Writing a legal CV and cover letter

The ultimate guide to writing the perfect legal CV and cover letter.

Before you enter the big wide world of work, you will need to write a CV that markets your talents to potential employers. The purpose of a CV is to showcase you as an individual. It’s your own personal advert. Employers will sift through thousands of these to find a few select candidates to interview – and you need to make sure that yours stands out from the crowd but how do you do that?

Knowing how to write an impactful cover letter is essential for any ambitious lawyer. It helps to persuade employers that you’d be a great addition to their firm. Make sure that you keep to one page and remember that you need to:

  • demonstrate your knowledge of your perspective employer
  • talk briefly about your key skills, experiences and characteristics
  • explain why you wish to work for this firm

Employers will look at your legal cover letter as an indication of your writing skills and before looking at any CV, so make sure it is clear and confident.

Write about why you’re interested in working for this firm. For example, if you’re applying for a position in the personal injury department, have you had work experience within that department before? If you’re applying to a Magic Circle firm, do you thrive under pressure?

To achieve these objectives, your legal cover letter should follow this general structure:

  • Opening paragraph – Mention the position you’re applying for and where you saw it advertised.
  • Second paragraph – Tell the recruiter who you are and what you are currently engaged in. Explain how you can add value to the firm with evidence from your work experience, academic history or outside activities. Use powerful and positive language but do not exaggerate.
  • Third paragraph – Tell the organisation why you want to work with them with some possible examples.
  • Closing paragraph – Mention that you’ve attached your CV and that you look forward to hearing from the firm. Explain when you’d be available for interview and cover any practical issues you’ve been asked to address, such as salary expectations.

Ideally, your legal CV will be two pages long. If you have to use three pages, think carefully about what you can cut. The recruiter only has a finite amount of time and you need to consider their needs to work quickly. Remember to include these:

  • Personal details – These will go at the top of the page with information such as your name, address, email and telephone number. If you have a strange or funny email address, change it to a more professional one.
  • Education and qualifications – Detail any professional memberships (e.g. the Law Society) or qualifications you possess, such as the SQE. Mention your degree, A-levels and GCSEs (or equivalents).
  • Work experience – List your roles in chronological order with the most recent first. For each role you should include:
  • your job title
  • the name of your employer
  • the dates you worked there
  • your main responsibilities
  • your achievements in the role

Make sure you highlight the skills and experience most relevant to the job you’re applying for.

IT and language skills – Outline your level of proficiency with relevant software packages such as Microsoft Word and Powerpoint. Mention any additional languages that you speak and if you are fluent. If you are less than fluent, do not mention this.

Activities and interests – You do not have to include your interests or hobbies on your CV. Think carefully about the impression they will give a potential employer. Only include interests that show you have skills the company is looking for and avoid boring hobbies that everybody does (travel, reading, going to the cinema, etc.). If you do voluntary work or have an interesting pastime, this is the opportunity to mention it.

Referees – You don’t necessarily need to give references at this stage. Stating ‘references available on request’ will suffice.

As a general rule your CV should contain facts, while your cover letter provides the narrative around the facts.

Please remember to ensure that your CV is:

  • clear, concise and easy to read
  • two pages in length
  • fill up the majority of the second page
  • presented using bold sub-headings and bullet points
  • printed on good-quality paper
  • read by a friend, family member or legal English teacher before submission
  • submitted well before the deadline
  • typed in size-11 Arial, or a similarly clear and professional-looking font.

It doesn’t matter if you’re completing a bespoke application form or drafting your own legal CV, the basics stay the same. You need to:

  • Pay attention to detail – Ask your teacher to check your work to pick up on any spelling, style or grammatical errors.
  • Remember that relevant work experience doesn’t always have to be legal – Other types of work and volunteering experience can demonstrate that you are customer-focused, well organised, a good team player and a successful problem solver.

How do I target my application to a law firm?

You are looking for a role that you will (hopefully) spend several years doing. You need to target your CV as much as possible.

Consider why you’re applying to a firm because it’s more than likely that you’ll be asked this question during your interview. What attracts you to certain areas of law and particular firms? Do your values match the firm you’re applying to?

Thoroughly research the law firm – the more you know about the firm, the more tailored your application will be. Regularly checking the website and law journals will allow you to reference current cases and projects in your application and understand which skills would come in handy.

All of this also helps you to determine whether your skills and career preferences would be suited to the specialist work that the firm undertakes and vice versa.

When writing your CV, you shouldn’t:

  • leave any long gaps in your career history
  • add in too much detail
  • include personal details such as your age, gender, marital status etc. as these are irrelevant and potentially illegal
  • use ridiculous styles
  • use pictures or tables
  • write in a boring manner

Remember that you must avoid lying on your CV. Be authentic. Integrity in law is everything.

Follow Me

Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.