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Careers Counsel: How do I write the best law firm application cover letter?

Careers Counsel advice colum
Careers Counsel advice colum
Dear Careers Counsel, how do I write the perfect cover letter to swing that high-paying law firm job?

In a nutshell:
Nitin Potdar: A cover letter is the first impression of yourself.  If your letter is crisp, simple and short, the recruiting partner will immediately look at your resume and your chance of landing an interview with the law firm is highly probable.    

Since the practice these days is more of email exchange, write the subject and check the email address.  Print a hard copy of the draft and read it carefully before clicking 'send'.   Remember you have to be extremely 'formal'.  You are not writing an SMS or email to your college buddy!  

In a nutshell, a cover letter should include a short introduction about yourself and what position you are applying for (e.g. legal assistant, associate, etc.). Also explain the reasons of your interest in the law firm.  

In the second paragraph, identify your relevant skills or experiences.  Unless you have any specific aspect to mention, you can write about how you might contribute to the practice area or to the development of the firm.  You can add that you would like an opportunity to meet the person concerned to elaborate about your capabilities and to discuss possible opportunities at his law firm.  Conclude by saying that you would be happy to provide any further clarifications or documents if required.

How should I write and how long should it be?
Sameer Tapia: Covering letters should be crisp and to the point.

Nitin Potdar: The cover letter should be one page only and written in simple English.  Check your spellings, grammar and punctuations before sending out the letter to the law firm.

Nishant Parikh: It is important that the cover letter be short and to the point, not a lengthy replication of details already captured in the resume.

Care should be taken to ensure it is free of spelling and grammatical errors, and conveys a positive first impression of the applicant. These general guidelines would apply equally to applications for jobs as well as internships.

Who should I write it to?
Sameer Tapia: Generally there is a difference whether you apply to a small practice or a larger law firm.

Larger firms usually have HR personal or an HR partner and the office will be happy to let you know whom to address your letter or email to. CVs and covering letters should always be sent to the relevant person and NOT marked to ALL the partners, as some people do which is quite annoying!

Also no referrals of personal friends and contacts should be mentioned on such correspondence. If such referrals are used one must ensure that the call is made prior to your interview. Remember that this is a recommendation and suggestion and should not be a BIG favour or pressure on the firm to take on an associate.

Nishant Parikh
: A cover letter should ideally be a crisp introduction to the applicant, addressed to the recruiting partner or recruitment team at the firm to which the resume is being sent.

Nitin Potdar: Addressing the covering letter to the right person is most important for applying in any law firm.  It should be either to partner-in charge of recruitment or the head of human resources.   If you don't know, please call the firm and inquire about the concerned person.  There is absolutely no harm in calling and even find out the process followed for recruitment.  This is very critical.

If you are interested in a particular practice area of a law firm, you may also write to the partner heading that practice group.

What should I write?
Nishant Parikh: Applicants should make sure to include certain key details, such as the year in which they are studying, and any past internships/work experience that they would like to draw special attention to.

Nitin Potdar: There is no need to repeat facts already stated in your CV.   Your cover letter should simply summarise your most relevant skill and experience in few sentences.

Sameer Tapia: Covering letters should briefly mention what you are looking for in terms of position, department and from which date, and how you got to know about the firm. And whether they could be called for an interview at the convenience of the firm.

Mention academic background such as school and college with brief marks and work experience, which should briefly give the position and job spec but NOT pages and pages of work and client matters attended, which is most odd!

How much should I write about the firm?
Nitin Potdar:  Write briefly in one or two sentences why you are interested in the firm.   Do good research on the law firm, about its practice areas, Partner profiles, the leading transactions handled by the law firm that you have read in the newspaper, etc. This information would be helpful at the time of interview, goes to show your interest in the firm and that you are serious about your application.

If you are applying to several law firms, ensure that you tailor the cover letter accordingly (e.g. the practice area of each law firm may differ, hence suitably express your interest).  

Do not make the mistake of designing a standard cover letter like 'one size fits all' type and sending it to every potential law firms

Is there any different advice for internship applications?
Nitin Potdar: For internship follow your college process, if any.  Cover letters for internship applications should follow similar suggestions as stated above.  Students applying for internships may or may not have prior work experience.

Hence, the law firm will be relying more on the academic credentials, research papers and extra-curricular activities that you have undertaken.  The second paragraph of your cover letter may highlight any of your achievements (e.g. if you have won any awards academically or participated in moot courts).

Your Careers Counsel were:
  • Trilegal recruitment partner Nishant Parikh,
  • J Sagar Associates partner Nitin Potdar,
  • and ALMT Legal partner Sameer Tapia.
Careers Counsel will return next week with some advice on how NOT to do it, with a collection of the worst covering letters received.

For information on how to write a good law firm CV with an included template resume, read our previous Careers Counsel column.

If you have a specific question you would like answered, please send us an anonymous query.
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