How to Write a Legal Cover Letter for Law Firms (that Gets you Noticed)

Written by Sharon Miki
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Cover letter for law firms

Whether you’re just starting your legal journey or are an experienced legal professional seeking a new role, there’s no way around it: demand for legal positions is high. As the 2022 Legal Trends Report explains, in the 12 months before April 2022, nearly one in five lawyers left the law firm they were working for, and nine percent planned to leave their firm in the next six months. 

Despite a high demand for legal positions, however, people still need legal expertise—and law firms need capable legal professionals to fill open roles.

Whether you’re a law student, recent graduate, or experienced legal professional, this post will help you with your legal cover letter writing. We’ve started by providing sample cover letters for legal positions below and will then guide you through the essentials of writing a compelling cover letter for law firms. 

Berkeley Law also provides an excellent guide for legal cover letters. 

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. You can also simply take insights from these sample cover letters for lawyers—insights you can apply to your own cover letter when following our tips below.

Cover letter etiquette

Even after reviewing some legal cover letter examples, the dos and don’ts of legal cover letter writing aren’t always easy to spot. You may ask yourself: what should a legal cover letter include for a law firm? While the content of your cover letter will differ between employers, these points of etiquette should not.

  • Don’t skip it. The first, and potentially most important element of legal cover letter etiquette is writing one. While job sites and hiring portals may state ‘Cover Letter Optional’, disregard this, and ensure you always send a cover letter.
  • Be concise. It’s likely that the hiring manager is receiving dozens, maybe even hundreds of cover letters a day. Respect an employer’s time by getting straight to the point. Long legal cover letters may also indicate an inability to achieve quick and succinct results.
  • Match their tone. Write as if you’ve already been hired for the role. It’s subtle, but an employer will appreciate this personal touch.
  • Prioritize the employer. Don’t include unnecessary details about your life that won’t have any impact on how you’ll perform the job.
  • Don’t recycle legal cover letters. Be original. It’s time-consuming work, but it’ll show your potential employer that you’re dedicated.
  • Triple-check it. Spelling and grammatical errors should be avoided at all costs. Given the highly competitive nature of the legal job market, you don’t want to be passed up over a simple error.
Person researching legal cover letters for law firms

Addressing cover letters for lawyers

To whom it may concern: Always take the time to find the correct contact. When writing cover letters for law firms, it’s a common misstep to dedicate 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 legal cover letter:

  • 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 the law firm’s human resources department for guidance. 
  • 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 Dear 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.

Introductory paragraph

In your cover letter’s opening paragraph, you have two main goals:

  1. Introduce who you are.
  2. Explain 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 law 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:

  1. 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 specialized in, the firm’s reputation or mission, or past experiences that will make you a uniquely good fit.
  2. 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. 

Highlighting your qualifications

Above all else, ensure your legal cover letter highlights your skills. Relevant qualifications for a law firm cover letter include: 

  • Past legal work experience or positions.
  • Community service roles.
  • Academic or research specializations.
  • Publications.
  • 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.” 

Image of a job description for an Associate Lawyer position

If you were applying for this role, your cover letter’s body paragraphs might detail your past personal injury litigation experience and 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. 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.

Concluding paragraph

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 legal cover letter to stand out

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.

Person writing a legal cover letter for a law firm

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 lawyer cover letter, focus on what you have to offer. Regardless of the reasons why you’re looking for a new job, you bring a unique mix of attributes to the table. Highlight these attributes, whether they’re your: 

  • Skills
  • Experience
  • Passion
  • Other legal careers
  • Relevant work experience 

If you’re a law student or recent graduate, you may not have a long legal career to highlight. However, you can still note strengths like technology skills that make you an asset. 

As the 2022 Legal Trends Report found, for example, technology has significantly changed the way lawyers work over the past two years.  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

Legal 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, 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 law firm you’re applying to, using a personal tone may work to your advantage. Tailor your tone to match that of the law firm you’re applying to. 

If you’re writing a big law cover letter, 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 the tone to demonstrate your familiarity with their firm. 

5. Proofread

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 your cover letter. It’s also a good idea to enlist someone else to proofread your cover letters.

Conclusion

In a crowded legal job market, there’s no better way to set yourself apart than an excellent legal cover letter. Ensure you’re putting your best foot forward with your future employer by: 

  • Making 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.
  • Keeping 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.
  • Showcasing 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 a competitive market isn’t exactly easy, staying resilient and adaptive will lead you to success. By crafting a great cover letter, you’re more likely to be noticed in this—and any—job market.

How do I write a cover letter for a law job?

Start by introducing yourself. In the first paragraph, include details about your current role (or education, if you’re a student). Be sure to mention any referrals or mutual acquaintances. Next, explain why you’d be a great fit for this particular firm. Include specific reasons.

What do law firms look for in cover letters?

Senior partners and hiring managers will be paying attention to your qualifications. It’s helpful to connect your past legal work, academic specializations, and other life experiences with the job description. Remember, they want to hire someone who can do the job.

How to write a cover letter for legal internship?

Your cover letter for a legal internship should be concise, non-generic, error-free, and employer-focused. Use your opening paragraph to introduce yourself, the main body to summarize your qualifications, and the concluding paragraph to leave a positive impression and outline next steps.

How to address a legal cover letter with no name?

Address your legal cover letter to the person responsible for hiring at the firm, such as a senior partner or hiring manager. If you do not have this information, consult the firm’s website or contact its human resources department.

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