June 3, 2014
While a “perfect” cover letter may not get you the job, a poorly written one can prevent your resume from being seen by decision makers. Here are five tips for writing a cover letter to a law firm to make sure that does not happen:
1) Do your research.
Law firms appreciate when applicants demonstrate a specific interest in their firm. For this reason, before you write your cover letter, it will be helpful to research the firm’s practice areas, notable cases, and key clients. It will also be helpful to understand what the firm is looking for in terms of competencies.
2) Be perfect, concise, and specific.
Tiny details matter even if merely stylistic. So, strive to be perfect. Make sure your tenses are consistent (especially within a sentence). Do not forget commas but do not use if not necessary.
Proofread multiple times. Have someone else who has a fresh pair of eyes (even if not in the legal field) review the letter. Address your letter to the appropriate person. The person reading your cover letter may care that you did not take the time to look up their name and title.
Every word and sentence should be meaningful and have some purpose. If not, consider deleting. Keep your letter to one page in regular font.
Get into the weeds
Why this firm and why you? Big words are not impressive but specifics are.
3) Demonstrate your interest in the firm and a particular practice group.
Explain briefly how you became interested in the firm. Dig deep here. The fact that the firm is global is probably not specific or unique enough. Also provide information about what makes you interested in a practice that focuses on xyz.
4) State how you can add value to the firm.
Explain how your background and work experience makes you a good fit for what the firm is looking for.
Overall, it will be helpful to emphasize any experience that specifically demonstrates legal skills such as research, writing, and oral communication. Provide enough details (in a fairly concise manner) about the substance so that the person reading your cover letter understands what you accomplished before ever talking with you. Your explanation should accomplish three objectives: 1) relate your achievements to the firm’s work with reference to specific subject matters (so not just tax, but sham partnerships and disguised sales); 2) describe your role in any particular project (writing, speaking, reporting, analyzing, providing advice to partner/client, some combination, etc.), and 3) emphasize which of your skill sets contributed to the project.
5) Provide the intangible that distinguishes you from the competition.
In today’s competitive environment, a firm’s greatest source of competitive advantage is the quality, drive and overall effectiveness of its people. Explain how you can help the firm maintain its competitive advantage.
For example, perhaps you are entrepreneurial and resourceful in nature such that you are comfortable seeking work from partners and existing clients. Moreover, you understand the success of the law firm depends on generating new business and you are interested in helping to develop business (at the appropriate time).