Where Can I Get A Template?
I am regularly asked for template covering letters for training contract, vacation scheme and paralegal applications.
However, there is no one template that is right for everyone. There is also a high risk that any template provided will be used to guide the drafting of the substance of the content much too closely.
Instead, its better to work to a pre-determined structure only and then draft the content of the letter from scratch each time.
The Structure Of A Covering Letter
The body of a good covering letter would read along the following lines:
1. Why you are writing
Open the letter with why you are writing.
For example, you are writing to apply for a training contract with the firm commencing in September 2014.
Mention the advertisement if you are applying in response to one (but not necessary if the vacancy is a recurring annual vacancy that appears on the firm’s website or in one of the law firm directories).
2. Introduce yourself
A quick summary of what you are doing now or have done/achieved recently so as to give a quick snapshot.
For example, you are currently studying the LPC at the University of Law, having previously graduated with a 2:1 from the University of Hull.
3. Why that firm?
This is where you show that you are not just applying to firms in a scatter-gun fashion.
Avoid using generalisations here that can apply to many firms. For example, do not just say you are applying to XYZ LLP because it is a leading firm with a good reputation.
Instead, be more specific about appealing aspects of the firm and tell them why those things are important to you. This can still include a firms reputation in an area of law but they will want you to explain more specifically why that has influenced your decision to apply to them.
This is where you display the knowledge you have gained when researching the firm.
What is it specifically about the firm’s size, location, areas of law practised, training contract, etc, that has made you apply to them (and therefore ignore many other firms)?
Seek to back up your reasons and personalise them by mentioning how your work experience and other experiences and knowledge have helped you make an informed decision to apply specifically to them.
4. Why you?
Highlight a particular quality you have and/or competencies or achievements of yours that show you have what they are looking for (as discovered during your research).
Focus on those parts of your experience to date that might help persuade them that you are the right person for them.
The key with a covering letter is to avoid just repeating lots of things that are already on your CV or elsewhere on your application form.
Instead, briefly mention a couple of the highlights from your CV but tie this into some reasoning as to why you feel you would be a good fit for the firm.
5. Sign off professionally
Thank them for their time in considering your application, state your availability for interview and ask that they contact you with any queries.
Do not waffle or go overboard here by stressing your desire to work for the firm or saying you want to contribute to the firm’s future success.
These should be obvious given the care you have taken over your research and your application.
Help The Recruiter
Finally, as with all drafting in your applications, be sure to help the recruiter by writing in a clear and concise manner.
Use short sentences and paragraphs in order to ensure the points you are presenting do not get lost in a sea of words.
They will be assessing your writing skills when reading your application so ensure you give a good account of yourself.
Many solicitors’ firms in the UK will ask you to apply for a training contract with a covering letter. Some will want you to upload this as part of an online application form (such as Slaughter and May, Jones Day, White & Case, Sullivan & Cromwell ), while others – usually smaller, high street law firms – will want you to send the letter alongside a CV (see our law CV example here).
How to write a law cover letter tip #1: use the letter to explain why you want to be a solicitor at that particular law firm
A covering letter is a golden opportunity to explain your motivations for becoming a lawyer and for applying to that specific firm. ‘My advice is to use the cover letter to introduce yourself and to explain why you are applying to that firm,' says Janine Arnold, senior manager – trainee recruitment at Slaughter and May. ‘Be sure to include any additional information that you feel is relevant to your application.’
If you’re uploading a covering letter as part of a larger application form you should avoid repeating examples you’ve used to answer questions on the form. Give as broad a picture of your skills and experience as possible and only repeat something if you think it is particularly significant to that law firm. Your covering letter is an introduction to get the recruiter’s attention – a sample of your potential, if you like – not your overall application.
‘A well-written, succinct, persuasive covering letter crafted by an aspiring trainee solicitor who has really thought about the firm stands out,’ says Nichola Rowe, director of legal human resources at Cleary Gottlieb. ‘Ask yourself: what sets this firm apart from other law firms and how do my individual skills and experiences marry with that firm?’.
How to write a law cover letter tip #2: how long should it be?
A covering letter should be a maximum of one page, with a font size of 11 or 12. Slaughter and May’s Janine Arnold agrees: ‘A lengthy covering letter is not necessary; aim for it to be no longer than one side of A4.'
How to write a law cover letter tip #3: the format law firms like
The best law cover letter examples have a clear structure, such as:
1. The introduction to your cover letter
Introduce yourself, explain what stage you are at in your degree course (including the university you’re attending), state that you are applying for a training contract and where you read about the law firm. This should only be a sentence or two.
2. A paragraph on why you want to work at that law firm
The second paragraph should cover why you want to be a solicitor and why you want to work for that law firm in particular. Highlight any experiences you’ve had that have convinced you that you want to be a solicitor, such as vacation schemes, open days or insight days. You can even mention mini-pupillages – it will impress graduate recruiters if you’ve put the effort into comparing the two sides of the legal profession, as long as you have good reasons for picking a career as a solicitor (this could come up at interview).
Make it clear why you want to work in the particular area of law that the firm focuses on. For example, if it’s a commercial firm you’ll want to draw on any work experience you’ve had at other commercial firms. Show off your research about the firm by explaining your interest in their main legal practice areas – don’t just say ‘I am interested in shipping law’, for example, but provide evidence of that interest.
You might also want to mention the firm’s training structure. Some firms will have compulsory seats, in which case you’ll need to show an interest in those areas. If you’ve chosen a firm that doesn’t have compulsory seats, or has no seat structure at all (such as Jones Day for example), then you could explain why this appeals to you above a more defined training contract structure.
3. A paragraph highlighting why you're a good fit for the law firm
Next, you need to pitch yourself to the recruiter. Make it clear that you are suited to a career as a solicitor: highlight achievements that show you have the competencies the firm has asked for. If the firm hasn’t specified exactly what it's looking for, see our article here on the skills most legal recruiters want from applicants. Don’t just say ‘I have good communication skills’ – you need to mention an achievement that hinged on your use of those skills.
4. The ending to your law covering letter
Close by referring the recruiter to your CV or application and stating your availability for interview(s) or assessment centre(s).
How to write a law cover letter tip #4: explain any extenuating circumstances
'Covering letters should also explain any mitigating circumstances relating to exam results and to address any questions that you may reasonably expect to arise from your application, such as any gaps in your CV,’ explains Janine.
How to write a law cover letter tip #5: proofread your cover letter before you hit ‘send’
Once you’ve put your covering letter together, don’t be tempted to rush it off. Ask friends, family and your university careers adviser to check it. ‘There is no good excuse for spelling errors, especially when you’re applying for a job that requires scrupulous attention to detail,’ points out a legal recruitment advisor at Ince & Co. ‘The number of applications we receive that contain errors is surprising. Your application is all we’ve got to go on, so you owe it to yourself to ensure it’s not let down by something so easily avoidable.’
Remember that law firms will be judging your ability to communicate professionally with clients on the professionalism of your covering letter – you’re making a pitch, just like you would do as a practising lawyer.
Legal recruiters at major law firms read through hundreds, if not thousands, of applications from aspiring trainee solicitors each year and will only spend a minute or so reading your covering letter. Some recruiters say that they make their decision paragraph by paragraph – if you haven't impressed upon them that you would be a good fit for their firm halfway through the cover letter, they might not even read the rest. Your covering letter creates a powerful first impression, so make it easy for the recruiter to see that you have strong potential as a solicitor by following the tips above.
In other news: Massive changes to the way solicitors qualify are on the horizon. Do you know how they will affect you? Find out here.