legal careers guide

6. Legal CVs and covering letters

Despite the widespread use of application forms, the CV is still a vital tool in the recruitment process. This Step guides you through the process of constructing a legal CV and writing a successful covering letter.

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Writing CVs and Covering Letters

The curriculum vitae (CV) is the traditional method of application and is widely used throughout the legal profession. You will still need a CV, even if you are applying to organisations that use application forms, for two main reasons.

  1. The information on your CV forms the basis of many of the answers you will need to give on application forms
  2. Having an up-to-date CV is useful when applying for work experience or to give information to a useful contact.

Before you start drafting

Think about the type of organisation or specific organisation you are applying to. What are they likely to be looking for in a candidate? See your work from Step 1 and 4.

Know what skills and experience you have to offer a prospective employer. See your work from Step 2.

Know what you want to use the CV for. Is it to apply for work experience or a speculative application? See your work from Step 2 and 3.

Tips for a good CV

  • Target your CV – you need to adapt your CV to each individual recruiter so that they are able to see how you could fit in with their organisation.
  • Length – keep it to no more than two sides of A4 paper.
  • Make it easy to read – create a clear structure, leave enough white space and make use of formatting like headings.
  • Look professional – use plain white paper, a size 11 standard font like Arial or Times New Roman, and avoid photos and exclamation marks.
  • Correct spelling and grammar is essential – don’t rely on spellcheck; proofread several times to make sure your CV is error free.
  • Be honest whilst ensuring you are making the most of what you have to offer.
  • Focus on your cover letter as much as your CV.

CV structure and layout

There is no single correct way to lay out a CV and you will have to try different structures to see which one works best to for you.

A traditional structure contains the following information:

Personal details

Include your name and contact details as a heading. You don’t need to put the words ‘Curriculum Vitae’ on your CV.

Education and training

Arrange your education in reverse chronological order, with your most recent example displayed first. Include the name of the institution, subjects, dates and your grades.

Employment and work experience

Depending on how much experience you have, you might want to separate out and highlight any legal, commercial or voluntary experience.

Additional skills

A brief mention of other relevant skills you have such as the languages you speak.

Extracurricular activities

Mention things you do outside of work and the classroom such as sports and clubs.

Referees

Provide contact details for two referees, ideally one academic and one employer.

Covering letter tips

  • Aim for a professional and personable tone
  • Fonts and formatting – maximum of one side of white A4 paper, with the same font as your CV. Proofread carefully to avoid spelling and grammar mistakes.
  • Find out who you are addressing – find out the name of the recipient if possible and sign off ‘Yours sincerely’. Try to avoid using Dear Sir or Madam, but if you do remember to use ‘Yours faithfully’ instead.
  • Signing off – be polite, say thank you and that you look forward to hearing from them.

Covering letter structure and layout

The purpose of your application

Talk about the vacancy you are applying for and where you saw it.

Why are you applying to them?

Explain why you are interested in their organisation.

Why should they pick you?

Explain what you have to offer that is relevant to them and their vacancy. This could be your 2:1 degree, recent work experience with a similar firm or experience in their area of practice.

Activity – CV Makeover

In this activity, you can practise applying your knowledge of CV writing as you try to improve the CV of a fictitious student named Georgina Berry.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Call the firm you’re targeting, explain that you’d like to send your CV in as a speculative application for a training contract or work experience and ask who to best address the letter to.

If you’re unable to get a specific name, use “Dear Sir/Madam” and you’ll need to sign off as “Yours faithfully”.

Do I need to put my nationality on my CV?

Usually, no. The only exception is if something on your CV strongly suggests that you might need a visa to work, and this is not in fact the case.

Should I put my age/marital status on my CV?

No, a prospective employer shouldn’t be taking either of these pieces of information into account when considering your application.

Definitely mention that you spoke to a representative from the fair and give the name of the event, as it is evidence to back up your interest in the firm and that you have done your research.

In future, write down the name of whoever you speak to at a law fair straight after you have spoken to them. Usually exhibitors wear name badges but if not, politely ask if you can take their name at the end of your discussion.

It is important to keep to the two page limit, so you will need to work out a way of cutting down the content without losing your key selling points.

If you’ve accepted your place or are currently studying with us, seek advice from our careers advisers. If you’re an alumni student, you can email our employability team for support.

Next step: 7

Go to step 7 in the Student Employability Programme.

Next step

Employability

Find out how to make the best start to your career through our Employability and Careers Service.

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