One of the most frustrating things when I review applications for open in-house counsel positions on my team is reading a template cover letter that the candidate has clearly not tailored for the role. But if you’re in the middle of a furious in-house counsel job search, applying for more than one position at a time, what can you do to make your cover letter for different positions stand out?
My advice is to never, ever send a form cover letter that has not been tailored to the job you’re applying for. This may seem like incredibly simplistic advice but, again, the number of times I’ve read a cover letter that’s not specific to my company or the role is almost unimaginable given the level of sophistication of the lawyers who will typically apply.
This isn’t to say that having a template cover letter is a bad idea – far from it. You should take your standard form cover letter (perhaps working off of our ultimate in-house counsel cover letter template from here at Dollar Barrister?) and tweak it for the different roles you’re looking at. After all, you are probably qualified for more than one kind of entry-level in-house corporate counsel position.
For example, you may be a mid-level associate that has worked on matters in two different industries. Or perhaps after spending the first part of your career in private practice as a litigator, you started taking on more transactional, regulatory, or corporate matters. Remember, think of the cover letter as providing general background and context and highlighting your soft skills, whereas your CV will outline your specific professional skills, responsibilities, and experiences.
For example, litigation teaches multi-tasking, working under deadlines, and managing demanding clients, opposing counsel, and tribunals. High-level corporate practice requires attention to detail and the ability to advance competing priorities simultaneously. These are all the kinds of skills that you can, and should, emphasize in your cover letter for an in-house counsel position that will frequently face your internal clients (like an operations role).
If you haven’t looked at our ultimate in-house counsel cover letter template yet, you’ll see that the second and third paragraphs give you room to describe your experience and current responsibilities. Our second paragraph is set up broadly, deliberately, so you can tweak it:
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.
Also, here is where your cover letters should diverge depending on the role you’re chasing. I suggest preparing and saving different versions of the cover letter – “Jane Doe – Litigation Cover Letter” and “Jane Doe – Compliance Cover Letter” – so each is at your fingertips when a promising job posting pops up. (More on how to set up an online job search that converts in a future post here at Dollar Barrister!)
I really believe that there’s really no magic to writing a great cover letter. It should obviously be free of spelling and grammatical errors, but it should also come across as authentic, in your own voice, and demonstrate why you are genuinely interested in the role. There’s nothing worse than reading a cover letter that sounds stilted and unnatural.
Hopefully our ultimate in-house counsel cover letter template can help you get you started and on your way in-house to a lawyer job that you’ll love.
As always, good luck!