There is no absolute guaranteed way to submit applications to these potential employers, because employers differ in their preferences for paper versus e-mail. A few smaller firms still prefer paper copies, while most mid-size and 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 (unless it is specifically for recruiting purposes). The purpose of “contact us” forms is usually 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.
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.
Ed. note: This is the latest post by Anonymous Recruitment Director, who will offer an insider’s perspective on the world of law firm hiring.
Following the publication of my initial column, I received scores of emails from polite job-seekers with specific questions about their current employment situations. While I am not able to reply to all of the notes, I can offer some guidance to assist the majority of these job-seekers.
Insider tip: Biglaw firms tend to avoid hiring candidates who have strayed off of the traditional path to Biglaw firm employment. Such “rogue” candidates make the recruitment committee nervous, and any candidate who makes the committee nervous will not be advanced in the process. If you want to work in Biglaw, get a job in Biglaw during your 2L summer. If this is not possible (because you did not land a job in Biglaw or you have already graduated), get a job at a small- or medium-sized private firm in the exact practice area that you hope to work in when you make the jump after a few years to Biglaw. Clerkships are fine, but law firm experience in your desired practice area is the ideal. Also, of great importance, you MUST do well in all courses related to your practice area of choice. If you received a C in Securities Regulation, it will be a hard sell to land a job as a securities lawyer at a large firm.
What are some other factors that will make the recruitment committee uncomfortable?
Post-law-school advanced degrees in non-law-related subjects, joint law degrees in subjects that are not directly relevant to your practice area of choice, public interest law jobs, and periods of unemployment are troublesome. They make the candidate seem unfocused or flaky or, worse still, not competitive. In other words, identify your desired practice area and get experience in that area, at a firm of any size, even if you need to work for free for a period of time. Any other career choices give the hiring committee a reason to doubt your focus and, as such, you will not be given serious consideration.
I appreciate that there are plenty of new attorneys who are not able to get experience in their desired practice area. This advice may be controversial, but I recommend that if this is the case, and if you aspire to work in Biglaw, you must select a different practice area to pursue (namely, one that is available to you early in your career). Biglaw partners love to believe that litigators have wanted to litigate since childhood; they do not respond well to candidates who, after three years as a patent attorney, decide that they now wish to do litigation (unless it is patent-related litigation). In other words, partners are suspicious of anyone who does not start down one path and remain on said path. That’s what they all (allegedly) did, after all; and, as discussed last time, partners like people who are just like them.
While this advice may seem rigid, please consider the matter from the vantage point of the recruitment committee. Here is a sampling of the cover letters that we receive:
1. “I am extraordinary and the reason that I received a C- average in law school is that I was the primary caregiver to my ailing (mother/father/spouse/child) during law school and he/she had six near death experiences, each of which corresponded with an examination period; and, as such, I encourage you to ignore the fact that to date I have not evidenced any ability to excel in the law and hire me regardless.” (the bullsh** applicant) (yes, ladies and gentlemen, after seeing hundreds of these letters over the years, I now assume that they are all bulls**t);
2. “I have no particular interests and, instead, I wish to apply to any opening that you might have at the firm at this time, whether it be in international arbitration, structured finance, employment law, etc. I love the law SO MUCH that I will do anything that is on offer.” (the unfocused applicant);
3. “I do not really want you to consider me for a job because I have so many options that I am overwhelmed. At this time, I am really trying to decide how I will share my legal genius with the world, and, if you want to get on this bandwagon early, which I strongly advise, let me know what you can offer me and when (hypothetically, of course) you would want me to start.” (the d-bag applicant); and
4. “I am writing to express my interest in the position of 4th year tax associate that is detailed on your firm’s website. I am currently a tax associate at [firm] with four years of experience undertaking the following types of [tax-related] matters:…” (the viable applicant).
Only the fourth applicant will get put forward to the hiring committee members. Why? Because, unlike the other applicants, he or she is building a case for him or herself to be hired for an identifiable role; he or she is in effect arguing that the job opening should belong to them. This individual has convincing support for his or her argument.
While on the subject of cover letters, I advise that you write a cover letter, two paragraphs at most, that details who you are, what exactly you want, and why you are a smart hire (if you cannot explain why you are a smart hire for this particular job, and/or if you cannot do so succinctly, you should not be applying for this position). A letter longer than two paragraphs will not be read.
Those applicants sending a letter of interest for a summer associate position can write an even shorter letter. We understand why you are applying and that, at this stage of your legal career, your interests are not fully refined.
The cover letter is in many respects a formality. No one has ever been hired because he or she wrote an amazing cover letter. Many people have been rejected because they submitted a poorly written cover letter. The truth is that the cover letter may not be read until an applicant is sitting in front of his or her interviewer. In recruitment, we have a tendency to scan résumés first, and then, if interested, we review brief cover letters to make sure that there are no red flags. As such, as I will address in the next column, you should focus far more effort on your résumé.
You are an attorney (or soon to be one). In your cover letter, please be clear, be concise, and be convincing. Argue your own case.
Earlier: Greetings From Anonymous Recruitment Director
Lawsuit of the Day: Ex-Kasowitz Associate With ‘Superior Legal Mind’ Sues the Firm for $77 Million
Anonymous Recruitment Director is the head of recruitment for a leading international firm and has 20 years of law firm recruitment experience. Anonymous NYC Recruitment Director can be reached at NYCRecruitmentDirector@gmail.com (please note that job applications sent to this email address will be deleted!).