communicate who you are as an individual, why you are interested in this particular employer and why you will work well at that particular office
    • Vary your sentence structure to keep the employer interested; for example, do not begin every sentence with “I (verb)”
    • View OPIA’s list of Action Verbs to make sure that the language you are using in your cover letter is appropriate and varied
    • For summer internships, review OPIA’s cover letter FAQs
  • Addressing Your Letter
    • Try to address your cover letter to the particular person responsible for hiring in each office
    • Avoid addressing a letter “to whom it may concern”
    • If you are unable to find a particular person, you can address your letter to the “Hiring Coordinator” or “Internship Coordinator”
    • If you are able to locate the hiring or internship coordinator’s name but you are unsure what prefix or honorific they use, consider some additional research on the organization website (or beyond). Staff biographies or press releases may refer to “Ms. Jefferson” or “Mx. Pereira,” for example, in which case you can mirror the same in your cover letter. If additional research does not resolve the question, “Attorney” is an acceptable and formal choice. Example: “Dear Attorney Jones.”
  • First/Introductory Paragraph
    • Identify yourself (e.g., I am a first year student at Harvard Law School)
    • Explain why you are contacting the employer (e.g., I am applying for a summer internship with your office)
    • Mention how you learned about the organization or job posting (e.g., an alumnus/a, previous intern in the office, or a speaker on a panel)
    • Include a short sentence or two that summarizes why you are interested in working for the organization and why you are the right person for this job
  • Middle Paragraph(s): Qualifications & Interests
    • Emphasize why you want to work with the specific employer
    • Highlight past personal, academic, or work experiences that are most relevant to the position and help explain to an employer where your interest in their work comes from, without rehashing the descriptions in your resume; these experiences can include
      • Your personal background
      • Volunteer or community service work
      • Prior professional positions
      • Involvement with student organizations
      • Coursework or research work
      • Publications or other significant on-point writing (e.g., a thesis)
    • Make specific connections between your skills and experience, and the work the office does
    • Show that you have done research about and understand the organization’s mission and how it carries out its work
    • Communicate genuine and informed enthusiasm for the position
  • Concluding Paragraph
    • Thank the employer for taking the time to consider your application
    • Include your contact information (unless your contact information is included in a header on your cover letter)
    • For out-of-town employers, mention if you will be in the employer’s area in the near future for an in-person interview