A few notes about cover letters:
- Most judges are happy to see a shorter, more succinct cover letter. Although your cover letter is a good forum for relevant information not otherwise conveyed in your application, there is no need to rehash what is already on your resume. Do not summarize your previous job experience or your school activities. The judge does not need to know what you hope to learn from him; judges read hundreds of letters a year and it is tedious to hear from every student that they hope to hone their legal research and writing skills or gain insight into judicial practice. Padding your letter only serves to waste the judge's time and drown out the important information your letter is meant to convey.
- Some types of information that should always be included in the cover letter: a specific connection to the city or state where the judge sits, the names and numbers of all of your references), relevant specialized classes you have taken (i.e. bankruptcy, patent law, trusts and estates) or, similarly, prior experience in a field specifically relevant to the court.
- Some judges do prefer a more detailed cover letter in which you mention why you would be a particularly good fit for the judge’s chambers. It can be difficult to determine which judges prefer a less generic letter, but it is generally a good idea to mention details about the judge’s chambers if they are relevant. For example, if the judge used to be a prosecutor/public defender/firm lawyer and you have ambition to do the same, the cover letter is a good place to mention that. Likewise, if you have studied or used one of the judge’s opinions in a class or clinic, that can also be a useful piece of information for the judge.
- Don't stretch to make a connection. While judges are often interested in candidates who share a geographic connection with them, they can see through tenuous assertions of interest in their home city. If you have lived, worked, or gone to school where you are applying, you should definitely mention it in your cover letter. Vague statements about loving the city when you visited it or your interest in the city because of some particular feature of its legal community are best left off your letter. If you don't have something concrete to offer in regards to geography, it is best not to mention it at all.
- Do not say that your recommenders would be happy to speak with the judge directly unless you’ve checked with them first.
- Do make sure that your cover letter contains no mistakes of any kind. Have at least one other person proofread your letter. Put it aside for a day and look at it again. Typos show a lack of attention to detail that will not be welcome in any judge's chambers.
- Do make sure that you hand sign each of your letters. This may seem old-fashioned, but judges expect to see your signature on the bottom of that page.
- Do make sure to read any special instructions in CLERQS or OSCAR. Some judges have personal preferences about the cover letter and you need to make sure to meet them.
Below, please find several sample cover letters. Do not copy the exact wording of any of these samples, or judges will be receiving a lot of identical cover letters.Sample Letter 5 (volunteer clerkship [Kennedy Fellows] sample cover letter)