A covering letter is a business letter which you use as part of the application process to emphasise your motivation and suitability for specific opportunities. Your cover letter should accompany your CV (unless otherwise stated) and be tailored to the employer and job role based on your research. It provides relevant information which goes beyond the skeleton details on your CV. It needs to be authentic to you, set out the reasons for your application (backed up by your research) and provide evidence of your relevant experience and skills. This is your chance to sell yourself so make it persuasive and compelling.
Law firms are passionate about what they do and want to hire people who share that passion. You can only demonstrate this if you invest time in researching the firm, the business and client base. Find out about the practice areas and sectors they specialise in, their reputation, any awards and deals/cases that have been in the news recently. Watch their podcasts and UTube clips. In addition to firm websites platforms like the Legal 500, MarketLine Advantage, Chamber Student and LawCareersNet can support your research as will networking with firm representatives at events. Reflect on what you’ve learnt about the firm and why this has motivated you to apply. Use this to articulate your reasons for applying and explain what differentiates the firm from other similar law firms. Show how what they do aligns with your interests and experience.
Formatting your cover letter
One page of A4 is standard so try to stick to this. You need to make every word count. If your letter is longer than one page go back and critically review what you’ve written. Remove any repetition or filler words that don’t add value. Follow the correct format for a business letter. If you’re unsure you’ll find examples online. The careers team run cover letter workshops to help you get started. Ensure you address your cover letter to a named person (try and find out who to send it to) e.g. ‘Dear Mr Smith’. If you cannot find a contact then use ‘Dear Sir/Madam’. Use paragraphs to organise your content and finish your letter with ‘Yours sincerely’ if you addressed it to a named person or ‘Yours faithfully’ if you addressed it to ‘Dear Sir/Madam’.
Your cover letter should include powerful opening and closing sections and a middle section where you showcase your motivation and suitability. IMCE stands for Introduction, Motivation, Capability and Ending and suggests how you might order your content.
Law firms receive a huge number of applications so make yours stand out by starting your cover letter with a powerful opening statement that makes an impact. Use your research and relevant experience to articulate your interest in the firm and its opportunities. LawCareersNet, in its article ‘How to apply for a training contract: a master class’, provides some useful tips on how to do this (step 4).
The body of your letter should contain key messages concerning your reasons for applying (backed up by your research and experience) and show how this aligns with what the firm does. Talk about the experiences that you’ve had, what you’ve learnt and achieved and how these have informed you decision to become a solicitor. Mention any specific areas of the firm’s work that interests you with reference to specific deals or cases where possible.
Identify the qualities and skills that the firm looks for and provide evidence of these in your covering letter (capability) using relevant examples from your experience. Show how your qualities and skills could benefit the firm and provide evidence of your achievements.
Avoid application cliches like “I would relish the opportunity to work at your firm”. Instead give specific reasons for your interest. Don’t state that you are a highly motivated individual, say what it is that drives you and provide examples.
Aim for a powerful ending which reinforces your strong interest in the firm, your suitability for the role and your commitment to making the most of the opportunity if offered to you and support with evidence where possible.
Carefully check your cover letter and ensure your writing is professional, accurate and evidence based. Use spell and grammar check. Once you’ve finished your cover letter set it aside, sleep on it and come back to it with a fresh pair of critical eyes. Get other people’s opinion; book a cover letter review appointment with the careers team.
You may need to present you cover letter in a range of ways including soft copy (emailed), hard copy and embedded within an employer’s application. For the latter follow the instructions on the application form and ensure you format your letter properly. If you embed your cover letter within the body of an email rather than attaching it then you won’t need to include your own address or that of the person you are writing to. Finally ensure that you tailor your cover letter for each law firm you apply to, they’re all different. Generic approaches are easily spotted by recruiters and are unlikely to get you through to the next stage of the process. For further information visit Aspiring Solicitors Legal Cover Letters and LawCareersNet ‘How to write the perfect cover letter..’
Senior Careers Consultant for Warwick Law School