Sample Cover Letter for Legal Job Seekers
A good lawyer cover letter is your foot in the door when you're applying for a job with a law firm. It's an invitation to the reader -- the hiring manager or maybe the senior partner -- to move on to your resume. It's your opportunity to convince him that he simply has to meet you and learn more about you.
But too much creativity can be a drawback -- you'll want to exude professionalism and tempered enthusiasm.
Here's a sample legal cover letter to guide you.
Get the Caption Right
Include your full name -- be sure to use the one under which you've been admitted to the bar if you're a lawyer. Give your street address, not a P.O. box, including your city, state and zip code. Include your phone number with a notation as to whether it's a cellphone or landline. Give your email address -- many employers prefer to reach out by email first.
Enter the date below this information, then address who you're sending the letter to the name and address of the law firm and, below that, an "ATTN:" line with the name of the individual within the firm who will read your letter.
The Body of Your Lawyer Cover Letter
Dear [Insert name of hiring manager or partner]:
State the position for which you are applying and explain how you learned of the job opening in your opening paragraph. This is also a good place to mention the name of anyone who referred you or a mutual acquaintance.
Try to craft your opening in a compelling manner that will encourage the reader to read on. Toot your own horn a little. Example: “As an award-winning paralegal with 20 years of personal injury experience, I am writing in response to the position of litigation paralegal advertised in the Main Street Legal Journal.”
Now it's time to explain your skills. Use the next paragraph or two to detail your education and experience. Keep in mind that this is all mentioned in your resume as well -- your letter should be a brief summary of what the reader will learn if he looks at your resume next.
Match your skills to the requirements of the position and highlight any relevant awards and accomplishments. Explain how your background, skills, experience and past achievements make you the perfect candidate for the job. Support your statements with evidence whenever possible. Don't merely assert that you're a skilled writer.
Mention that you won the two legal writing competitions and have published over 100 articles. Don't just say that you contributed to a company’s bottom line. Note that you implemented new software that saved the legal department over a million dollars. Break up dense text with bullets and use short paragraphs to promote readability. Endless lines of text can be off-putting.
Make Sure Your Reader Reads On
Use your closing paragraph to thank the firm for considering your application, then request a meeting or interview. Indicate how and when you will follow up on your cover letter and mention the best way to reach you.
If your physical address isn't your mailing address but you want to receive notification of a potential interview by snail mail, this would be a good place to direct the reader to your P.O. box.
All this effort is for naught if your reader doesn't look at your resume and any other documents you've included. Sign off with "Respectfully yours" or something equally formal, place your signature above your name, then add the all-important "Enclosure(s)" line. List everything you're including with the letter, in order.
Many solicitors’ firms in the UK will ask you to apply for a training contract with a covering letter. Some will want you to upload this as part of an online application form (such as Slaughter and May, Jones Day, White & Case, Sullivan & Cromwell ), while others – usually smaller, high street law firms – will want you to send the letter alongside a CV (see our law CV example here).
How to write a law cover letter tip #1: use the letter to explain why you want to be a solicitor at that particular law firm
A covering letter is a golden opportunity to explain your motivations for becoming a lawyer and for applying to that specific firm. ‘My advice is to use the cover letter to introduce yourself and to explain why you are applying to that firm,' says Janine Arnold, senior manager – trainee recruitment at Slaughter and May. ‘Be sure to include any additional information that you feel is relevant to your application.’
If you’re uploading a covering letter as part of a larger application form you should avoid repeating examples you’ve used to answer questions on the form. Give as broad a picture of your skills and experience as possible and only repeat something if you think it is particularly significant to that law firm. Your covering letter is an introduction to get the recruiter’s attention – a sample of your potential, if you like – not your overall application.
‘A well-written, succinct, persuasive covering letter crafted by an aspiring trainee solicitor who has really thought about the firm stands out,’ says Nichola Rowe, director of legal human resources at Cleary Gottlieb. ‘Ask yourself: what sets this firm apart from other law firms and how do my individual skills and experiences marry with that firm?’.
How to write a law cover letter tip #2: how long should it be?
A covering letter should be a maximum of one page, with a font size of 11 or 12. Slaughter and May’s Janine Arnold agrees: ‘A lengthy covering letter is not necessary; aim for it to be no longer than one side of A4.'
How to write a law cover letter tip #3: the format law firms like
The best law cover letter examples have a clear structure, such as:
1. The introduction to your cover letter
Introduce yourself, explain what stage you are at in your degree course (including the university you’re attending), state that you are applying for a training contract and where you read about the law firm. This should only be a sentence or two.
2. A paragraph on why you want to work at that law firm
The second paragraph should cover why you want to be a solicitor and why you want to work for that law firm in particular. Highlight any experiences you’ve had that have convinced you that you want to be a solicitor, such as vacation schemes, open days or insight days. You can even mention mini-pupillages – it will impress graduate recruiters if you’ve put the effort into comparing the two sides of the legal profession, as long as you have good reasons for picking a career as a solicitor (this could come up at interview).
Make it clear why you want to work in the particular area of law that the firm focuses on. For example, if it’s a commercial firm you’ll want to draw on any work experience you’ve had at other commercial firms. Show off your research about the firm by explaining your interest in their main legal practice areas – don’t just say ‘I am interested in shipping law’, for example, but provide evidence of that interest.
You might also want to mention the firm’s training structure. Some firms will have compulsory seats, in which case you’ll need to show an interest in those areas. If you’ve chosen a firm that doesn’t have compulsory seats, or has no seat structure at all (such as Jones Day for example), then you could explain why this appeals to you above a more defined training contract structure.
3. A paragraph highlighting why you're a good fit for the law firm
Next, you need to pitch yourself to the recruiter. Make it clear that you are suited to a career as a solicitor: highlight achievements that show you have the competencies the firm has asked for. If the firm hasn’t specified exactly what it's looking for, see our article here on the skills most legal recruiters want from applicants. Don’t just say ‘I have good communication skills’ – you need to mention an achievement that hinged on your use of those skills.
4. The ending to your law covering letter
Close by referring the recruiter to your CV or application and stating your availability for interview(s) or assessment centre(s).
How to write a law cover letter tip #4: explain any extenuating circumstances
'Covering letters should also explain any mitigating circumstances relating to exam results and to address any questions that you may reasonably expect to arise from your application, such as any gaps in your CV,’ explains Janine.
How to write a law cover letter tip #5: proofread your cover letter before you hit ‘send’
Once you’ve put your covering letter together, don’t be tempted to rush it off. Ask friends, family and your university careers adviser to check it. ‘There is no good excuse for spelling errors, especially when you’re applying for a job that requires scrupulous attention to detail,’ points out a legal recruitment advisor at Ince & Co. ‘The number of applications we receive that contain errors is surprising. Your application is all we’ve got to go on, so you owe it to yourself to ensure it’s not let down by something so easily avoidable.’
Remember that law firms will be judging your ability to communicate professionally with clients on the professionalism of your covering letter – you’re making a pitch, just like you would do as a practising lawyer.
Legal recruiters at major law firms read through hundreds, if not thousands, of applications from aspiring trainee solicitors each year and will only spend a minute or so reading your covering letter. Some recruiters say that they make their decision paragraph by paragraph – if you haven't impressed upon them that you would be a good fit for their firm halfway through the cover letter, they might not even read the rest. Your covering letter creates a powerful first impression, so make it easy for the recruiter to see that you have strong potential as a solicitor by following the tips above.
In other news: Massive changes to the way solicitors qualify are on the horizon. Do you know how they will affect you? Find out here.