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How to Personalize a Cover Letter?

Posted: Tue Nov 14, 2017 10:32 am
by Anonymous User
I am applying to a judge who likes to see personalized cover letters. My cover letter is pretty standard: opening paragraph, one paragraph about school activities, and one paragraph about work activities (Biglaw). I'm not sure how or where to personalize it. Do I add an entirely new paragraph, or insert bits and pieces throughout? I know what I want to say pretty much, but just not sure how to go about it.

Re: How to Personalize a Cover Letter?

Posted: Tue Nov 14, 2017 10:37 am
by Minnietron
Anonymous User wrote:I am applying to a judge who likes to see personalized cover letters. My cover letter is pretty standard: opening paragraph, one paragraph about school activities, and one paragraph about work activities (Biglaw). I'm not sure how or where to personalize it. Do I add an entirely new paragraph, or insert bits and pieces throughout? I know what I want to say pretty much, but just not sure how to go about it.

Not much help, but a panel of A3 judges all said they dislike seeing the word "honed" on a cover letter or resume.

Re: How to Personalize a Cover Letter?

Posted: Tue Nov 14, 2017 10:45 am
by mjb447
If by "personalized" you mean to the judge and location to which you're applying, that kind of thing often goes well where you put any other reasons that you'll be a good addition to chambers, e.g., during my time with X I gained Y skills that will make me a good clerk. Also, [I am a native of this location and want to return home]/[I am interested in or have experience with a subject matter that court does a lot of]/[I have a demonstrated passion for something that I know is important to you, judge]/[etc.]

Re: How to Personalize a Cover Letter?

Posted: Tue Nov 14, 2017 1:13 pm
by Anonymous User
mjb447 wrote:If by "personalized" you mean to the judge and location to which you're applying, that kind of thing often goes well where you put any other reasons that you'll be a good addition to chambers, e.g., during my time with X I gained Y skills that will make me a good clerk. Also, [I am a native of this location and want to return home]/[I am interested in or have experience with a subject matter that court does a lot of]/[I have a demonstrated passion for something that I know is important to you, judge]/[etc.]


I meant more like, personalizing the letter to include personal info about the applicant / stuff you normally wouldn't think to include (minority status/family history, career goals, character, etc.). Judge is interested in this and asked to include it.

Re: How to Personalize a Cover Letter?

Posted: Tue Nov 14, 2017 1:33 pm
by mjb447
Anonymous User wrote:
mjb447 wrote:If by "personalized" you mean to the judge and location to which you're applying, that kind of thing often goes well where you put any other reasons that you'll be a good addition to chambers, e.g., during my time with X I gained Y skills that will make me a good clerk. Also, [I am a native of this location and want to return home]/[I am interested in or have experience with a subject matter that court does a lot of]/[I have a demonstrated passion for something that I know is important to you, judge]/[etc.]


I meant more like, personalizing the letter to include personal info about the applicant / stuff you normally wouldn't think to include (minority status/family history, career goals, character, etc.). Judge is interested in this and asked to include it.

Yeah, I thought that was possible too, but I've had less experience with or exposure to it. It sounds like some of it might fit in a "goals" sentence or paragraph after your work history, like:

1st para: Hi, I'm anon and I'm applying for a clerkship.

2nd and 3rd para: In law school and in my career I've done these things that give me experience that will be useful in chambers.

4th para: After I'm done clerking, I hope to use the experience I gained to become X because it's important to me as a Y with personal experiences in Z.

5th para: Hope to hear from you; let me know.

Just spitballing, though, and I'm sure there are lots of places you could put it and be fine.

Re: How to Personalize a Cover Letter?

Posted: Tue Nov 14, 2017 1:56 pm
by lolwat
I never liked the "I've done x y z that will make me useful in chambers" stuff. Most everyone applying is fresh out of law school, no one really has that much experience that will make them that much more useful than any other applicant. (And if you have a few years of experience already, you'll just be stating the obvious.)

But to your actual question, I really like mjb's suggested 4th paragraph. Flesh it out a little bit more because you know the judge is interested in it. But don't drone on and on about stuff, and they'll see right through bullshit so be careful. To the extent you can weave it in, do it. There's not really a one size fits all answer here, it just depends on what all ends up in the cover letter and how well it reads as a whole.

Re: How to Personalize a Cover Letter?

Posted: Tue Nov 14, 2017 2:59 pm
by mjb447
lolwat wrote:I never liked the "I've done x y z that will make me useful in chambers" stuff. Most everyone applying is fresh out of law school, no one really has that much experience that will make them that much more useful than any other applicant. (And if you have a few years of experience already, you'll just be stating the obvious.)

Yeah, re-reading my comments I definitely overemphasized that. I sometimes included it because I liked the way it read better - after I describe my work history I connect it back to the purpose of my letter - but it's not essential and it generally doesn't convey any useful information (particularly if it's something like "strong research and writing skills," as it would be for most people in or just out of law school).

Re: How to Personalize a Cover Letter?

Posted: Thu Nov 16, 2017 12:47 pm
by Quichelorraine
Anonymous User wrote:I am applying to a judge who likes to see personalized cover letters. My cover letter is pretty standard: opening paragraph, one paragraph about school activities, and one paragraph about work activities (Biglaw). I'm not sure how or where to personalize it. Do I add an entirely new paragraph, or insert bits and pieces throughout? I know what I want to say pretty much, but just not sure how to go about it.


Did the judge make clear exactly how he or she wants the letter personalized? In my view, personalization is a minefield, especially if the clerks are doing the first read (they're reading hundreds of them and are practically begging you to give them a reason to say "nope!"). Explaining your connection to the geographical reason is easy, short, and harmless, and I'd try to keep any other personalization in a similar vein.

For instance, let's say you're applying to a judge who was in the armed services, and you and the judge share that background. One or two sentences tops would do the trick. Ditto with public service, or a bankruptcy background, or because the judge authored a leading opinion in an area that really interests you. Anything more than that, though, might be overkill.

Re: How to Personalize a Cover Letter?

Posted: Thu Nov 16, 2017 2:00 pm
by lolwat
Quichelorraine wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:I am applying to a judge who likes to see personalized cover letters. My cover letter is pretty standard: opening paragraph, one paragraph about school activities, and one paragraph about work activities (Biglaw). I'm not sure how or where to personalize it. Do I add an entirely new paragraph, or insert bits and pieces throughout? I know what I want to say pretty much, but just not sure how to go about it.


Did the judge make clear exactly how he or she wants the letter personalized? In my view, personalization is a minefield, especially if the clerks are doing the first read (they're reading hundreds of them and are practically begging you to give them a reason to say "nope!"). Explaining your connection to the geographical reason is easy, short, and harmless, and I'd try to keep any other personalization in a similar vein.

For instance, let's say you're applying to a judge who was in the armed services, and you and the judge share that background. One or two sentences tops would do the trick. Ditto with public service, or a bankruptcy background, or because the judge authored a leading opinion in an area that really interests you. Anything more than that, though, might be overkill.


It is definitely a minefield. My suspicion is the judges who want personalized cover letters actually read the applications rather than having a clerk do it. I know at least one that does, and while their listing on OSCAR didn't say so, they definitely wanted personalized cover letters. I remember at least two others that had a "why do you want to clerk for ME" thing. I'm not sure an applicant will get by with just a cursory sentence or two that addressed some mutual background/interest . I'd deviate from the usual advice for these few specific judges. There aren't that many, so even if you do screw up your cover letter, you've still got the other 99.9% of judges.