How to Write a Cover Letter For Lawyers

Unless you’re ultra well-connected, you’ll be applying for loads of jobs from the moment you start law school to the moment you leave, so it’s paramount that you know how to write a cover letter for lawyers.

We’ve already talked about how to write a cover letter but a cover letter for lawyers has a few distinct differences. Before we cover the specifics, we’ll first go over the basics.

Basics: How to Write a Cover Letter – For Lawyers

Duke suggests creating a template upon which to build, “You should develop one or several standard but flexible letters, which can be adjusted to suit particular employers and geographic regions. You may also need to stress certain skills or qualifications that you feel will benefit a specific employer.”

As with all cover letters, your basic template should do the following:

  • Inform the employer of who you are and the position to which you’re applying.
  • Demonstrate your knowledge of the employer and their work and your commitment to it.
  • Illustrate what you can offer the employer through tangible examples.
  • Highlight how you’re a good fit for the company.
  • Demonstrate your writing abilities.
  • Inform the hiring manager of your contact details – mobile, email, and mail.

“The desired effects of your cover letter are two-fold,” Duke breaks it down, “first, to provide the reader with information regarding your career-related intentions; and secondly, to identify and attract attention to those things about you which are unique, interesting,  and desirable in the context of potential employment as an attorney.” 

This is just a basic breakdown, however. For more detailed advice about how to write a cover letter for lawyers, keep reading.

Specifics: How to Write a Cover Letter – For Lawyers

Your cover letter will often be your first impression for legal recruiters, so you really want to wow them. Yale Law puts it succinctly: “The cover letter is the first writing sample an employer will view so it should be brief (preferably one page), persuasive, well-reasoned, and grammatically perfect.”

Those trainees who apply to major law firms are up against hundreds of other aspiring lawyers. Legal recruiters take maybe a minute to glance over cover letters. So, basically, you have one minute to impress. Some don’t even read through the whole letter; they take it paragraph by paragraph. This means if you’ve failed to catch their eye in line one, then they’re unlikely to reach the second paragraph, where you really turn up the volume. So your best bet to encourage recruiters to power through your cover letter is to reel them in from start to finish.

Addressing the Letter’s Recipient

Not only is “To Whom It May Concern” outdated, it suggests laziness on your part. With so many ways to uncover the name of your recipient, there’s no excuse for using this impersonal salutation. If you aren’t provided a specific contact person, do a little googling and find out the name of the recruiting coordinator at the relevant firm or address it to the head of the department for which you’d like to work.

A Great Opening Paragraph: Basic Details

The opening paragraph should of course introduce who you are in an interesting way, while stating the position to which you’re applying. You should note which university you’re attending and at what stage you’re at in your studies. For instance, if you’re a third-year student at Sidney Law School applying for an internship, this is what you include as background in your opening paragraph. You should also mention where you heard about the position.

But remember, not many will get past this first paragraph if your prose is bland and dry out of the gate, so be sure to punch it up. For instance, instead of saying, “I’m Mary Smith, and I’m a first-year at…” consider writing, “As a first-year at Melbourne Law School with deep roots in Victoria and a strong foundation in criminal justice, it is…”

The Body: What’s So Special About Them?

In your second paragraph, highlight why the prospective law firm fits you like a glove. This may mean honing up on the firm’s past cases and knowing their areas of interest and their specialties. For instance, if they specialize in criminal work, outline your own experiences in this area. Not only does this demonstrate that you cared enough to do some research about the firm, but if you provide examples of how you, yourself, have handled criminal cases or delved into criminal law, this will better illustrate how you’ll fit right in the firm.

For help, consider enthusiastically highlighting one or two of the following: the firm’s reputation, an acquaintanceship with one or more of the firm’s members, its locale, areas of practice, commitment to certain causes, or a recent case handled by the firm.

The Body: What’s So Special About You?

So you’ve tooted your employer’s horn; now it’s time to toot your own. Emphasize even further why you’re the perfect fit for their firm. Highlight experiences and achievements which demonstrate their specified competencies for this position. And, like any good piece of writing, you must show, instead of tell.

Bad example: “My skills and experience will serve your firm well, adding to its outstanding reputation.” Recruiters will see right through this say-nothingness fluff. Instead, show them what you’ve done and what you can do for them. Good example: “Given my background in contract law, including one year working in patent law with corporate clients, I believe my experience would benefit your firm’s premier corporate law practice.”

Closing: Wrap It Up Simply

Provide your contact details and state your interest in a personal interview, while thanking the firm for their consideration.

Format Your Cover Letter

Lastly, format your cover letter so that it’s easy to open and read. Advice from Yale Law recommends that in order to avoid conversion issues, you should convert your documents into PDF. “Ideally you should attach only one PDF file that includes both your resume and cover letter in one document.”

Now that you know how to write a cover letter for lawyers, it’s time to get cracking.

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