Whether you’re just starting out or you’re an experienced legal professional seeking a new role, there’s no way around it: If you’re looking for a job at a law firm in our current economic climate, you’re in for a challenge. But with the right technique and tools, that challenge is not insurmountable.
While the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has and continues to impact the legal job market, people still need legal expertise—and law firms still need capable legal professionals to fill open roles.
No matter your level of experience, a persuasive cover letter can help you get noticed—and hired. Whether you’re a law student, recent graduate, or experienced legal professional, this post will guide you through the essentials of how to write a compelling cover letter for law firms you’re applying to. To inspire you, we’ve also included a few different sample cover letters for lawyers.
Addressing cover letters for lawyers
To whom it may concern: Always take the time to get this right. When writing cover letters for law firms, it’s a common misstep to give so much time and attention to the body of the letter that you overlook the basics—like who and how you’re addressing the letter.
Here are some best practices for addressing your cover letter for law firms:
- Know who you’re speaking to. Do your research and be specific. Address your cover letter to the person responsible for hiring at the firm you’re contacting, like the senior partner or hiring manager. If you don’t have this information, the law firm’s website might come in handy, or you can contact human resources.
- Be careful with salutations. The salutation is a place to convey respect and showcase that you’ve taken the time to personalize the letter. Mistakes in the salutation are a sign that you’ll miss details, which won’t bode well for your chances at impressing your potential employer. If you’re certain of the recipient’s preferred gender identifying language, you can write the salutation as “Dear Ms. or Mr.”; however, if you aren’t certain (and don’t make assumptions) or you don’t want to use gender identifying language, drop the Ms. or Mr. and write out the person’s full first and last name.
- Double-check your spelling. People will always notice if you spell their name wrong, and there are multiple ways to spell even common names. Ensure you start on the right foot by getting the basics right.
In your cover letter’s opening paragraph, you have two main goals: You want to:
- Introduce who you are.
- Convey why you’d be a good fit for this particular firm.
In the first paragraph, include details about:
- Who you are. Are you currently a law student? Are you an associate at a certain firm?
- Who you know. Mention any referrals or mutual acquaintances right away.
- Why you’d be a great fit for the firm. Include specific reasons, as you’re looking for a way to create connections with the senior partner or hiring manager.
Main cover letter body
The body section of your cover letter is your chance to shine—and to succinctly summarize exactly how you meet the requirements set out in the job description. In one or two paragraphs, give a high-level overview of your legal education and experience to show:
- Why you want to work for this firm. Elaborate on what makes you genuinely excited about the firm—whether it is an area of interest you’ve specialised in, the firm’s reputation or mission, or your past experience that will make you a uniquely good fit.
- Why this firm should hire you. Make clear connections between your qualifications and aspects of the role you’re applying for. If there is a job posting, look closely for key attributes that the firm is looking for, and then detail how you meet those expectations.
These types of qualifications could include:
- Past legal work experience or positions
- Community service roles
- Academic or research specializations
- Relevant awards you’ve received
- Your personal background
For example, in the job posting (shown below) for an Associate Lawyer, the ideal candidate is described as having personal injury litigation experience, as well as someone who is “confident, highly motivated, possesses excellent communication skills, works well independently and as a part of a team. They must work well in a fast-paced office environment and take pride in exceeding expectations.”
If you were applying for this role, your cover letter’s body paragraphs might detail your past personal injury litigation experience, as well as specific examples of how you’ve successfully communicated within a team and in a fast-paced environment.
Remember: Be specific, but keep in mind that this is not the place to restate your resume—if you can grab the hiring manager’s attention here, they will read your resume for those details. Rather, your cover letter is where you can entice the reader to move on to your resume by providing context and highlighting how your experience lines up with what’s needed for the role.
Finally, your concluding paragraph is where you’ll succinctly wrap the cover letter up, close the loop, and leave a positive impression. In your closing paragraph, be sure to:
- Say thank you. Gratitude can make a difference, so always thank the reader for their consideration.
- Assert your next steps. It’s fine to clearly outline how and when you will follow up on your application, rather than waiting indefinitely for an answer. And, if you say that you’ll follow up at a specific time, be sure to do it—and hold yourself to your own word.
- Provide relevant contact details. Let the reader know how to reach you by phone or email, if these details are not already outlined in your letter’s header.
Tips for using your cover letter to stand out
Especially amid the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak, the legal industry is rapidly evolving, and job hunters need to set themselves apart in order to get hired (unless, of course, you decide to start your own law firm). If you’re applying for a job as a lawyer, whether it’s a traditional position or a legal work-from-home job, here are five tips to make sure your cover letter lands at the top of the pile.
1. Make it personal
Perhaps the most important tip for writing cover letters for lawyers is to make it personal. Many of your competitors have similar education and professional experience, so being generic is a fast track to being forgotten.
Use a personalized cover letter to showcase the unique reasons why you’re the best candidate. Show that you know the person that you’re writing to and highlight any connections. If that isn’t possible, you can always write about the firm to show that you’ve done your research.
2. Prioritize the positive
When you’re writing a cover letter for law firms, focus on what you have to offer. Regardless of the reasons why you’re in a position to be looking for a new job at the moment, you bring a unique mix of attributes to the table, so highlight them. Whether it’s your skills, experience, passion, other legal careers, or relevant work experience, highlight what you bring to the table.
If you’re a law student or recent graduate, you may not have a long legal career to speak to, but you can still highlight positive things like technology skills that can make you an asset in the changing legal landscape. As Clio’s COVID-19 Impact Research Briefing found, for example, more and more law firms view technology as playing a significant role in their firm’s future, with 83% of firms saying cloud technology is especially key to their survival. To a hiring law firm, being tech competent and familiar with certain cloud-based tools like Clio could be an advantage that sets you apart from other candidates.
3. Get to the point
Cover letters are not the place to be long-winded, and droning on will almost certainly have the opposite effect of what you’re going for. Keep cover letters for attorneys short, to the point, and persuasive—the trick is to be memorable, and limit yourself to one page.
Because you want to make a lasting impression in a single page, it’s also a good idea to check your cover letter’s sentence structure. Do you start all of your sentences the same way? Are they all the same length? Ensure there’s some variety, so your reader stays engaged.
4. Set the right tone
Tone matters. While what you say in a cover letter for lawyers is obviously important to your success, it also matters how you say it.
No matter what type of legal job you’re applying for, you always want to convey a professional tone. However, depending on the type of law firm you’re applying to, leaning more personable than formal in tone may work to your advantage. Tailor your tone to match the tone of the law firm that you’re applying to. If you’re applying to a big law firm, for example, you’ll want to err on the side of being more formal. For a smaller local law firm? Check their website, and match their tone to make it clear that you’ve read it and are familiar with the firm.
There is zero room for typos or grammatical errors in cover letters for lawyers. With the high level of competition for legal jobs, don’t give hiring managers a reason to eliminate you—take the time to carefully proofread. It’s also a good idea to enlist someone else to proofread your cover letters as well, as you might miss your own errors.
Sample cover letters for lawyers
If you’re feeling overwhelmed when thinking about drafting a cover letter for law firms, don’t worry—sometimes seeing a sample can help you build confidence to write your own. Below, we’ve compiled a few different sample cover letters for lawyers, covering different backgrounds and levels of experience.
- Cover letter examples for 1L – 3L students, Harvard Law School
- Cover letter examples for 1L – 3L students, Yale Law School
- Cover letter example for applying to an immigration law firm by a recent graduate with previous paralegal experience
- Cover letter example for an IP lawyer with 11 years experience
- Cover letter example for a litigation attorney with 12 years experience
You can start by using one of these examples as inspiration for how to structure your cover letter and what you may want to highlight, or you can simply take insights from these sample cover letters for lawyers—insights you can apply to your own cover letter.
Your skills, connections, and passion for the profession are what will make you an asset at a law firm once you’re hired, but an effective cover letter is what will get you noticed in the crowded legal job market.
If you want your cover letter for law firms to get noticed, you’ll want to:
- Make it personal. At every step, customize your cover letter to the firm you’re applying to—from the tone to the specific skills you detail.
- Keep it brief. Cover letters for lawyers are a one-page summary to let the hiring manager know that you’re a candidate they should talk to further. You want to give them enough information to draw them in, but not overwhelm them and risk losing interest.
- Showcase your strengths. Focus on the positives, and don’t be afraid to highlight how your past and experiences make you uniquely qualified.
While finding a new legal job in uncertain economic times isn’t exactly easy, staying resilient and adaptive will lead you to success. By taking the time to craft a great cover letter, you can set yourself up to get noticed and be successful in this—and any—job market.
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