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How To Craft the Perfect Cover Letter as an Attorney or Law Student

published June 30, 2021

( 7 votes, average: 3.7 out of 5)
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In this article, you will find out how to write a cover letter thanks to which you will make every application you send much more effective, and in the end, you will find some letter examples to make it easier for you to improve your legal career. Just imagine getting 20 interviews instead of five, all just because of an excellent resume and cover letter.
 

Learning the art of writing an outstanding and convincing cover letter in the legal profession takes some practice, and I have made a fair share of mistakes at the beginning. But they have been a great form of education for me and eventually I was able to get the jobs I wanted. So, let me tell you a bit about my history of cover letters.

 

The Cover Letter I Wrote at the Beginning of My Legal Job


When I was a first-year law student, I approached cover letters how many people approach them. I sat down, thought about myself, wrote down everything that makes me unique, why I am the best for the job posting, and similar things I thought the hiring manager might like. I made it all about myself and boasted about all of my accomplishments. The employers that read the letter must have been amused. It told them only why I was not right for the job. But at that time, I believed that is how you were supposed to do it.

As a teenager, I was going to a very nice private school in Michigan. The students were mostly wealthy kids, and I did not belong with them. My best friend had a BMW convertible, lived on a five-acre land in a beautiful house with horses, and had a lot of girlfriends. On the other hand, I lived in an old 1950s apartment complex with my dad next to a mall with too much traffic going by. I drove a Yugo, the worst car ever made, which was embarrassing.

Growing up the way I did was not bad but having many wealthy kids around me when I did not come from money created a desire to become wealthy. So I started buying magazines with income opportunities, which contained long-form ads advertising educational programs that taught how to become wealthy. Advertisers photographed in front of big houses and expensive cars asked for $29.95 in return for exclusive intel to earn money with a special system. I really wanted to earn a lot of money, so I bought the program and hoped to become rich. But, instead, their recipe was to do what they were doing – selling get-rich-quick schemes. I did what the program told me to, but with little success, so I quickly stopped.

But I picked up one thing from these programs that I did not stop immediately.

The ads that convinced me to buy the program were all about the author of the ad. They said where the authors started, how much money they made, how successful they were, etc. And I thought that that was the right way to sell yourself and improve legal careers - by pouring all this information and talking about how great you are and how if they hired you, great things would happen.

So, as a recent graduate of law school, I started to write my cover letters like this. I needed to note down everything I ever did in detail using words like determined and aggressive and mentioning all of my relevant awards. The letter spanned several pages, and none of it was what the prospective employer wanted to read or was seeking.

When you say too much in your resume or cover letter, people start to question why you need to talk so much about yourself. Are you insecure? Or just immature for the role? A cover letter is not about you and your career. It should be about what you can do for the company you want to work at.
 

Personal Connection in a Law Firm


A cover letter should not be about all of your accomplishments. With a cover letter, you want to ignite a connection with the person reading it. And your chances of getting hired are based on how strong of a connection you can create with the letter.

The first cover letters I sent out to legal jobs were identical despite being sent to very different companies and only talked about myself and what I had done. The employers might have thought that I was interesting, but they had no reason to hire me based on what I wrote. What could someone who thinks so highly of themselves and is so overconfident do for their company? The letter lacked any form of connection. And connection is what all relationships between people, even the business ones, are built on.

Most of the cover letters lack a personal connection, even though it is the main task it is supposed to fulfill. It is the only way to arouse interest in you. If you know someone at the firm, address it. If you admire someone at the firm, say it and explain why. If you went to a law school that is somehow connected to the employer, explain that. Hiring managers who read these have no interest in you if they do not connect. So, research what type of people work in the firm, research what exactly they do and care about. If you have a mutual acquaintance with someone on the recruitment team, that is great; you can use it to make the connection. Whatever kind of connection you choose, you must make it as strong as possible. The employer will then have the feeling that you fit the firm like a glove.

Showing Qualification in Cover Letters

Apart from connection, your cover letter has another task – it needs to show that you have the relevant skills to do the job described. Showing that you are suitable for the job really means that you have the training and experience to carry out the job and that you are reliable and willing to work hard for your employer.

In my business, I have had the opportunity to work with a lot of legal placement professionals. Because they try to find as many openings for their candidates as possible, they often try to make their clients look like they are the ideal candidate for various positions in various practice areas. For instance, they mention in the cover letter that their client has professional experience from a completely different practice area than the one in the job posting in the hopes of persuading the employer that they are now an expert in it.

The truth is when you are applying for an attorney job in a big law office, your resume and your cover letter should show that you have a specialization and interest in your career. Employers do not like to see that you have dabbled into all these different areas. Instead, your cover letter should address one narrow line of work in one practice area in which you can demonstrate expertise and the ability to dive deep. Big firms do not need a ton of employees with shallow knowledge in various areas; they need just a few of them that are masters in their own respective specializations.

Even if you have work experience in different areas, when writing a cover letter, be sure to focus on the one area that corresponds with the job you are applying for and highlight it. If you list out all of your experiences in various areas, the employer might see it as a lack of focus. Or it can tell them that you will jump after the next better offer because the jobs you are doing for them are not your passion area.

Understanding large law firms is that they have higher rates and better reputations. Typically, the people who work there focus on one thing and can offer expert knowledge.

In smaller firms, lawyers might need to have a bit more general experience, but big firms are based on people with specializations. So, for example, if they seek a patent attorney with biotech background, they will not be interested in you if your background is in engineering (even if you had that one biotechnology case).

Employers want to hire people that are committed to doing one thing. So, when you are writing your cover letter, be sure to read the job description well and find out everything about it. Then focus on the specialty of the position in your cover letter and point out your experience related to it. If you did something related to the area that is not directly connected, leave it out. Even if you think it could help. If it is not the exact specialization they are looking for, mentioning it will harm you more than good.

If you apply for a position in a smaller firm or a firm in a smaller market that might need someone with more skills, mentioning your other experiences might be a plus.

That is why you need to adjust your cover letter to fit your audience and the office you are applying to. If your letter reflects what they are looking for, you have a much higher chance of getting hired.

Your cover letter needs to prove that you are reasonably qualified for the position you are applying for. For example, if they need 2+ years of experience in a particular practice area, you should apply only if you have those. The responsibility is to do your legal research and find the most important information – it will tell you whether you should apply for the position in the first place and include it in your cover letter.

Being Managed



Another important aspect of your cover letter is showing the employer that you can be managed. You have to remember that you are sending out applications to become an office employee, not a company star. So, if you make your cover letter all about you, you tell the employer that there might be a problem managing you, and they will never hire you.

If you want to show your possible next employer that you are highly motivated and can be managed and the firm can benefit from you, you must be careful about what you address in your cover letter or resume.

Take pro bono and volunteer work, for instance. Pro bono jobs are often considered a noble type of work, and you would think that mentioning it might help you search for jobs. But if you look at it from an employer’s point, pro bono work means no money for the office of the law. Do firms want to employ lawyers that will look after clients that fit only their interests or hire someone who will think of the firm itself and work toward its good?

You have to understand who the audience of your cover letter is. It is usually a company that needs trusty soldiers who will sit at their desks and work on their assigned tasks. So, your ability to be a soldier and do these tasks without questioning them is what your cover letter must reflect.

Writing Skills

Your cover letter should also demonstrate your qualifications to write. Apart from verbal communication skills you also have to have writing skills. You do not have to be a participant in legal writing competitions but you still need advanced skills. Lawyers are paid to pay attention to small details and uncover things that others do not see. So, if you have grammatical errors and typos on your cover letter that is supposed to represent you, what does it say about your skills as a lawyer?

Also, the level of care you put into your own letter is sometimes the only indication of the level of care you will put into your work with people.

You have to be careful about every word you put down when writing a cover letter. You should edit and proofread your cover letter several times to make sure it is well-written and error-free. There is nothing worse when you are reading a letter from a great candidate that is full of mistakes and typos.

Your ability to argue that you are the best person for the open position is also something you can use in the future in your job. Demonstrating excellent communication skills at the beginning is something that will help you in the long run.

Long-Term Commitment to a Law Firm



Employers almost always look for people who will stay with the office for the long haul. For firms, hiring and training new people is costly, time-consuming, and even they never know whether they are any good, earn enough money for the firm, or get the company in trouble in any way. Therefore, firms value good workers that will want to stay with the company and grow with it wherever it will go. Your cover letter should reflect that.

If you are, for instance, moving from a big law firm to a significantly smaller one, the employer will get suspicious that you will want to eventually go back to big firms and leave the smaller ones behind. On the other hand, if you want to work under a more prestigious name or get more money with a big firm in a big city, they might be worried about your experience. In such a case, they are more likely to hire someone coming from a company of a similar size unless you have a good reason to start with this firm. If you moved to this smaller market because of ties to the company, people working in the company, area (e.g., because your family lives there), or other important reasons to want to work with the firm long-term, you have to establish it in the cover letter. Only then will your employer be sure that their company is not just a temporary station until you find something or somewhere better.

It would be best to convince the employer that you want to settle down at the next legal job you go to. If you are shooting higher, let the employer know that you strive for something more challenging. If you are moving to something smaller, tell them that you want to focus on smaller clients in more detail.

Legal Cover Letter Checklist and Letter Examples

While cover letters are very personal and change not only from person to person but from application to application, they still have a standard business letter format and there are several things they should always include to fulfill their objective. You might have noticed when you searched for some letter examples.

The first paragraph needs to say who you are and why you are sending in your application.

You should shortly introduce yourself and mention the position you are interested in in the introductory paragraph.
Example of the first paragraph:
Dear Sir/Dear Ms. Williams,

My name is XXX, and I have worked as a bankruptcy associate at XXX law firm for four years. I am writing to apply for the position of bankruptcy associate at your New York offices.

The second paragraph should discuss why you are interested in working with this particular employer. Why do you want to work at this firm and not their competitor? Show that you are interested in what they do and know a lot about the company already.
Example:
I am very familiar with some of your more significant bankruptcy cases, as I got interested in this practice area when your partner XXX held a lecture at [law school] several years back. Since then, I have followed his career and kept up with the activities of your company, and value your reputation.

The next paragraph should show that you are devoted to the practice area and will not want to jump into something different when you get the chance.

Example: Ever since the talk made by your partner, which piqued my interest in bankruptcy law, I have focused my energy to get into this practice area. I have got my summer associates position in XXX firm focused on bankruptcy and have worked on several bankruptcy cases in my current firm. I also run the company’s blog on bankruptcy issues.

Within the next paragraphs, you should show that you will fit into the company and that you and the employer are compatible.
Example:
I was born and raised in New York, so I strongly connect to the city and its people. In addition, I went to school with several of your attorneys. Based on the conversations I had with them about your firm, I would fit great with the people and culture.

In your closing paragraph, the final step is to tell the employer or recruiter your mailing address and your contact information (cell phone number, email, or physical address). You can also thank them for their consideration of your application.
Example of the final paragraph:
You can contact me via phone at 123-456-7891 or email at email@email.com.

Sincerely,

XXX

Your cover letter is the ideal opportunity for you to show that you can communicate effectively. Stick to fitting everything on one page; you really do not need to say more, and chances are the employer or human resources do not have enough time to read through pages of text from every candidate. And do not forget to triple-check everything so that you do not have unnecessary mistakes in your letter.

Conclusions

The cover letter is your opportunity to persuade the employer as to why they should choose you. However, it has limited space up until the final paragraph, so you must focus on the most important aspects of it. You only need to illustrate four things in your letter: that you can do the job described, you can be managed, you will be with the company for the long haul, and that you will be a good fit. If your cover letter demonstrates these things clearly and concisely, there is a high chance that the employer will be intrigued by you and will want to find out more.

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( 7 votes, average: 3.7 out of 5)
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