How to Optimize Your Cover Letter and Resume For Biglaw Success

Posted by

You’ve sent the emails.

You’ve had the slightly awkward phone calls and coffees with a firm’s attorneys who went to your law school.

And now you’re ready to submit your cover letter and resume to your school’s job platform.

But how do you know what will stand out to biglaw attorneys who review your application? As with everything in the legal profession, it depends. It depends on the firm, the reviewing attorney, the input from HR, the firm’s availability for the next summer associate class, the time of day, and countless other factors. But you still have the power to make sure your resume stands out – or put a different (and more relevant) way – you have the power to make sure your resume doesn’t immediately wind up at the bottom of the pile.

Control What You Can.

Just like when you get to the interview, there’s no going back now on your school and GPA and work experience – that die is already cast. You’ve probably heard advice on all sorts of techniques to make sure your application stands out, but it’s most important to focus on these three rules for your cover letter and resume:

    1. No Typos.
    2. No Typos.
    3. No Typos.

Little Things Matter in Big Ways

A typo shouldn’t matter this much…but it does. When I’m reviewing an application, I’m looking for filters. Both good and bad. A glaring typo can help me filter that resume to the trash almost immediately. I say almost because there are always exceptions. If a student has work experience that sticks out or has an incredibly high GPA, I’ll do what I can to keep them in the game. Of course, it all depends on the type of typo. And that takes me to the next point…

Address Your Materials to the Correct Firm

You’d be shocked but it happens every year. And I get why. You are hustling at your post-1L internship, you are probably cite-checking or performing some other mundane journal busy work, and you’re trying to land interviews with any firm that will help you repay your loans back within a few years. None of these reasons, however, will excuse putting the wrong firm at the top of the cover letter. You must triple-check everything you are sending: print it out, read it, send it to your mom, dad, or a friend (or all of them) to give these career-altering documents a second set of eyes. The stakes are too high for you not to do this.

Make Your Materials Specific to Each Firm

Assuming you are typo-free and have included the correct name of the firm on your application package, what should you actually include in the text of the letter? This is where the leg work of reaching out to your school’s alumni generates a strong return on your early investment. In your cover letter, name drop like there’s no tomorrow if you had coffee or a phone call or attended a networking reception with an attorney of the firm. It shows you put in the effort, that you are taking this seriously, and that you actually have some specific knowledge of this firm. We know you are applying to more than 1 firm, but everyone wants to feel special – even hiring attorneys in biglaw.

Highlight What Makes You Special

On that note, highlight what sets you apart from other applicants. For me, it was work experience. I spent valuable real estate on my cover letter (i.e. a full paragraph) explaining my experience in consulting before law school and how that translated to working in the legal profession. I put work experience at the top of my resume – to keep eyes on that before seeing my slightly-above-median GPA on the resume (some advocate for keeping it off entirely if not near the top of the class – but to me, the omission triggers a raised eyebrow if I don’t see it on the resume…I’m going to see it on the transcript no matter what). If it’s strong and relevant work experience, a killer GPA, membership on Law Review, you need to make it easy for the attorney reviewing hundreds of applications to notice you.

Litigation or Corporate?

If you have a strong preference for litigation or corporate, I would highlight that preference in your cover letter. It’s tough to know and don’t feel bad if you don’t have a strong preference after your first-year doctrinal courses – it’s nearly impossible to have a sense of what corporate law actually is after your first year anyway (or even when I practiced corporate law). That said, if your background is in finance or accounting, for example, and you have some interest in corporate law, then feel free to note it on your cover letter. Same thing with litigation if you are drawn to clerking, loved the litigation writing assignments your first year, or have some other justification for your interest.

What’s Next?

Print out your resume and cover letter. Send them to people you trust for their review. Read all of your materials multiple times to make sure you abide by the golden rule of applications: no typos.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.