How does one apply to legal employers who are NOT coming to campus, who have not provided clear instructions on how to apply, or who may not have even posted a job (but you still want to let them know you are very interested in them)? There is no absolutely best way to submit applications to these potential employers, because employers differ in their preferences for paper versus e-mail. Some smaller firms still prefer paper copies, while many larger firms prefer e-mailed résumés and cover letters. If you can find an email for a recruiting contact, you might email your application and follow up within a day with a phone call. Avoid using the “contact us” form on an employer’s website to submit your application. The purpose of “contact us” forms is to generate leads for potential clients, not potential law clerks or associates.
The following excerpt is from the PDO handout “Feedback on Résumés and Cover Letters from Salt Lake Area Hiring Attorneys” (in Symplicity’s Document Library). Whether you decide to snail-mail or e-mail your application, it contains good advice about the hiring process from a local hiring attorney. Keep in mind, he hires for a larger firm.
“…almost everyone submits cover letters and resumes by e-mail now. I think that is the better way to go. I used to prefer hard copies, but now I greatly prefer electronic submissions, and I would say more than 90% of submissions now arrive electronically.”
“It is helpful if the e-mail transmitting the cover letter and resume includes a brief one- or two-sentence summary of the cover letter, such as, “My name is _____. I am currently a ______-year law student (or attorney) at _______, and I am interested in pursuing employment opportunities that may be available at your firm. Attached for your consideration are my resume and a cover letter explaining my interest in your firm in greater detail. I look forward to hearing from you.”
“The subject line should also make clear that the e-mail is an employment application. If I’m checking e-mails from a remote location or quickly on a handheld device, little details like that in the transmittal e-mail are helpful. I greatly prefer the attachments to be in .pdf format, rather than Word. There are about four reasons why .pdf is the preferable format: they open more quickly; they open on virtually anything, including remote computers and handhelds; there is less risk of transmitting embarrassing formatting glitches or metadata; and they cannot be altered.”
“I sometimes get e-mails and telephone calls from prospective applicants asking me what materials they need to submit. Sometimes these calls and e-mails seem like honest inquiries; other times they seem like tactics to try to get a foot in the door. Either way, they are distracting and are not helpful. Most people who apply for jobs at law firms know what they need to submit: a cover letter, resume, and transcript are standard.”
“Other materials such as writing samples can be helpful but are less common. Because most applicants seem to understand this already, the one candidate out of ten who calls and asks what he/she needs to submit does not make a good impression and creates another little task for me to complete that day (i.e., responding to the e-mail and telling the applicant to send a cover letter, resume, and transcript). I think if an applicant is interested in e-mailing a firm to inquire about the application process, it’s good advice simply to attach all of the application materials and apply.”
Be cautious when indicating interest in a practice area on your resume. Although it is OK to state where your interest lay, it is easy to pigeonhole yourself when an employer may be seeking someone who is willing to do a variety of work.
Finally, as you well know, this is a tough time to be looking for work, and even the best-qualified candidates will encounter a large number of rejections. Please urge your students not to take that personally and to keep at it. Many of the firms who turn them down will honestly do so only because they are not presently hiring, rather than there is any problem with the applicants. As long as a firm sends a positive message to an applicant and indicates that the firm simply isn’t hiring at the present time, there is nothing wrong with checking back in every few months to inquire “whether the situation has changed.”