Getting a job in the legal industry usually begins with a cover letter. Most of the time, the cover letter is the very first opportunity an employer has to make an impression of an applicant, which makes careful crafting very important. In almost all situations, legal cover letters are formatted just like a standard business letter. They should be limited to one page, and should include concise summaries of the applicant’s skills, education, and work experience, as well as the applicant’s specific interest in the job. Legal jobs are generally competitive, and legal cover letters are one of the best ways for an applicant to set him or herself apart from the crowd.
The first thing to consider when writing legal cover letters is the audience. Letters for law positions, particularly law firm positions, should be directed to a specific individual whenever possible. Addressing a letter “To Whom It May Concern” is never as effective as “Dear Mr. Jones,” for instance. Having a personal name shows both that the writer has done some research into the job, and that the letter is more than a mass-mailing going out to multiple employers.
An effective legal cover letter also needs to identify the applicant in a personal way. The first paragraph of the letter should include something about the applicant’s education, experience, and why the job would be a good fit. Essentially, the first paragraph should be the thesis statement for the rest of the letter. The goal is to briefly set out who the applicant is and why his or her candidacy should be considered.
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Later paragraphs should be devoted to relevant experience and more developed reasoning on why this particular job is a good fit. It is important to highlight individual experiences that align with the requirements listed in the job description, and to identify areas of growth. An applicant does not always have to have a lot of training in a given area of law in order to get a certain job, but it is generally a good idea for an applicant to at least explain why that area is of interest.
In some respects, legal cover letters can be seen as sales pitches. The applicant needs to sell him or herself not just as a legal professional, but as a good fit to be the legal professional described in the job posting. Doing this requires a thorough understanding of not only what the job would require, but also who the employer is.
Most of the time, law firms and other legal employers want to hire professionals for the long term. Particularly for lawyer jobs, the investment that a firm puts into its new attorneys often takes several years to realize. The best legal cover letters will show that applicants have actually done some research on the employer and have a vested interest in working for that employer specifically. This is particularly true if the job would require the applicant to relocate.
Cover letters are never easy to write, and it can be tempting to craft one general letter that can be sent to a number of firms. While this tactic can work, with legal cover letters it is generally better to invest the time to make each letter special. Researching the employer, understanding the relevant area of law, and thinking about how the job would intersect with individual skills and interests will come through in the letter, and will likely leave a more favorable impression.