If you’ve ever assisted in compiling a detailed legal brief, it may be a relief to know that each of the two documents you need to apply for a job as a legal assistant fits on a single page. And it’s vitally important that you do submit both documents — an outstanding legal assistant cover letter belongs with your resume as a package deal.
For expert advice and support with every cover letter preparation step, Resume.io is the right place to turn. Our job-winning resources include a wide selection of occupation-specific writing guides and free cover letter examples . In addition, we offer formatting advice, plus field-tested templates and builder tools to help you create both resumes and cover letters.
Depending on which information source is cited, confusion exists about whether a “legal assistant” is more of a paralegal or functions more like a legal secretary.
For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts robust 12% growth from 2020 through 2030 for “paralegals and legal assistants,” which the BLS considers to be essentially the same occupation. Yet the BLS also forecasts a 21% crash in the 2020-30 job outlook for “legal secretaries” — although many legal secretaries today call themselves legal assistants.
The BLS also says legal secretaries made a median annual salary of $48,980 in 2020, while paralegals and legal assistants made $52,920.
But whatever your job title and role, you’ll need an outstanding cover letter to accompany your resume, and this guide will tell you everything you need to know about writing one. This cover letter writing guide, along with a legal assistant cover letter example, will discuss:
- Why a cover letter is a crucial component of any job application
- How to structure your legal assistant cover letter and what each part should contain
- Achieving the desired impact on readers in each cover letter part: header, greeting, introduction, body and conclusion
- How to format and design your cover letter
- The psychology of writing a cover letter that will get results
- Some common mistakes people make in writing cover letters.
Let’s dive in.
What is the purpose of a cover letter?
The purpose of a cover letter is to introduce yourself in a friendly, professional manner and attempt to establish a personal connection to a hiring manager. It should also highlight your experience, skills and qualifications for the job, expanding on related info that’s already in your resume.
Remember that a resume is an impersonal document — it’s mostly a collection of lists — that isn’t explicitly addressed to anyone. Resumes don’t contain the words “you” or “I,” and usually don’t include even one complete sentence.
So it’s kind of hard to get personal with a resume, and getting a bit personal with the hiring manager can absolutely improve your prospects of landing an interview. We exist in an extremely competitive job market and going the extra mile to establish that tiny human connection can make a world of difference for your career.
A cover letter also gives you an opportunity to showcase your personality, your likability and your passion for your job. And in some cases, it may be appropriate to explain the circumstances that have led you to seek new employment, and this would be the place to do so.
In a recent survey conducted by the Harris Poll for CareerBuilder, 1,138 hiring managers were asked about job applicants’ top resume mistakes. Among the seven top deal breakers, 10% listed the failure to include a cover letter. In the numbers game that is the job hunt, that is a huge percentage.
There are a few employers out there that prefer to receive a resume only, and you’ll have to comply with their wishes. But in most cases, a cover letter is expected to accompany a resume, so you’re starting at a distinct disadvantage if you don’t send one. You don’t want to leave employers wondering why you skipped this vital step.
Another consideration: As a legal assistant, writing (or at least typing) letters may be a major part of your job. Your cover letter should demonstrate that you are fully capable of drafting a well-written, attractively designed, properly formatted letter. Persuasive writing will improve your chances too. Our cover letter builder helps with that via pre-generated recruiter-tested phrases to combat writer’s block.
Unless you’re specifically asked not to, always include a cover letter with a job application. Don’t throw away that free increase in hiring chances.
For more ideas and inspiration, take a look at these cover letter writing guides and examples from the legal, administrative and business & management categories:
Best format for a legal assistant cover letter
A cover letter should be one page only, a maximum of 400 words. So you’ll have to make those words count. Here’s how your letter should be structured:
- The cover letter header
- The cover letter greeting
- The introduction
- The letter body
- The conclusion or call to action
- The signature / cover letter sign-off.
Let’s look at what each of these should contain.
Cover Letter Header
The header is the space at the top of the page that contains your personal contact info: name, occupation, address, phone and email.
Sometimes the snail mail address is omitted, though it’s probably best to include one unless there’s a reason not to.
In addition to the header’s obvious purpose — so any employer will know how to reach you — it’s also an important design element on the page. You have some flexibility in the header to use a little color and to be a bit creative with typography and layout. The header should also include an appropriate amount of white space.
Look through the free cover letter templates at resume.io to get an idea of some of the header options you can choose from.
Align document styles
It’s important for your resume and cover letter to have a similar look, so you want to use the same fonts, font sizes and formatting styles. The headers on the two of them should be very similar if not identical.
Aligned styles give you a “visual brand” and demonstrate your attention to detail.
This alignment of styles makes it obvious at a glance that these documents came from the same person, and it suggests that they were prepared to go together. They’re more memorable and harder to lose when travelling from manager to manager in a big organization.
If the styles in the two are totally different, it may look like you’ve written a new cover letter but pulled an old resume out of your files without bothering to update it.
Goal of the cover letter header: A visually branded design element distinguishes you from other job applicants and shows your regard for detail and high quality.
Cover letter greeting
“Dear Mr. (or Ms.) [Last Name]” is usually all you need in your greeting, also known as a salutation, so there’s no need to overthink it.
Some people prefer a more casual “Greetings” or “Hello,” followed by a last name or first name, but beware of being too informal. Law firms tend to have a buttoned-down, formal style, and it’s best to stick to the style and tone of the company you’re targeting.
It is important to try to address your letter to a named individual — whoever is in charge of hiring. It shows respect and demonstrates your attention to detail if you’ve bothered to find out that person’s name. If it isn’t easy to determine the appropriate person, it may be a good idea to research and find out (though be careful to respect an organization’s or manager’s boundaries, don’t be too persistent).
In some cases, hiring managers prefer to remain anonymous, leaving you no choice but to use a generic salutation like “Dear [Law Firm Name] Hiring Team”.
Goal of the cover letter greeting: Start off on a friendly but professional note by making a direct personal connection with the employer.
Cover letter introduction
The first paragraph of your letter should make a compelling non-cliched pitch, hitting the right notes and using the right tone. You need to introduce yourself, identify the job you’re seeking and highlight the foremost reason(s) you’re qualified.
You want to get readers’ attention from the start, giving them no excuse to stop reading. Your intro should use lively language, never bland clichés or meaningless “fluff.”
Goal of the cover letter introduction: Intrigue hiring managers with an attention-grabbing preview of your qualifications that motivates them to read more.
After six years of assisting top attorneys at the leading personal injury law firm in Detroit, I’d like to put my skills and passion for legal work at your disposal as a legal assistant in your Chicago office.
Cover letter body
The “meat and potatoes” of your pitch belongs in the central two or three paragraphs of your letter. Here you must make a convincing case that you are the right person for the job.
Work experience is key, so you want to review the relevant jobs you’ve held in the past. And don’t just say where you worked or for how long, but be specific about some of your accomplishments at those jobs.
Use facts and figures where possible to quantify your achievements, and use anecdotes to describe how you faced and overcame specific challenges.
Aim of the cover letter body: Make a convincing case for being hired by highlighting your most relevant accomplishments in a relatable way
After four years at Brown, Dunham, I was promoted to senior legal assistant, supporting primarily the two partners, in addition to three associates. I managed caseloads of up to 25 clients at any given time, and I was increasingly entrusted with research and writing tasks previously handled by paralegals.
If you have a relevant university degree, certifications in this field or any special skills, you can also mention them in the body of your letter.
And if you’re aware of any special needs or challenges your prospective employer faces, you may wish to describe how you can help address those. If you can say anything specific about the firm you’re targeting, that can be a helpful way of proving that this isn’t some generic letter that you’re sending to 50 other law firms.
Cover letter conclusion and signature
You might close with a brief summary of your qualifications, and perhaps a thank you for the recruiter’s time. But you should also issue some kind of call to action, typically by suggesting that you are eager to hear back about setting up an interview.
Goal of the cover letter closing: End on a positive, self-assured note with a call to action that shows your eagerness to have an interview.
I hope you’ll agree that my experience and qualifications would make me an excellent fit to support your attorneys as a legal assistant. I’m always reachable at the contact info provided above, and I would be delighted to show up for an interview at your convenience.
Cover letter sign-off
Close with a “Sincerely,” “Cordially,” “All my best” or the equivalent, and type your name. If sending this letter electronically, you may wish to add your actual scanned signature.
Design and formatting of your cover letter
Your letter should look as good as it reads, so follow these guidelines to proper cover letter formatting:
Use an easily legible font , nothing avant-garde or exotic. Use a font size no larger than 12 points and no smaller than 10 points. Do not cram an excessively long letter onto one page by using tiny type.
Provide a one-inch margin on the left, right, top and bottom of your letter. You need a certain amount of white space in your letter to give the eye a break, and that white space should mostly be pushed to the outside and not trapped in the center.
Use text that’s aligned left, not justified from margin to margin. This “ragged right” style leaves a little space at the end of each word in a line, making it easier for the eye to navigate the text.
Don’t indent paragraphs, but leave a space between them. Hold paragraphs to a reasonable length to avoid big blocks of black text. Let the reader breathe.
If sending this letter electronically, save it as a PDF and attach it with your resume. A PDF will preserve the formatting of your letter so that it looks the same on anyone’s computer. Other file types may open in a different application, or a different version of the same application, sometimes causing text to jump around on the page or even turn parts of it to garble. Use Word files only if the employer (or their online application service) requires it. PDF is universally better, but pay attention to the technical requirements of the application.
All of these potential pitfalls are the primary reasons we recommend using a professionally designed cover letter template like those we offer at resume.io. We’ve done the formatting for you — all you have to do is write the letter.
The psychology of writing a persuasive cover letter
You’ll see advice in our resume guides that you have to pass the screening test of applicant tracking systems (ATS) software — essentially, optimizing your application to include keywords that computer bots will be looking for.
And while that’s an important consideration, never forget that you’re writing your letter to a human being. So you should write like a human being too, and not like a robot.
A cover letter is a business letter, but that doesn’t mean it should be totally impersonal. Remember, one of the main goals of a cover letter is to establish a personal connection with someone whose help you need.
Psychologists say human beings make many decisions on an intuitive, emotional level, not necessarily employing pure reason on a cognitive level. In other words, people react with their hearts as well as their heads. Usually it’s best to appeal somehow to both emotion and reason.
Consider your tone carefully. Study the company you’re targeting, and look at how formal or casual it is in addressing the public on its website or in other communications. You should endeavor to match that tone. Google research and social media research does wonders for understanding the company’s tone and corporate culture.
Also consider your position relative to the person you’re writing to. A candidate for CEO might write a letter differently, but a legal assistant seeking a support position can never afford to be arrogant or presumptuous. Confidence is great, overconfidence is not.
Put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager, and try to read your letter through that person’s eyes. If you received this letter, would you want to meet the person who wrote it — and possibly to work with him or her for years to come?
Remember that a cover letter should always be about how you can help the company, not how the company can help you.
Some cover letter fails you want to avoid
Here are some common mistakes people make in writing cover letters:
- Typos, misspellings, grammatical errors and other writing mistakes can automatically sink your ship. Remember that your cover letter is, in part, a demonstration of important job-related skills.
- Copy-paste letters that are not customized for a specific employer are easy to spot. Every cover letter should be written for a specific recipient.
- Clichés, HR-speak and “fluff” — fancy language that doesn’t say anything — are always a turnoff. Write in fresh, original language, avoiding phrases that hiring managers have seen dozens of times before.
- Irrelevant info about your hobbies or interests that don’t illustrate what makes you a good legal assistant should be left out.
- Bad formatting and design, strange fonts or unusual file types can all be disqualifiers.
Key takeaways for a legal assistant cover letter
- You need the electronic equivalent of just two pieces of paper — a resume and a cover letter — to get a job as a legal assistant, so you need to avoid errors and make every word count.
- Cover letters are a critical tool for establishing a personal connection to a hiring manager, as well as showcasing your personality and passion. You should always include a cover letter with a resume unless you’re specifically asked not to.
- Follow proper cover letter structure to make sure you’ve included everything you need to include and nothing you don’t.
- Follow proper cover letter formatting and design to make sure your letter looks as good as it reads.
- Write a persuasive letter by putting yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager and sending the very letter they would be hoping to receive.
- Avoid deal-breaking mistakes in writing, format and design.