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Writing a legal CV and cover letter

Curriculum Vitae

The number of applicants far outweighs available training contract places or law jobs so your applications need to shine in order to stand out.

Discover how to perfect your legal CV and cover letter

How do I write a legal cover letter?

Writing a strong cover letter is essential for any law career, as it helps to persuade employers that you'd be a fantastic recruit. It should be one page long, and:

  • demonstrate your knowledge of the law firm and wider legal sector

  • elaborate on your key skills, experiences and characteristics, without simply repeating your CV

  • explain why you aspire to work for the organisation.

Bear in mind that employers will look at your legal cover letter as an indication of your written communication, so make it interesting.

Write about why you're interested in working for a particular firm. For example, if you're applying to a niche sports law firm have you had work experience with a sports company? If you're applying to an international firm is it because you have language skills or have you had any experience of working abroad?

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

  • Opening paragraph - Briefly mention the position you're applying for and how you found out about it.

  • The second paragraph - Tell the recruiter who you are and what stage of your career you're at. Explain how your qualities can benefit the firm with practical evidence from your work experience, academic history or extra-curricular activities. Use powerful and positive language throughout without resorting to hyperbole.

  • Third paragraph - Tell the organisation why you're specifically attracted to them and their work citing, if possible, any current or recent cases of interest.

  • Closing paragraph - Mention that you've enclosed your CV and look forward to hearing from the firm. Explain when you'd be available for an interview and cover any practical issues you've been asked to address, such as salary expectations.

Highlight what makes you stand out and make your cover letter punchy and accurate.

Find more general advice on cover letters.

What should I include in my legal CV?

Your legal CV should be around two or three pages in length, and follow this general structure:

  • Personal details - At the top of the page, include details such as your name, address, email and telephone number.

  • Education and qualifications - Detail any professional memberships (e.g. the Law Society) or qualifications you possess. List your degree, A-levels, O-levels, WASSCE or GCSEs; when discussing the former, mention the areas of law that you studied while at university and state your dissertation title.

  • Work experience - Chronologically profile your work history, including the organisation you worked for and its location, plus your job title and, if applicable, your practice areas. Describe your key tasks and responsibilities, paying close attention to the significant results of your actions. You could separate your work experience into different categories, such as legal, commercial and voluntary. Use your law work experience to demonstrate your passion for a career in the field, and your part-time work to exhibit your transferable skills such as commercial awareness.

  • IT and language skills - Outline your level of proficiency with relevant software packages such as Microsoft Word and Excel, and mention any additional languages that you speak.

  • Activities and interests - Avoid listing irrelevant hobbies such as reading or listening to music. Instead, discuss your involvement in sporting teams and other organisations, highlighting any positions of responsibility you've held or awards you've gained. Experiences - such as starting a new club or society at university - can help you stand out.

  • Referees - You don't necessarily need to give references at this stage. Stating 'references available on request' will usually suffice.

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

Any other tips I should know when writing a legal CV?

As well as following the above advice, you should also ensure that your CV is:

  • clear, concise and easy to read

  • presented using bold sub-headings and bullet points

  • printed on good-quality paper

  • read by a friend, family member or careers adviser 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 someone else to check your work to pick up on any spelling or grammatical errors. Spelling a firm's name incorrectly doesn't give the best first impression.

  • 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.

Read how to write a CV.

How do I target my application to a law firm?

It's much wiser to submit between five and ten highly targeted applications than dozens of generic, copy-and-paste ones. Every application should be treated as an individual project.

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

Thoroughly research the prospective organisation - the more you know about the firm, the more tailored your application will be. Regularly checking the news sections of firms' websites will allow you to reference current cases and projects in your application and understand which skills would come in useful. What's more, possessing such knowledge will allow you to address your application to the most relevant individual.

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.

What should I leave out of a legal CV?

When writing your CV, you shouldn't:

  • leave any unexplained 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 details and legal recruiters don't like to see them included

  • use overly outlandish formatting

  • use pictures or tables

  • write a bland profile or objective sections

  • write 'CV' or 'curriculum vitae' at the top.

It should go without saying, but also avoid lying on your CV. Be authentic.

Integrity in law is everything.

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