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Attorney Cover Letter: Art of Getting Noticed

updated
September 8, 2022
13 min
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Management

It doesn’t matter if you are searching for your first job out of law school or have decades of experience — the job market for attorneys is challenging. If you want to land an excellent job, you need to turn the tide in your favor. You need the right tools to achieve that.

Ideally, you already have much of what you need, including skills and ambition. That’s great. However, many lawyers neglect one exceptionally important item — their attorney cover letter.

This important document isn’t just a formality in the job application process. Instead, a legal cover letter introduces you to potential employers and can persuade them to give the rest of your application package a closer look. Also, your cover letter is the first example a potential employer will see of your written communication skills. 

Clearly, you need to know how to write a great lawyer cover letter, but how do you do that? This guide goes over several tips and best practices. It also includes a few helpful sample attorney cover letters.

Attorney Cover Letter Structure

Introduction

The introductory paragraph in a law firm cover letter is a real workhorse. It accomplishes:

  • Introducing you
  • Showing why you fit in with this firm

You need to pack in some important information. Start with who you are. Are you a recently graduated law student or an experienced attorney? Do you have any mutual acquaintances? If someone referred you, mention that right away. Are you qualified for the job, and would you be a good fit? You need to give a few detailed reasons why.

Remember, the idea is to connect with the hiring manager or senior attorney who is reading this paragraph. This connection will determine whether they read the rest of your letter or not.

You need to pack in some important information. Start with who you are. Are you a recently graduated law student or an experienced attorney? Do you have any mutual acquaintances? If someone referred you, mention that right away. Are you qualified for the job, and would you be a good fit? You need to give a few detailed reasons why.

Remember, the idea is to connect with the hiring manager or senior attorney who is reading this paragraph. This connection will determine whether they read the rest of your letter or not.

Main Body

The main body of your cover letter is where you can really detail how you meet or exceed the requirements of the position. If you review successful attorney cover letter examples, you will be able to see how this part of the letter is very responsive to the job description. One or two paragraphs should reflect the key details the hiring manager will be looking for.

A cover letter for law firms will start by answering why. Let the reader know what makes you interested in this position. Is it the reputation or culture of the law firm? Will you have the opportunity to practice an area of law that excites you?

Now, you need to connect your why with their why. Specifically, why should they hire you? A law firm isn’t going to hire you for your passions. You have to detail your qualifications. Use the job posting to align what you can do with what they are looking for.

Here are some details to cover:

  • Relevant work experience and roles
  • Details on academic work
  • Any professional or academic awards you’ve received
  • Your personal history
  • Community organization and service
  • Articles and other publications

Here’s an example. Imagine that you are in the running for a job as a junior attorney at a workplace injury law firm. The job listing details that they are looking for someone who works well in a team environment — someone with a keen eye for detail and great communication skills.

In response to this, your cover letter might detail how you are responsible for managing client communications in your current position and how the cases you work on are largely handled with teams of attorneys and paralegals. You could even share a brief example demonstrating how you prevented a costly error by being detail-oriented and proactive.

You want these paragraphs to be specific. At the same time, brevity is a virtue. There’s no need to cover every detail that is in your resume. Instead, think about providing enough information that the senior attorney wants to read your resume to learn more about you.

First Paragraph

Your goal for your first paragraph is to be both concise and impactful. You want to quickly cover who you are, why you are writing, and why the recipient should keep reading. A simple formula will cover these important details in just a few sentences:

Sentence 1: "I have recently passed the bar and am interested in working as a junior associate with [law firm]."

Sentence 2: "I learned about this opening from [job listing or referral]... (Alternative - I am pursuing this because of my [interest/passion/experience] for [area of law])."

Sentence 3: Here, you want to build a connection. Mention an internship in this area of law, an event you attended where the senior attorney was featured, or legal aid work you have done in this practice area.

You will alter this formula in your own cover letter. This alteration might include adding a bit of extra detail. However, this should help you remember the ground you must cover in your first paragraph.

What about name-dropping? It’s perfectly fine to mention a connection you have. However, you should limit this to people you have had meaningful contact with, not simply met in passing.

Other Body Paragraphs

The body of a cover letter for lawyers will have two to three paragraphs where you will present your skills, experience, and other information demonstrating your ability to be a valuable team member for that particular employer. Your goal is to get things moved to the interview stage.

One way to do this is to dedicate the first paragraph to your passion for that area of law, your connections in common, and what motivates you to pursue this field. In the second paragraph, you can address the skills and personality traits you will bring to the table.

You could also focus on a meaningful and relevant work or academic experience that exemplifies your fitness for the position. 

Here are some skills to cover:

  • Client counseling
  • Negotiation
  • Litigation
  • Legal research
  • Interviewing
  • Writing for law

Remember that in addition to listing your skills, you want to provide information that exemplifies them.

Conclusion

You will use your final paragraph to leave a great impression on the hiring manager, emphasize your interest, and be upbeat. Make sure to include the following elements in the last paragraph of your cover letter:

  • Thank the reader for taking the time to review your letter and the rest of your application
  • Detail how you plan to follow up with the law firm
  • Reiterate your contact details, including your best times of availability

Make sure to stick with whatever you say you will do to follow up. If you state that you will email within a week and fail to do so, the firm may simply assume you are no longer interested. Be proactive to show you want to move to the interview stage.

Legal Cover Letter: Tone of Voice Pro Tips

Use a Calm and Reassuring Tone

Use a confident tone when you write and have a sense of purpose. Be confident but not boastful. You want to highlight your top skills and best attributes. Then, find ways to demonstrate how you have further developed those skills and used them to help past employers.

The best cover letter for attorney job openings will show career growth. Show how you have taken on additional responsibilities in work and academic pursuits. Also, consider mentioning a tough challenge or roadblock you had to overcome and how that led to you becoming a better attorney.

Finally, remember that every point you make about your capabilities and fit for the company culture needs to be supported. Share an example that — ideally — relates to your employment or education. For example, if you state that you have excellent legal research skills, share a case example where that ability led to a good outcome for a client.

Order the Cover Letter Content in an Easy-to-Read Way

A great attorney cover letter is easy to read and “skimmable.” The person reviewing your letter may not be an HR person whose sole job is to handle applications. Instead, it’s likely to be another busy lawyer who doesn’t have time to read large, block-style paragraphs to discern the necessary information.

You will get better results if your letter is written so that key information is easy to find. One way to do this is by using bulleted lists. These draw the reader’s eye and make pertinent information memorable. Read the cover letter yourself, thinking from the perspective of someone who doesn’t have much time, and must get through several lawyer cover letters.

Also, make your points easier to understand by summarizing them. For example, if you worked on a newsworthy case, use a sentence or two to describe your role and what you took away from the experience. These summaries will ensure that the reader understands what you are trying to communicate.

Remain Individual

The hiring authority will appreciate any cover letter for attorney job openings a bit more if it is personalized. Make every effort to find that person’s name and address it to them. However, be careful about using gender-specific language unless you know what that individual prefers.

You might also consider sending a copy of your resume to an attorney with whom you share a connection in the firm. For example, someone who attended the same law school or works in the same specialty. 

Finally, mention something that shows you are familiar with that law firm. Compliment the handling of a recent case or another important business move. This insight shows you have taken the time to do your research.

Don't Shift Responsibility

As you close the cover letter, be proactive. Take on responsibility for further interactions and moving the process along.

You might mention that you will call to follow up or email to connect again. However, there is one caveat — you don’t want to do anything that contradicts what the law firm has stated that they prefer. For example, if they specify no phone calls, don’t call them.

Keep in mind that it could take a law firm a few weeks to review the resumes and cover letters they receive. Even so, following up a week or so after you submit yours is a good idea. This tactic is a great way to stand out and get a status update.

Addressing Your Legal Cover Letter

You have taken the time to write an engaging cover letter that reflects your abilities. This work is good, but don’t forget the basic details that can make a bigger difference than you realize. How you address your cover letter —and who you address it to.

Fortunately, there are some simple best practices that you can follow. Keep these in mind, and your letter will be polished and professional.

Address your cover letter to a specific person. You may need to do some research to identify the person who is in charge of hiring, but that personalization truly makes a difference. Check the law firm's website, or contact the HR department if you need assistance.

Use the proper salutations. This formatting is still seen as a sign of respect by many attorneys. If you get this wrong, it may be taken as a sign that you don’t always pay attention to important details.

Salutations are also gender-specific. If you know the recipient’s identity, use the proper choice. If not, drop the salutation and write their first and last name. 

This last point is very important — check your spelling twice. People tend to take offense if you misspell their names. Don’t assume. There are often multiple variations of names that are very common.

Check Everything Thrice

Every cover letter you send should be double and triple proofread before any hiring manager sees them.

Admittedly, proofreading isn’t really about tone. However, it can really impact the way that you come across to the reader. For example, an emotionally compelling point that is well-written can be persuasive. Fill it with spelling and grammar errors, and it might elicit eye-rolling.

Poor spelling, incorrect punctuation, and incorrect wording are distracting. Such issues can make it difficult for someone to take your application and professionalism seriously. These mistakes can also lead to your writing being misinterpreted or frustrating to the user. 

A law firm will count on you to communicate with court officers, clients, judges, and other law offices. They won’t hire you if they believe you can’t be trusted to carefully write briefs and other documents. 

Take multiple steps to ensure everything is correct. Use a spelling and grammar-checking tool to find mistakes. But don’t stop there. After that, ask someone you trust to review the document as well. You don’t want to rely on spell-check alone. There’s no excuse to send a cover letter that hasn’t been thoroughly proofread.

Ethics to Think of When Writing a Law Firm Cover Letter

Even though each cover letter you write will have different details, there are rules of writing etiquette that you must always follow. These aren’t always easy to determine at first. For example, what should your cover letter include?

It helps to remember that a persuasive cover letter can make a difference. Such is the case with very experienced lawyers and law students. The following points will give you some helpful guidance on the etiquette side of writing a proper cover letter.

Your cover letter is not optional. This rule is the most important point of cover letter etiquette. You must include one with every application. Even if you are on a career page that says it is optional, you must write a cover letter to introduce yourself.

Brevity is key. Be respectful of the hiring manager’s time. Get right to the point. Don’t drag things out. If you can’t be concise in your cover letter, can you be concise in front of a judge?

Match their manner of speaking. Use language and phrasing that is very similar to that used in the law firm’s own culture. This tactic is a personal touch that employers will notice positively.

Center the employer. Everything you write should remember that you are there to meet their needs. Avoid sharing details about yourself that don’t showcase how you will be able to do your job well.

Don’t forget the rule about triple checking your cover letter. That is also a matter of business writing etiquette.

Tempted to change names and other information, then send the same cover letter to everybody? That saves time, but it will be obvious that you haven’t bothered to personalize your cover letters, and that’s a problem.

Attorney Cover Letter Examples

The process can be intimidating when you sit down to write a cover letter for a job you want. Don’t get stuck. Instead, get some inspiration from a sample attorney cover letter. Reading another letter can give you some great ideas for points to include and will boost your confidence.

We can even help you get started. Here are some sample cover letter (lawyer style) links. They show cover letters from people with varying experience levels and different objectives:

You don’t necessarily want to rewrite these. Instead, consider using these as examples of insights to include. Also, they serve as excellent examples of how you should structure a cover letter.

Market Yourself with a Compelling Cover Letter

In many ways, your cover letter is a marketing document that sells your abilities to another law firm and convinces them that they will benefit from your services.

It’s worth the extra time you will spend writing a personalized cover letter that showcases your skills and is carefully proofread. The points above will help you accomplish your goal of getting your resume read and landing an interview.

As you write, don’t forget the rules of etiquette. This focus includes addressing the letter correctly, using proper salutations, and directing it to the proper person. You also want to respect the reader’s time by being concise and making your point quickly.

Are you ready to write a standout letter? There are plenty of great examples to use as guides and inspiration. You can also connect with a professional legal marketing agency like Grow Law Firm for additional insights on marketing your own professional brand.

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    Sasha Berson is a legal marketing expert

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