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I’ve read some truly awful cover letters in my day, so when I was applying for in-house counsel roles I spent a lot of time researching and thinking about what makes a great cover letter. By no means do I think my template is perfect, but it took me years of fine-tuning to craft what I think is a pretty darn good one.
So, I’m setting it forth below for you to use when you apply for your next in-house counsel position. But I also think anyone can adapt it for other purposes too, whether it’s a law firm job or even a position in a totally different industry. I have also added some notes and thoughts throughout the template in order to guide you as you adapt the language for your specific circumstances.
(Updated: you can now purchase a formatted, MS-Word version of my cover letter template in our shop for $15! It includes all of my annotated notes below – just follow the instructions and fill in your details.)
My cover letter template doesn’t get too deep into the weeds about your education or any of your prior roles (although I would recommend flagging high-profile employers, like a white shoe law firm or Fortune 100 company.) Instead, it tries to emphasize the “soft” skills that employers look for, demonstrate that you can write well, and make it clear that the cover letter has been written specifically for this employer, whom you really want to work for.
I also think of the cover letter in general as the upper part of an inverted triangle, painting broad strokes about your abilities and background, and drawing the reader in to the details that are outlined in your CV. So keep that in mind while you are tweaking mine for your purposes. (Updated: more on how to draft and organize an ideal CV for going in-house.)
I should also add that this article does not address “gaming” the application process itself, in terms of using buzz and keywords that can get you past the HR autoscreeners that a lot of big companies seem to be using these days to weed out applicants. (I have never tried to do that, for what it is worth.) Rather, I think my template is best used when you are applying through a warm contact, or to a company where you are fairly confident that a human will be reading through all of the applications. I also think it works best in a discreet, niche industry (like the one I work in) where it is tailored to your individual circumstances. But this particular template is drafted more broadly to make it easier for you to adapt to your situation.
Continuous improvement is the name of the game in life, law practice, and everything else, so if you have any suggestions for how I could tweak it for the better, please feel free to chime in with your thoughts in the comments.
It is with great enthusiasm that I submit my application for the [title of the role] position at [name of company]. I am an experienced [insert jurisdiction/city] lawyer with a blend of in-house and law firm experience negotiating a broad range of [insert type of] contracts and transactions, as well as handling general corporate, commercial, and litigation matters. [Note – this is a deliberately broad description of my experience, which you will want to tailor and focus for your particular role and experience.] I currently serve as [in-house corporate counsel/associate/counsel] at [insert name of your current employer] and I know that my diverse professional experience will make me an asset to [name of company] and its legal team. My CV is enclosed for your review.
I am thrilled at the possibility of assuming a leadership position in a [insert description – big, small, dynamic, etc.] legal department at a [institution/company/firm] like [insert name of company]. At [insert name of current employer, particularly if is well-known], I provide a broad range of corporate legal advice across numerous technical, business, and operational units, from [insert description] to [insert description]. I also advise business teams on transactional, regulatory, and insurance issues as the company [insert description of the company’s operations and something unique/interesting about what it is doing]. The working environment at [name of company or firm] is fast-paced, demanding, and constantly changing, which makes every day different, the legal questions I confront complex, and has accustomed me to taking calculated business and legal risks when necessary.
Prior to [previous company or firm], I worked in [location] for [company or firm], a [insert description – real estate, pharma, tech, etc.] company, in a [describe the type and scope of your role- transactional, litigation, etc.] role that focused primarily on [insert what else you did there, and try and make it resonate with the requirements of the role you’re applying for]. In close cooperation with senior management, I successfully drafted and negotiated business-focused terms and conditions, joint venture agreements, and purchase orders with major clients and teaming partners (including Fortune 500 firms like [insert names of companies you dealt with, if any], and others) for [transactions/projects/cases/matters/etc. – tailor to be specific as necessary] throughout the world. [Note – you might not need or want this second paragraph, depending on your current role and how relevant the experience you describe here will be for the position you’re applying for. In my circumstances, it always made sense to include this paragraph.]
Throughout my career, my responsibilities have required me to organize and prioritize matters effectively while working independently and efficiently towards quickly getting answers for my business partners, no matter how ambiguous the situation. I am flexible, practical, and easy to work with, and I enjoy finding creative solutions to difficult problems. All of my professional and educational experiences have continuously required me to refine my organization and communication skills.
After spending the first decade of my career in law firms and corporate legal departments, the prospect of joining [name of company] is incredibly exciting. [Note – again, you should tweak this sentence based on your circumstances.] I would love to discuss the [insert title of role] position and my credentials with you. I am seeking a salary in the range of $X to $X. [Note – only include this sentence if required by the posting or requested by the warm contact and/or recruiter you are dealing with.] I am best contacted by email at [insert your email] or telephone at [insert your phone number].
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
Enclosure [Note – this enclosure is, of course, your CV. More on the form that I use in a future post here at Dollar Barrister.]