These days many legal candidates don’t submit their cover letters with their resumes anymore, assuming it’s a practice that’s been rendered obsolete by online technology. They think it’s enough to write a simple “my resume is attached” e-mail to prospective employers. They are wrong.
Just to make it clear – cover letters are still a necessary evil in all job searches. While many job seekers think a solid resume should speak for itself, the reality is it often does not. In fact, a poorly written or sloppy cover letter can detract from even the most impeccable of resumes.
Prospective employers still like cover letters because they offer insights into a candidate’s personality, work ethic and soft skills, such as written communication abilities and attention to detail. Cover letters can help call out strengths or assets that may not immediately pop out in your resume. That is why serious legal job seekers will still make the effort to write a good cover letter, even if it’s sent in the body of an email. Believe us, whether you’re trying to find a job after law school, or you’re an experienced lawyer looking for a new opportunity, what you need is a killer legal cover letter that will help you to get yourself in the door.
The cover letter is the first writing sample an employer will view and it can really help your resume get noticed by hiring managers. It should be brief, persuasive, well reasoned, and grammatically perfect. Check out these five tips for writing a legal cover letter:
1. Keep it brief
More isn’t always better when writing a cover letter. The best ones are customized and concise. Hiring managers with myriad applications to review don’t have the time (or patience) to wade through your life story. One page with three to four straightforward paragraphs should suffice. Write an attention-grabbing introduction; succinctly highlight your top skills, accomplishments and attributes; and explain why you’re a good fit for the specific role.
2. Don’t just rehash your resume
Look at your cover letter and resume as separate but related documents. They should complement one another without being overly repetitive. Although you will undoubtedly need to mention past positions, employers or experiences in your introductory note, use slightly different wording and a more conversational style than you would typically use in a resume. The cover letter shouldn’t simply be a repeat of all of the information in your resume. It should either further explain information you listed on the resume or it should contain additional information that may be useful for this position.
3. Tailor it
Use the middle paragraph to further describe relevant points of your background, including past employers or cases, relevant coursework, or legal publishing credits. Illustrate how your background can benefit the employer, as opposed to what the opportunity would do for you. Be sure to convey what you know about the firm and why you’re enthusiastic about it. Make sure to highlight what differentiates you.
4. Get personal
Direct your letter to an actual person whenever possible. You can look for the name of the hiring attorney or recruiting contact on a firm’s website or by calling the firm directly. Name drop. Legal employers place significant weight on experience and personal recommendations when recruiting candidates. State in the first part of your cover letter any mutual professional connections or interests you may have. These might include individuals, practice areas, schools or locations.
5. Be professional
Excellent writing skills are central to most legal work, which makes cover letters especially important as a showcase for these abilities. Take as much care with your cover letter as you do your resume. Lawyers are expected to draft error-free documents, so consider your cover letter to be a work sample. Proofread assiduously. Do it by yourself and have a friend read your letter as well. Poor grammar, spelling errors and typos can get your letter thrown out immediately.
Remember to close your cover letter with a call to action. For instance, if you’re going to be in the prospective employer’s geographic area soon, request an interview during that time frame. If you say you’re going to follow up, do so. Chances are, you will apply for many legal positions before being offered a job. Make sure that every cover letter you send is as enthusiastic as your first one to increase your chances of landing the position you want.