Hiring newly minted law school graduates presents law firms with mission-critical decisions. When the firms choose well, their new Junior Associate will fit the firm’s strategic needs and mesh seamlessly with its culture. When the firms choose poorly, however, everyone suffers—employers and associates alike—and the consequences can be significant.
In this high-stakes employment dance, a clear understanding—from both parties—is most likely to result in a happy marriage. As a candidate, you cannot control how accurately the firms you’re considering portray themselves. You can, however, protect your interests by asking good questions and doing your homework. What’s more, you can—and must—present an accurate and compelling value proposition. When you do, you’ll increase the chances of a solid step towards your professional goals. That’s where the cover letter comes into play.
Basic Requirements for Junior Associate Positions
Junior Associates must be highly knowledgeable about legal principles, systems and procedures. They must be adept at legal research, legal writing, and have the ability to apply relevant law to a changing array of fact patterns. (Yes, your law school transcript is evidence of these skills—but it’s your cover letter’s job to highlight this information.)
Beyond these educational achievements, however, discriminating employers will want more. You’ll need to demonstrate administrative skills, technical skills, and the ability to successfully interact with clients, courts, and other legal institutions.
Traits Prized in a Junior Associate
A successful Junior Associate is a dependable, self-motivated professional who pays close attention to detail. They “play well with others” even when high-pressure situations cause tempers to flare.
Ultimately, however, it is the capacity for sustained productivity that distinguishes the best Junior Associates. They may or may not be the brightest, the nicest, or the most popular member of a firm’s incoming class; but these successful new associates will be among the hardestworking people in any given firm. If you truly are prepared to work hard, make sure that prospective employers understand this.
Junior Associate Cover Letters: What to Include, What to Avoid
- Speak the specific language of each firm to which you apply
- Differentiate yourself! Make a clear and compelling representation of your best skills
- Be accurate and truthful at all times
- Show enthusiasm for the opportunity. (If you’re not enthusiastic, why bother?)
- Use meaningful, well-chosen details to provide context that brings your accomplishments to life.
- Waste the reader’s time (or your own) by trying to “shoehorn” yourself into a position
that clearly is not a good fit for your skill set, experience, values, or career goals
- Water down your background or job history with non-essential details
- Make excuses for any capabilities you might lack
What Experience Should a Junior Associate Applicant Reference?
Stellar law school grades are important—as an indication of your competitive nature, and as “proof points” of your ability to master numerous subjects. A high rank in your graduating class also shows that you know how to please a variety of “clients” (your professors) and that you’ve consistently earned the approval of these knowledgeable individuals.
Here again, however, the critical underlying factor often will be your consistent history of achievement under highly demanding workloads. (Don’t assume that a hiring partner will automatically draw this conclusion from your superior resume. Make sure you highlight your work ethic—and your enthusiasm for this opportunity—in all communications.)
To Win a Junior Associate Position, Find Your “Sweet Spot”
Needless to say, your competition includes lots of top students from many notable law schools. For the most part, your rivals’ college histories and their law school curricula will not be dissimilar to your own. That means your key challenge now is to differentiate and position yourself, so that your candidacy stands out from all the rest
A well-crafted cover letter will help you reach this goal. But don’t underestimate the difficulty of this task. You need to find “the sweet spot”—that place where the needs of the legal marketplace intersect with what makes you unique and your ultimate career goals.
Define Your Unique Value Proposition as a Junior Associate
Will your differentiation grow out of your longstanding involvement in a particular cause? Will it be your passion for a developing issue that promises to be a high-growth practice area? Or will it be language skills, technological expertise, a well-cultivated network that could be important for business development? Now is the time to put on your “marketing” hat.
Find out what’s important to each firm, then customize persuasive cover letters showing why the optimal choice is you.
Not sure where to start with your cover letter? We’ve provided a template for a Junior Associate Cover Letter here to help you get started. Remember to customize this for each application you submit. Good luck!