How to Write the Perfect Cover Letter for an Attorney: Tips to Move from Law Firm to In-house
Moving out of the law firm to an in-house attorney job requires a strong cover letter. Here is everything you need to build the best cover letter.
When you're applying for a new in-house attorney position, your cover letter is one of the most important things you can send to the hiring manager. It's your chance to show them that you understand their needs and that you have the skills and qualifications they are looking for. Here is everything you need to write the best in house attorney cover letter.
The Basics: In-house v. Law-Firms
It is important to think about the differences between the functions of an attorney in a company and in a law firm. The attorney in a law firm is a revenue generator and works with a variety of clients. Attorneys in law firms are working across matters and frequently focused on particular challenges or unique circumstances.
Alternatively, the in house lawyer is a part of the business. They do not generate revenues. Instead, the in house lawyer is there to manage risk while helping the business succeed. This shift from a revenue generator to a cost center is key to understanding how to best frame your counsel cover letter.
Expectations for the In-House Cover Letter
A great cover letter for an in house lawyer starts with many of the same elements of any cover letter. This means that the cover letter should be a one page document that communicates that you are the best candidate for the open job.
You will need to review the job description to understand how to address the needs of the potential employer. Unlike a law firm opening, you will need to write a single page that expresses your interest in the employer and discuss how your qualifications meet their needs specifically. This is really the purpose of the letter and the only way to move forward in the process.
Resume v. Cover Letters
Remember that your resume communicates all of the particular details about your prior roles. Your resume will be 2 - 3 pages typically. The employer will scan this information through their applicant tracking systems (ATS). Thus, you will want all of those important keywords to get through the ATS so your resume can be seen by a real person.
Alternatively, the letter should not repeat the resume. Instead, the employer wants you to tell your story in the letter. This is where you can provide details to the employer that go beyond the information covered in your resume. This one page document will be skimmed by a person, not the resume bots.
Create a Strong Opening
To start your cover letter, you will want to write a strong first paragraph. This paragraph should include a brief overview of your experience and how it relates to the position you are applying for.
This opening paragraph should address how you found the job and provide a preview of why you are a strong candidate for the in house lawyer job.
For example, if you are applying for an in-house lawyer position with a company that does business in other countries, highlight your experience working on cross-border transactions. If you have no relevant experience, consider focusing on other relevant skills that could be valuable to the organization.
Write to Your Audience
The entire lawyer cover letter should be written to your audience. As explained above, this audience has different motivations than the law firm hiring committee.
The hiring managers in-house could be other attorneys. But, they could also be the C-Suite or other senior leaders in the business if the organization has a small or no prior legal department.
Regardless of whether the hiring manager is a lawyer or not, you will need to remember that the function of an in-house lawyer is different than that of an attorney in a firm. This will enable you to frame up your skills and achievements in a meaningful way for your cover letter.
Avoid Law Firm Jargon
When you are writing your in-house counsel cover letter, it is best to avoid the jargon of law firms. This includes terms like "billable hours," "matter," or "client."
Instead of using the jargon of law firms, try to use language that is more understandable to non-lawyers. For example, you can talk about the number of cases you have worked on or the value you added to previous clients.
Demonstrate Your Understanding of The Business
In your cover letter, it is important to demonstrate that you understand the needs of the potential employer. This means that you should not only reference the job description but also highlight how your skills and experience meet the specific needs of the employers.
You can do this by discussing your experience in the industry, relevant skills, and accomplishments. This will demonstrate that you are really interested in this job and it will make your cover letter stronger.
By demonstrating your understanding of their needs, you will be able to show that you are a strong candidate for the job. You will also be more clearly speaking to the needs of the companies that you are pursuing.
Connect the Dots
The next step to writing the best in house lawyer cover letter is to make it easy for the person skimming the cover letter to see you in the job.
To do this, you could use the second paragraph to cover exactly how you meet the requirements of the job. Talent acquisition professionals in companies do not just hire attorneys. So, it can be helpful to spell out exactly how your law firm experience can translate to the requirements in the job posting.
But, to land a new job, you will need to go beyond the job posting requirements. Instead, you will need to make it clear how your skills gained in the law firm position you for success in the company.
This must go beyond your substantive knowledge or technical legal skills. Instead, you will need to think about this in the context of your soft skills or business acumen. Connecting those underlying skills to those big results will be the key to standing out.
Explain Your Why
The best cover letters for attorneys will explain why you want to move out of the law firm at this time. This is the key to write a cover letter that connects with the reader.
Your audience is looking to hire someone for a particular role. They are seeking someone that wants to join their team and that adds value. This means that you should keep the focus on the reader when explaining why you want to make the change.
This also means that you do not want to detail anything negative. Keep your tone confident and express interest in what the companies do - rather than merely focusing on the past.
This section of cover letters should discuss your interest in making this change. It should be an honest answer that you can expand upon in the interview. You should also mention how your expertise can fit into the needs of the company.
This will seem obvious to most lawyers, but you must proofread your cover letter before submitting it to any employers. Writing is an expectation of lawyers. So, you will need to have perfection in your spelling, grammar, and language to get through the employment process.
The final step to a well-written letter is to craft a strong final paragraph. This will include a thank you for their time and consideration. You may want to reiterate your interest in the role or company.
This is an opportunity to express excitement about the role and how you can help the company achieve its goals. The best way to end the cover letter is by asking for an interview or the next steps.