Your CV and cover letter can make or break any law firm application. Try following these tips to make the best impression…
Legal cover letter
Writing a passionate cover letter is essential for any law career, as it helps to persuade the employer that you'd be a fantastic recruit. It should be one page long, and:
- demonstrate your knowledge of the law firm and wider legal sector
- elaborate on your key skills, experiences and characteristics, without simply repeating your CV
- explain why you aspire to work for the organisation.
To achieve these objectives, your legal cover letter should follow this general structure:
- Opening paragraph - Briefly mention the position you're applying for and how you found out about it.
- Second paragraph - Tell the recruiter who you are and the stage of career you're at. Explain how your key qualities can benefit the firm with practical evidence from your work experience, academic history or extra-curricular activities. Use powerful and positive language throughout without resorting to hyperbole.
- Third paragraph - Tell the organisation why you’re specifically attracted to them and their work citing, if possible, any current or recent cases of interest.
- Closing paragraph - Mention that you've enclosed your CV and look forward to hearing from the firm. Explain when you'd be available for interview and cover any practical issues you've been asked to address, such as salary expectations.
What to include in your legal CV
Your legal CV should be around two or three pages in length, and follow this general structure:
- Personal details - At the top of the page, include important details such as your name, address, email and telephone number.
- Education and qualifications - Detail any professional memberships (e.g. the Law Society) or qualifications you possess, such as the Legal Practice Course (LPC). List your degree, A-levels and GCSEs; when discussing the former of these, mention the areas of law that you studied while at university and state your dissertation title.
- Work experience - Chronologically profile your work history, including the organisation you worked for and its location, plus your job title and, if applicable, your practice areas. Describe your key tasks and responsibilities, paying close attention to the significant results of your actions. You could separate your work experience into different categories, such as legal, commercial and voluntary; use your law work experience to demonstrate your passion for a career in the field, and your part-time work to exhibit your transferable skills such as commercial awareness.
- IT and language skills - Outline your level of proficiency with relevant software packages such as Microsoft Word and Excel, and mention any additional languages that you speak.
- Activities and interests - Avoid listing irrelevant hobbies such as reading or listening to music. Instead, discuss your involvement in sporting teams and other organisations, highlighting any positions of responsibility you've held or awards you've gained. Quirky experiences - such as starting a new club or society at university - can help you stand out.
- Referees - You don’t necessarily need to give references at this stage; stating 'references available on request' will usually suffice.
For more advice on what abilities recruiters in the legal sector are looking for, see 7 skills for a successful law career.
Tips for writing a legal CV
As well as following the above advice, you should also ensure that your CV is:
- clear, concise and easy to read
- presented using sub-headings and bullet points
- printed on good-quality paper
- read by a friend, family member or careers adviser before submission
- submitted well before the deadline
- typed in size-11 Arial, or a similarly clear and professional-looking font.
How to target your application to a law firm
It's much wiser to submit between five and ten highly targeted applications than dozens of generic, copy-and-paste ones. Every application should be treated as an individual project.
Thoroughly research the prospective organisation - the more you know about the firm, the more tailored your application will be. Regularly checking the news sections of firms' websites will allow you to reference current cases and projects in your application and understand which skills would come in useful. What's more, possessing such knowledge will allow you to address your application to the most relevant individual.
All of this also helps you to determine whether your skills and career preferences would be suited to the specialist work that the firm undertakes and vice versa.
This is as invaluable when choosing a law firm as it is when attending law fairs, open days and vacation schemes.
What to leave out of your CV
When writing your CV, you shouldn't:
- leave any unexplained gaps in your career history
- lie or joke
- use overly outlandish formatting
- use pictures or tables
- write bland profile or objective sections
- write 'CV' or 'curriculum vitae' at the top.
Written by Dominic Claeys-Jackson, Editor
Prospects · June 2017
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A lot of job applications are now done online in fancy, new-fangled, digital application forms. However, many companies still favour the traditional CV and cover letter application combo.
Whether it’s a speculative application, or one targeted at a specific job advertisement, the covering letter is a key ingredient in this process!
So, how do you stand out from the overstuffed pile?
This article takes a look at how to write a covering letter for all those companies that are keeping it real and asking you to tell them all about your employability on just one page of A4.
> If you're keen to find out more about those companies, you can head over to our Law Jobs section.
What's the point of a cover letter?
The covering letter is the paper equivalent of those initial few seconds when we meet someone new. Much is judged upon little!
The ultimate aim of the covering letter is to politely scream “choose me”, in a way that convinces an employer that you are worthy of them offering you an interview. No pressure then!
What does an employer want?
Let’s take a second to consider the employer’s perspective:
“I want someone that is perfect for the job as soon as possible with the minimum amount of fuss or hassle. That means don’t waste my time, don’t waffle and get straight to the point.”
If you fail to fit within any of the above criteria, then you’ll be given short shrift from the employer.
That means shift F7 is definitely out of the question for this one! When creating you covering letter masterpiece, it is important that you follow a clear structure.
Outlined below is a template that most recruitment consultancies and employers recommend:
1) Who are you & why are you writing to me?
You must let them know this within the first few lines of your covering letter; otherwise it is unlikely they will go any further.
E.g. “My name is Joe Gissajob and I’m writing to apply for the position of Editorial Assistant that I saw advertised on the XYZ website.”
2) Why do you want the job?
Be honest. Discuss what excites you about the specific job responsibilities. Demonstrate your enthusiasm in an original but appropriate way.
3) What attracts you to the company & the position you are applying for?
Mentioning money is probably not the best thing to do here. Employers will be far more receptive to your application if you have taken the time to understand their business and how the role you are applying for will fit into it.
4) Why should you be offered the job?
The elders of a settlement in rural India may have honoured you for your efforts in preparing their village for the monsoon season, but can you use Outlook and Excel?
Don’t simply see this section as an opportunity to put down every achievement since primary school on the page.
It must be relevant to the work you will be doing for them, and it must encourage them to read on.
Consider selecting three or four qualities that you possess which match the needs of the job.
Be wary of exaggerating anything though. You’ll soon be found out if you didn’t actually invent the chip and pin device!
Briefly detail any practical issues that might need to be addressed. If they specify you must have a clean driving license, this is your opportunity to let them know.
To summarise, when writing your covering letter: be concise, tailor it to the job specification and talk up the relevant qualities you possess that make you ideal for the position. Most importantly though, good luck!