Open Doors at Law Firms

By Carol Kanarek
Your resume and cover letter can be the keys to the door between you and that law firm interview.

Your resume and cover letter can be the keys to the door between you and that law firm interview.

The only purpose of a resume and cover letter is to get the person reading them sufficiently interested to want to meet you in person. Your application should be a targeted advertisement for yourself that will cause the person reading it to think, “Hiring this person will make my life easier.”  You’ll achieve that goal if you can demonstrate convincingly that you have both the aptitude and the attitude necessary to be an effective junior-level lawyer.

Here’s What You May Not Know

Most law students don’t realize there’s an “unwritten advertisement” for almost all entry-level lawyer jobs. There is, and to make sure you match its requirements, your resume and cover letter should convey to a potential employer the following:

  • Excellent legal research, writing, and oral presentation skills
  • An understanding of what the firm really does and a mastery of relevant substantive subject areas
  • An understanding of law firm economics
  • Your ability to multitask
  • A practice development orientation
  • A demonstrated ability to work on an unpredictable schedule
  • An orientation toward the reader, not yourself
  • Proof you’re positive, enthusiastic, self-motivated, mature, reliable, and conscientious
  • Details that show you’re high energy, willing to work hard and to prove yourself, and flexible

Make Your Resume Attractive

Here are smart ways to position your resume in the most appealing way:

  • Avoid adding “job objectives.” They’re usually “me”-oriented, and—even worse—often not relevant to the employer to whom you’re writing.
  • Start each example of your experience with a verb that describes the results of your efforts.
  • Quantify the results you’ve achieved, if possible.
  • Don’t leave gaps in your chronology. Employers tend to assume the worst.
  • Proofread, proofread, and proofread again so you have no typos.
  • Don’t lie or be misleading.
  • Be careful with the personal section, which can get you in big trouble. It can make you look lazy, bizarre, or grandiose. Examples: “Gourmet brownie baker.” Or “I’ve attended every Grand Slam tennis match around the world in the past year.” Or “Watching good movies.” (What does that mean?) Never overstate what you really know about anything.

Tailor Your Cover Letter

Your cover letter should be about what you can do for the employer—not what the employer can do for you. Here’s how to do it:

  • Tailor your approach to the particular employer to which you’re writing. Most partners have written articles that are available online and that can give you important insight into what they do. Knowing that can help provide a framework for your interview.

Remember that the purpose of a firm’s website is to attract clients and that it’s not necessarily reflective of what most of the lawyers at the firm do on a day-to-day basis. It’s usually a mistake to say you’re interested in a firm because of some very specific thing that’s mentioned in its literature or website unless you know for sure it’s a significant part of the firm’s practice.

  • Assemble your relevant skills and experiences. List accomplishments that demonstrate that particular attributes and attitudes apply to you. Focus on job-related strengths. If you’re consistent in what you say in your cover emails, you can derive much value by contacting multiple lawyers at the same firm.

Carol Kanarek

Carol Kanarek (ckanarek@aol.com) is a former transactional lawyer who has also earned her master’s degree in social work. She has provided career-related services to lawyers, law students, and law firms for more than 30 years.