Writing Professional Emails 101

Picture this: you are asked to email your application for your dream summer job. You have your resume, cover letter, and references at the ready. You are ready to apply… but are you? Are you sure your materials are in the correct format? Do you know what to put in the email body? Is your signature correct? Do you have a signature? Is your email address “professional”?  

Many first gen students—especially those from blue collar families—don’t have a lot of experience writing formal business emails, and it can be a huge source of anxiety.  

Sending emails is an art form. In law school, you will find yourself sending more emails to individuals you have never met and may never meet in your life. An email in law school can make or break a career. An email after a night of networking can pave the way for a mentor or future employment. But, if butchered, it can also cost you the respect of another person. 

Here are a few tips to guide you in writing important emails during your law school career. 


But First: the Cardinal Rules of Emails

There are two cardinal rules of sending emails that you will learn while working. 

  1. Only send an email if you want a record of the information. 
  2. Do not send an email if you don’t want a record. 

While this article should somewhat prepare to send emails that matter, emails can also be used for or against you. In school and at work, you should develop a reflex of using emails to create an electronic paper trail of your projects and progress. For instance, someone can give you a task in person, then change the task in effort to ruin your reputation (it does happen). After an in-person meeting, you should send an email asking to specify the task, therefore you have a “trail.” Always cover your bum!

On the other side, personal information or “venting” emails can be used against you for the same reason—because there is a “trail.” You should never consider your work or school email address to be 100% private. Some organizations have a backdoor into your email! So keep all your emails PG and non-incriminating.


What Makes an Email? 

Beyond just the recipient, subject line, and body of an email, it’s also to get the sender’s email address, greeting, and signature right. The last three are often overlooked, but this might help demystify the process. 

Sender’s Emails Address 

Your law school or college will provide you with an email address that you can use. Don’t let them fool you, most college and law school email addresses are temporary: you will lose access to them at some point in time. For instance,  I had the liberty of going to 5 different colleges, and I can attest I currently have access to three accounts. My law school email address will be obsolete roughly six months after I graduate. Accordingly, you should create a personal email address—one that is professional and that won’y make you feel embarrassed if it is read out loud.  

The Professional Email Test
Step 1: Say the email handle out loud in a profession setting.
Step 2: Have a work/school colleague say the email out loud.
Step 3: Have a friend say it out loud. 
Step 4: If you were embarrassed in any of those settings, then you should seriously consider using a different email address. 

Bad EmailsBetter Emails
RighteousBaracuda@email.com
Rainbow.Ginsberg@email.com
Iamnotalawyer@email.com
ScaliaDissentsAgain@email.com
OMGStevensdissents@email.com
John.Doe@email.com
L.Smith@email.com 
JaneWest@email.com
AlexGarcia34@email.com
KhanAli@email.com

In determining between using your personal or school email address, consider the following: (1) will you will loss access to your school email address after graduation? (2) will the benefit of having the .edu address be extremely beneficial?  If you can’t determine which to use, use this as a chance to talk with your career services counselor. 

Greetings

The greeting sets the flow of an email. In typical emails, a “hello,” “hi,” or “Dear” works fine (see here). This works for emails to, say, professors or other students/colleagues. It also works in a professional setting (like to your supervisor), but only once you’ve already gotten the job.

In legal emails, especially interview and applications emails, should begin a little different. You literally start by vomiting a mass amount of information on the person (usually name, title, company), and then you add “Esq.” if they are a lawyer (they worked hard for that Esq. so don’t forget it!). Then you put a greeting.

Also, there are differences in formality when addressing attorneys versus judges, but there is no reason to use difference salutations for an associate rather than a partner, unless you are in a law firm that does.  You can find more help on salutations here

Bonus Advice: Never use Mrs.– rather than Ms.– unless that person told you to use Mrs.

Older, More Formal GreetingsModern-er Greetings
FirstName LastName 
Job Title 
Company Name 
Company Street Address 
City, State 00000
Email 
Phone Number
 
Dear [FirstName LastName],  
FirstName LastName 
Job Title 
Company Name 

Dear [FirstName LastName],

Signature (and Sign Off)

Signatures are nice. They can easily make you feel important (and, as a law student, feeling important is nice). The signature can be used as a place to drop in accolades, contact information, institutional affiliation, graduation year, and literally everything else you want. Just keep it tasteful and five lines tops! Here is a wonderful website with ideas. A few more notes:

  • Personally, I add my email address in my signature because my email is atypical to the school’s normal format, meaning someone who frequently emails students from my school will (and has) sent emails to a completely different person. 
  • Adding your pronouns to the signature can both identify your pronouns and show support to the LGBTQ community (see here and here).
  • It is good to consider putting a complimentary sign off in your signature for ease. For more information on salutations, check out this article to find your preferred sign off.

The Subject Line

Subject lines should convey what the email is about. They should neither be so short they fail to communicate information, nor should they be so long that they’re unwieldy. Many people in business get tons of emails on a daily basis. Make sure yours isn’t overlooked with a strong subject line. This article will help you master the subject line.

What Format Should My Document Attachments Be? DOC? PDF? GIF? 

Employers and colleagues may ask for documents to be sent to them. It’s becoming more common for applications to request a specific format, but if the document format isn’t specified, always send documents to employers in PDF format. PDF documents are less likely to be edited and provide some security. Word documents can be easily edited and should only be sent if requested or you won’t mind the receiver editing the information. Furthermore, try not to use any other formats besides DOC or PDF to send materials, unless you are explicitly told to do so. 

If you’re wondering how to save a word file as a PDF, these websites can help (here and here to convert, or here for a tutorial).


A Non-Exhaustive List of Email Types

The Application Email

The application email is just like any other professional email. It should have a greeting, be courteous and thankful, state a direct purpose, have a closing remark, and close. Honestly, the resources found form a simple google search will be the most beneficial (check out Wikihow, Instructional Solutions, The Balance Careers, and English Live to help you find your email writing voice). 

When emailing, your resume, cover letter, and other materials should be a separate attachment and not written directly in the email (unless specified). It is unnecessary to paste your cover letter or resume in your email body, especially since employers would like to save those attachments with ease. Don’t make their work harder than necessary!

Keep your paragraphs short—you aren’t writing a brief! Bullet points can be helpful to highlight important information. You can also utilize typographical emphasis to help the reader “skim” to see important information. I wouldn’t use bullet point or typographical emphasis in an application email, but for everything else, it is beneficial. 

Subject: Summer Associate Application – Melissa Walker 
Attachments: Resume.pdf; cover letter.pdf
 
Dear Law Person, 
 
I hope you are well. I am writing you to apply for the 2019 Spring Internship program at your office. I am a second year law student with a passion for environmental law. Attached you will find my resume and cover letter. 
 
Feel free to contact me by phone or email with any questions or concerns, my contact information is below.  
 
Regards, 
 
Melissa Walker (she, her, hers) 
Seton Hall Law| J.D. Candidate 2020 
Vice President – Student Bar Association 2018- 2019 
Phone Number 

The Thank-You-For-the-Interview Email

Always send a thank you email after the interview. Period. Always. Within 36 hours. Indeed, some employers will reject your application and interview if you don’t send a thank you email. And that’s a ridiculous reason to lose your dream job because sending a thank you only takes 15 minutes at most. Here are articles from Yale and Harvard Law with examples of legal thank you letter. 

Subject: Thank you for the Interview 
 
Dear Tatiana Laing, Esq., 
 
Thank you for taking the time to interview me on Wednesday regarding the legal internship. I had a wonderful time speaking with you and Ms. Mansoor on what is expected of interns working for Save the World LLC. I am very enthusiastic about the possibility of joining your team. Congratulations again on completing your tenth year at the firm, and I will take you up on trying that restaurant where your team celebrated at.  
 
I look forward to hearing from you. If there’s any additional information with which I can provide you, please don’t hesitate to contact me. 
  
Best,  
 
Melissa Walker (she, her, hers) 
Seton Hall Law| J.D. Candidate 2020 
Vice President – Student Bar Association 2018- 2019 
Phone Number 

The Acceptance Email

The employer just sent you an offer. You are ecstatic and want to accept. But how? Don’t fret, see this article on how to accept a job offer via email.

Note that you must always send an email acceptance letter even if you verbally accept the offer over the phone. While writing this email, remember deference, thanks, and what next. Deference and thanks are key for every business email, and gratitude is especially key here; your words should be humble and thank the employer for their time. This is the start of a (hopefully long) business relationship. Start it right.

Subject: Follow-up on Internship Offer – Melissa Walker 
 
Dear Hafsa Mansoor Esq., 
 
It is with great pleasure that I accept your offer to join Saving the World LLC as a Summer Associate. I am looking forward to working with you, and the rest of the staff at Save the World LLC, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of your incredible work.  
 
As we discussed, my start date is June 3, 2019 with a salary of $900 per week.  
 
Please contact me if there is any paperwork or additional information you may need from me.  
 
I look forward to joining you soon! 


Best,  
 
Melissa Walker (she, her, hers) 
Seton Hall Law| J.D. Candidate 2020 
Vice President – Student Bar Association 2018- 2019 
Phone Number 

Additionally, be very clear about what comes next, considering both your needs and those of the employer. For instance, if you’re interested in the position but not quite ready to accept just yet, ask for a specified amount of time to think it over (normally two to five days). Or if you want to negotiate or confirm the terms, do it in a conditional acceptance email.

The “Sorry-But-No” Email (Declining an Offer)

Rejections are inherently hard. How do you explain that you’re really thankful for the offer, but you can’t accept without sounding passive aggressive or hypocritical or otherwise bad? And I can assure you that when rejecting a position, the answer is not to just ghost the employer.  It’s not going to go over well.

Rejections emails should be gracious and apologetic; you never know when someone will remember a harsh rejection letter. Although you do not have to explain why you are declining an offer, remember to always be overwhelmingly gracious. If you’re hesitant what language to use, consult career services in writing an email declining an offer (or this article).

Subject: Re: Summer internship position at Mansoor and Laing  LLC. 
 
Dear Mai Hamid, Esq., 
  
I hope you are well. 
 
I am writing to follow up your offer.  At this time, I must respectfully decline the opportunity to intern at Mansoor and Laing LLC.  I do not do this lightly, and I am very grateful for the wonderful opportunity you offered me.  I truly appreciate you taking the time to consider me for the position.  However, at the same time I was seeking an internship with the Mansoor and Laing LLC., I was also seeking other internships.  To that end, I was just offered an internship close to my home.  Given that I am responsible for my own law school tuition and living expenses, I unfortunately cannot turn this position down.  
     
Again, I regret that I will not be able to accept the position with the Mansoor and Laing LLC.  I am truly sorry for any inconvenience this may cause.  
  
Thank you for your consideration, 
 
Melissa Walker (she, her, hers) 
Seton Hall Law| J.D. Candidate 2020 
Vice President – Student Bar Association 2018- 2019 
Phone Number 

You may also want to withdraw your application from an organization’s consideration after you’ve accept a position at another firm.

Subject: Re: Summer internship position at Mansoor and Laing  LLC. 
 
Dear Mai Hamid, Esq., 
  

Hope you are well.


I am writing to follow up on my application at Mansoor and Laing LLC.  Thank you very much for considering me for the summer associate position. However, I would like to withdraw my application for the position at this time, as I have recently accepted a position at Walker and Hamid LLP. Thank you for your time.
 
Best Regards, 


Melissa Walker (she, her, hers) 
Seton Hall Law| J.D. Candidate 2020 
Vice President – Student Bar Association 2018- 2019 
Phone Number 

The Networking Email

After a successful night of networking you should have a few business cards. Don’t throw them away or ignore them. Instead, take the two minutes to send an email. These three articles will help you find your networking voice (here, here, and here). 

Subject: Nice meeting you at the Diversity Banquet 
 
Attorney Person Esq., 
 
It was wonderful meeting you at the Diversity Banquet. I enjoyed our discussion on the changes in environmental law and am interested in working in that sector. I would like to learn more about the path you took for your career if you would be willing to talk further with me. Please let me know if you are available to meet one day soon.  
 
Thank you for your time.  
  
Melissa Walker (she, her, hers) 
Seton Hall Law| J.D. Candidate 2020 
Vice President  – Student Bar Association 2018- 2019 
Phone Number 


In Conclusion

Like everything in life, you get better with time and experience.  Soon you will be an email writing machine. Go forth and write emails! Good luck! 

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