Your legal CV and accompanying cover letter will usually be your first point of contact with a potential employer at a law firm. So, it’s very important that they present you in the best light possible.
Getting the basics right is crucial when it comes to writing your legal cover letter and CV, but you also need to make sure they set you apart from the other applicants. It pays to make a positive lasting impression, especially since entering the legal sector is increasingly competitive.
In this article, we’ll take you through how to layout your CV and incorporate sub-headings to improve readability. We’ll also share some other great tips on how to make your CV and cover letter really stand out.
How do you write a legal CV and cover letter?
Your legal CV should include the following information: Personal details, education and training, employment and work experience, additional skills, hobbies and interests and references, while your cover letter provides the narrative around this information.
Both documents should be clear, concise and professional, with no spelling mistakes.
Read on for more details on these points.
Legal CV template
Your name, home address, email address and telephone number should be included at the top of the page.
If relevant, you can also add any appropriate professional websites or online links to support your application.
Education, academic qualifications and training
Next, you should list your academic qualifications (such as your degree, A-level and GCSE results), professional memberships (such as the Law Society) and qualifications that directly relate to the practice of law. Arrange them in reverse chronological order, with your most recent achievements displayed first and include your places of education, the dates you took the qualifications, the subjects you studied and the grades you were awarded.
When referencing your degree, be clear about the areas of law that you studied so a prospective employer can see, at a glance, where your current expertise lies.
Employment and work experience
Again, you should list your work experience (both paid and unpaid) chronologically, including details of the companies you worked for, their locations, your job titles and your focus areas. While your work experience doesn’t necessarily have to be legal-focused, it should always be relevant.
Provide details of your key roles and responsibilities, with an emphasis on any results achieved. This is an opportunity to demonstrate how your experience makes you a strong candidate. Each position is a chance for you to reference the wider benefits of your time spent in previous roles. For example, you can show how you developed leadership skills, learned delegation or grew commercial understanding.
If you have a substantial amount of work experience under your belt, you could split this section up into areas of specialism or paid and voluntary roles.
This is where you outline any other professional skills you might have, such as your level of proficiency with software packages or any languages you speak. Make sure you outline your level of fluency, as this could be another factor that sets you apart from the competition.
Hobbies and interests
Your CV is your opportunity to demonstrate all of your relevant experience, not just in the workplace.
Detailing your wider personal interests is your chance to offer a glimpse of the person an employer may welcome.
List activities and pursuits that will help you to stand out positively. This could be a membership of a club or society, sporting achievements, awards you’ve received or community projects that you’ve been involved in.
Rather than including everyday hobbies, like keeping fit, reading books or listening to music, concentrate on what has relevance to a legal career or indicates a transferable skill set.
These personal interests are often talking points during interviews, so be prepared to speak confidently and passionately about any information that you choose to include on your CV.
Depending on your personal circumstances, you may prefer not to list references on your CV. In that case, you can write “references available on request”.
If you do this, however, you must be able to quickly provide referees’ details before the interview if requested, so make sure you have two strong referees lined up.
In most instances, your current or most recent employer will act as your first reference.
Legal CV writing tips
Here are our top tips for creating a winning legal CV:
Get to the point quickly
Resist the temptation to bulk out your CV with unnecessary words or complicated language.
Remember that the hiring manager is likely to be reviewing many CVs, so grab their attention quickly.
While there’s no set length for a legal CV – as it depends largely on your experience and the necessary attributes for the role you desire – generally speaking, a legal CV should be no longer than three pages.
Avoid a personal profile at the top
A personal profile isn’t necessary, as your cover letter will tell the narrative of why you’re a great fit for the law firm.
If you’re concerned that simply stating the facts won’t be enough for you to stand out, consider using bold and persuasive words to highlight your achievements and suitability.
Don’t get personal
There’s no need to include a photograph on your CV and you don’t need to include your date of birth, marital status, nationality or social media profiles (unless specified).
Only include the essential information that’s relevant to the role you are applying for.
There shouldn’t be any unexplained periods in your work experience or employment history.
If a gap exists, explain the reason for this and what you learned during this time. The more questions your CV fails to answer, the less likely it is that you’ll be invited for an interview.
Make it look professional
Your legal CV should be printed on plain white paper in a size 11 standard font, such as Times New Roman or Arial.
It doesn’t need to be creative or visually striking – in fact, garish and unusual formatting could count against you. So stick to a simple, clear and easy-to-understand layout and remember to double-check your spelling and grammar.
Legal cover letter template
Your cover letter should never be treated as an afterthought to your CV. It needs to be strong, well-researched and punchy, demonstrating why you are a candidate that’s worth considering for the position.
In one page or less, your legal cover letter should include the following:
In the opening paragraph of your cover letter, you should introduce yourself and give details of where you saw the vacancy advertised, being sure to mention any referrals or mutual acquaintances.
A paragraph on why you want the job
Next, you should talk about the position you’re applying for and give reasons why you want to work for that law firm in particular.
Show that you’ve researched the business by explaining your interest in their main practice areas.
A paragraph explaining why you’re the ideal candidate
Explain how your past paid or voluntary work experience, academic qualifications and, in some instances, personal interests add up to make you a good fit for the law firm.
Give reasons that relate specifically to this role, highlighting any achievements that show you have the competencies the law firm is looking for.
Conclude by thanking the hiring manager for their time and mention that your CV is enclosed.
You should also give dates for when you’re available for interview and, if relevant, answer any specific questions mentioned in the job vacancy, such as salary expectations.
Legal cover letter writing tips
Here are our top tips for creating an effective legal cover letter:
Make the effort
Some job sites state “Cover letter optional”, but you should ignore this, and always include a cover letter.
And although it takes time, you should write a new cover letter each time you apply for a position. This will prove that you’re dedicated and enthusiastic about the position.
Your cover letter should be tailored to the specific job or organisation. It’s a good idea to include keywords from the job advertisement within your letter, as it indicates both attention to detail and corporate alignment. Just try to use keywords sparingly and not blatantly.
Make an effort to find out the name of the recipient of your application and address them personally. If you don’t have this information, you can show you’ve done your research by writing about the firm in the next couple of paragraphs.
Think about the language you use
A legal cover letter should be succinct, clear and professional yet personable. Put time, care and thought into the language you use, how you present yourself and how you would like others to perceive you.
The legal profession leans towards formality, so avoid contractions, slang, jargon and abbreviations.
There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance, but it’s fine to be proud of your achievements, so you should be assured in your language. Instead of writing “I think”, “I hope” or “maybe”, write “I can”, “I will” and “I am”.
To help get the tone right, you might find it helpful to check the company’s website and match your tone to theirs.
As with your legal CV, your cover letter should be written on white paper in a professional size 11 font – preferably the same one you used for your CV.
Again, it’s likely the person reading your cover letter will be going through numerous applications, so get straight to the point and keep your cover letter to one side of A4. Some law firms even give a word count, which you should stick to, in order to show that you can follow instructions and write succinctly.
There’s no excuse for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors – especially if you’re applying for a job that requires attention to detail – so make sure you proofread your legal cover letter once you’ve finished.
While your legal cover letter is where you add colour and personality to your application, your CV should focus solely on the facts.
When writing your legal CV and cover letter, you should bear in mind that the person reading your documents is likely to be going through numerous applications, so keep it concise and clear, while making sure you include all the relevant information to show yourself in the best possible light.
It’s also essential that you research the company to prove that you’re serious and enthusiastic about working for that particular law firm.