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March 14, 2007

What should an email application look like?

Question from email: What if an employer doesn't ask for an e-mail cover letter, or I am writing a "cold" letter. Should I attach a cover letter? Or should my email message be a short, transmittal note? Or does the cover letter belong in the e-mail itself?

Answer: Because your documents will be printed out and handed around, you want to send something that you know will look perfect. The attachments should be in pdf and Word, as a backup. Attachments could be a resume, complete cover letter, transcript, writing sample, and/or a complete grade explanation. While pdf is a wonderful thing, every employer may not have your version of pdf, so sending a Word.doc may be a sensible backup. Everyone has Word. If you have a MAC, make sure that you can convert and send Word.docs as long as you are applying to traditional legal employers. Ad agencies may use MACs, but law firms tend not to.

The email message itself should have enough identifying information so that the recipient can identify and contact your on the off chance that the attachments are missing or unreadable.

For example: I am a third year law student from the University of Minnesota Law Schooll interested in your litigation practice. I am on a law journal, and I have real courtroom experience through my [clinic, Student Practice Rule work, etc.]

And this is KEY: Every candidate must have an informative, professional signature block with name, address and phone number. This is not the place for jokes, famous phrases, blog links or any other extraneous material -- just the facts that will allow a prospective employer to contact you.

When Should Judicial Clerks Apply for Jobs? Late Spring? Early Summer?

It depends on your target employers...

If you want to do county attorney, public defender or legal services work, you can't get on those offices' radar screens soon enough. In addition to genuine commitment to the work, getting hired by those offices requires persistence, patience, people to go to bat for you, people in the offices who you've gotten to know by having worked in their offices or with trusted friends and colleagues; by networking through the relevant bar sections or separate bar associations; or any other way that you can make yourself into a three-dimensional candidate rather than a one dimensional guy-on-a-resume, and great timing, over which you have absolutely no control.

For private practice -- it's trickier, or at least less direct. If you know, for example, that you want to do Workers Comp, you can go to CLEs and meet people there. Also, there are a relatively limited number of comp lawyers (many are our grads), they are easy to identify, and it is relatively easy to identify the really good ones. More or less the same model applies for any clearly defined practice area, once you've focused: CLE to show that you are serious, alumni networking, networking with strangers, applying for posted jobs, applying to employers that interest you.

If, on the other hand, your interest is less tightly defined and you want to do general litigation or general practice, your strategies might include attending Litigation CLE, conducting focused chats with your classmates and friends who are working to get their impressions of their firms and the lawyers for whom they work; guidance from your judge who knows of lots of lawyers; and connections through alumni, many of whom are eager to assist new lawyers.

If your target is large firms, early spring is a fine time to get onto their radar screens for a September hire. They might not call you until the end of the summer, but with business growing, they may be hiring in late summer for the fall.

It depends on your judge...

While it is fine to apply for jobs in the spring, would it be fine with your judge if you got one? Outside of the universe of large law firms and agencies which hire a year ahead, most employers advertising for positions want someone on board now or yesterday because they operate like small firms everywhere: when you interview at a restaurant this afternoon, you're not interviewing for September, you are interviewing for Monday. If your judge wants you to stay for a whole year, begin to look seriously in late spring or early summer.