Perfecting your cover letter is an essential part of securing a job in the legal sector. A well-organised, carefully thought out cover letter can make the difference between getting an interview offer or a rejection letter. With this in mind, you should really put in the effort to make your cover letter as persuasive as it possibly can be to any employers reading it.
What's the point of a cover letter?
The ultimate aim of a cover letter is to convince an employer that you’re the ideal recruit and to move your application on to the interview phase. It will often be the first impression you make on your employer, so you have to make it count!
A strong cover letter will let an employer know who you are, why you want to work in that specific law firm, your relevant skills and work experience and your knowledge of the law firm and the legal sector more broadly.
What does an employer want?
An employer wants to read a cover letter that’s interesting, to the point, and that quickly shows them why they should hire you. If your letter goes off on tangents or fails to show them exactly why you’re qualified for the position, your application might get thrown out without a second thought. Likewise, for job openings as competitive as those in the legal sector, it’s often important to make your letter stand out—whether that be through an interesting experience in your career or through your excellent written communication skills.
In short, the employer reading your cover letter doesn’t want to have to guess why you’re a good fit for the law firm, and they also don’t want to have to comb through irrelevant material. Keep your letter concise (no longer than one page), focused, and targeted to the specific law firm you’re applying to.
In order to give your application the best chance of making it to the interview stage, here is the general structure that most recruitment consultancies and employers recommend:
1. Who are you and why are you writing to me?
Whether your application is for a job opening or it’s speculative (as in the case of some mini-pupillages), you should provide your employer with this information within the first few lines.
The opening paragraph of your cover letter should not be longer than a couple of sentences, and it should briefly explain who you are, the position you’re applying for and how you found out about it.
2. Why do you want this specific job?
Before you start writing this section, make sure you’ve thoroughly researched the law firm you’re applying to. You should discuss why you want to complete a vacation scheme or a training contract at this firm in particular, perhaps mentioning your interest in the specific area of law it focuses on, or some recent deals that have sparked your interest.
Be honest. Discuss the job responsibilities you’re excited about and demonstrate your enthusiasm in an original but appropriate way. Explain where you are in your career, and highlight experiences that have convinced you that you want to be a solicitor or a barrister, such as open days, mini-pupillages or insight days.
Above all, take the time to understand the organisation in-depth: where it’s located, who it works with, how its training works and its work culture. If you’re applying for a training contract, make sure you understand how seats work at this company. Some don’t have compulsory seats and some don’t have a structure at all. Explain what it is that appeals to you about a more or less defined training structure, and why you’re a good fit for it.
3. Why should you be offered the job?
Research the requirements for the role you’re applying to in the job description or person specification. Make sure your CV covers all of the requirements, and be prepared to tailor your cover letter to what the firm is looking for.
Show that you’re the ideal candidate by tying your work experience and extracurriculars to the skills the employer is on the lookout for. For instance, if the person specification includes good public speaking skills, make a point of mentioning your mooting experience. Don’t claim you’re good at public speaking without substantiating your claim. Additionally, don’t try to mention every single thing you’ve done in the past few years (that’s what your CV is there for!)—but do elaborate on some of the most relevant experiences on your CV and show what you can bring to the firm.
It’s important that you sell yourself well and highlight your most important achievements, but be wary of exaggerating. It’s important that you’re honest, as any lies could easily be detected by a recruiter.
4. Ending your cover letter
Briefly detail any practical issues (when you’re available for interview, for instance). Finally, mention that you’ve attached your CV and that you look forward to hearing back from the firm.
Before you hit send, make sure you proofread your letter a few times, and perhaps ask a family member or friend to do the same. Any spelling or grammatical errors will not put you in good favour!
Double-check that your cover letter is concise, appropriately tailored to the job and emphasises the relevant qualities that make you perfect for the job. And most importantly: good luck!