Whether you’re a fresh grad just starting out or a legal professional seeking a new role, a cover letter is a must. Finding attractive positions in this competitive environment is challenging, but with the right techniques, it can be overcome.
A cover letter is important to get right for job seekers. It’s an introduction to your prospective employers and your opportunity to make a great first impression.
Here are our tips for writing a cover letter that will get your resume read and prompt the call for the interview.
Why a Strong Cover Letter Matters
The economic fallout from COVID-19 is still upon us, and the shift to remote or hybrid work made the market more competitive for job seekers. The legal market isn’t immune to this, but people still need legal expertise, and law firms still need legal professionals to serve them.
When employers have a mountain of applications to narrow, a cover letter could mean the difference between being in the “interview” pile or getting an automated rejection response — or none at all. Cover letters are often read before the resume and entice the employer to look further.
The days of mailing hard-copy cover letters may have passed, but the modern equivalent in an email message or online application still serves its purpose.
What Is a Cover Letter for Lawyers?
No matter the industry, cover letters should always be tailored to the prospective employer. In this case, the cover letter is an opportunity to match your skills, connections, and passion for the law to the law firm’s needs.
Your cover letter should be:
Personalized: Customize your cover letter to the tone of the firm and the skills you have that are listed in the job description.
Brief: Keep it short and simple. Your cover letter should only be one page, if not less, and hit on all the points that make you an attractive candidate. Avoid the urge to just summarize your resume and overwhelm the reader.
Positive: This is an opportunity to highlight how your past educational and professional experiences give you a unique edge over the other candidates, and why you’re the best fit for the position.
Professional: Writing professionally is essential for lawyers. Keep your cover letter professional to showcase that you have this necessary skill set.
How to Address a Cover Letter for Lawyers
Addressing the cover letter correctly is a must to set the right tone for the reader. It doesn’t say much for your attention to detail if you don’t get the basics right.
Do your research and address the cover letter to the specific person in charge of hiring, such as the hiring manager or partner. If you’re not sure, look on the firm’s website, check LinkedIn, or contact human resources to find out. This will make a much better impression than “to whom this may concern.”
For the salutation, make sure to show respect for the reader to reinforce your attention to detail. For example, if you know the preferred gender prefix for the recipient, you may use “Ms.” or “Mr.” If you’re not sure, don’t assume! Just write the person’s full first and last name, being careful of correct spelling.
Cover Letter Introduction
The cover letter’s opening paragraph must capture the attention of the reader. Introduce who you are and why you’re a good fit for the firm. Mention your current position, such as a new law school graduate or an associate at a firm.
If you have mutual acquaintances or referrals, mention them right away. Then, discuss the specific reasons you’re a good fit for the firm.
Cover Letter Body
The body of the cover letter is where the bulk of your summary will go. In just a paragraph or two, give an overview of your education and experience to show why you want to work for the firm and why you’re an ideal fit.
For example, discuss the reasons you want to work for this firm specifically. Maybe it has a great reputation or you admire a lawyer who works there. Maybe the practice areas align with your desired career path.
When you’re connecting yourself to the role, use some key attributes that the firm is looking for that you possess. These may include academic or research specializations, community service history, past legal positions, publications, or awards.
This is also a great place to speak about your familiarity with legal technology. With more than 65% of law firms citing they use law practice management software, it’s worth highlighting your experience in the cover letter.
Pro Tip: Set yourself apart by getting a certification in law practice management software. PracticePanther is trusted by tens of thousands of lawyers and offers a comprehensive certification program. The program is free and you can work at your pace.
Again, don’t just summarize your resume. The hiring team can look at your resume independently. This is your opportunity to capture attention by putting your resume and experience into context and connecting it to the specific position.
Cover Letter Conclusion
The concluding paragraph is where you wrap everything up and make a positive impression. Make sure to say thank you for their consideration and outline your next steps. You don’t have to wait endlessly for an answer to your application — be clear about how and when you intend to follow up. Make sure you keep your word!
Finally, make sure your cover letter has relevant contact details, including your phone number, email, and address. These may be included in the header in a conventional letter format, but if not, put them at the bottom of the letter where they’re readily available for the hiring manager.
Tips to Stand Out
The legal industry keeps evolving. Candidates need to set themselves apart to get hired, no matter the circumstances. Here are some tips:
Keep it human: Many of the candidates you’ll be up against have similar education and experience, so simply highlighting these aspects won’t help you stand out. The cover letter is where you can showcase how you are different and what you have to offer that other candidates may not.
Stay succinct: You don’t want to overwhelm the reader with a long and drawn-out cover letter. Keep it short and to the point — you want to be memorable. Challenge yourself to stay under a page to see how well you can summarize your unique value.
Set the tone: It’s vital that you are professional in your cover letter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean formal. If the firm you’re applying to takes a more casual or personable tone, it’s best to mimic that in your cover letter. If the firm is large and prestigious, it may be best to speak formally. The firm websites should give you some insight.
Always proofread: The worst thing you could do in your cover letter is have typos and grammatical errors. There’s a lot of competition, not to mention that lawyers and legal professionals need to have command of the English language for their job responsibilities. Proofread, and if possible, enlist someone’s help to catch any errors, awkward phrasing, or ambiguities.
Sample Cover Letters for Inspiration
Drawing a blank on what to say? Here’s some inspiration from sample cover letters for lawyers with different educational backgrounds and experiences.
Let these samples inspire you to construct a compelling cover letter that gets you into the “interview” pile.
Being a job seeker in a competitive market is challenging, but taking the time and care to draft a well-written and personalized cover letter is the best way to get yourself noticed and get the interview.