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Below is our summary guidance for CVs and covering letters for solicitors, barristers and legal executives. More CV articles can be found on our site, on www.legalrecruitment.blogspot.com and www.legal-recruitment.co.uk.
A successful CV needs to have the following sections on it:
A personal detail section which is headed Curriculum Vitae of John Smith or your name.
Your telephone number.
A mobile number if possible.
A work telephone number if possible.
Your e-mail address.
Any other contact details you may have.
Your date of birth.
Your marital status and sex (both optional).
Whether you hold a full, clean driving licence.
Your next section should be your education section. This should have in chronological order the items as follows:
1. Your PSC, LPC and CPE (if relevant).
2. Details of your degree.
3. Details of your A levels.
4. Details of your GCSEs.
At this level in your career you would not expect to be presenting all your GCSEs and it does suffice to say 10 GCSEs at grades A – C including maths and English.
In respect to your degree there are a number of ways of presenting this and the most common method is simply to put the dates you were at university with the establishment and location, on the second line put the title of your degree, on the third line put the class of your degree and on the fourth line include a section saying subjects included and then include some examples such as Tort (88%), English legal system (22%). On the next line if you have completed a dissertation it is worth putting the title here (unless it is non-law related and not very interesting!). The other method of putting down your degree which is especially important if you do not have that much legal experience is to include a short list of each year you were at university.
If you did anything else at university that is academically linked you may put it in this section.
The A Level section simply needs to state the date, the establishment and location, the A Level titles together with the grades. It is important to put your grades even if they are pretty appalling. Failure to do so will mean that firms will automatically assume that your grades were appalling and in any event will not proceed further with the application.
The next section after your education is perhaps the most important section on your CV. Work experience is absolutely vital to any legal firm. It is therefore important that any experience you have, even if you think it to be trivial, is expanded upon in as much detail as possible in this section. You should put this in chronological order with the dates, the establishment and location together with the title of position you held. 3/4 page for your most recent position is about right.
Computer & Language Skills
The next section after this is the computer and language skills. This is more important these days than it has been in the past as firms want to see who is computer literate and who clearly would not be able to assist them with their I.T. requirements. Normally the following entry will suffice: Proficient with the use of Microsoft Office products including Excel and Access, full ability to use internet and e-mail facilities, legal research CD’s and internet search engines.
If you have language skills it is much better to put them down with a comparison so that firms can see what “basic French” actually means. For example can you order a meal at a restaurant, or can you hold a conversation with a native French speaker.
Activities & Interests
The final section and perhaps the second most important is the activities and interests section. Most people believe that a list with the words ‘reading’, ‘skiing’, ‘playing various sports’ and ‘socialising with friends’ will suffice. It will not! Firms are looking for somebody with a well rounded background and with the ability to hold a conversation. You will not be able to hold a very long conversation with a partner interviewing you if all he has in front of him for your activities and interests is the words ‘reading’. He can ask you what books you read and you can answer although in most cases this is not going to be a long conversation! The same applies with going out and socialising with friends. How on earth does this relate to the question? Are they going to see from this that you are somebody who goes out and gets drunk six nights a week and who may not be able to focus on your work sufficiently the next day? People seem to think the reason you put this down is because firms can then see what a well-rounded individual you are. This is incorrect. Everybody socialises with other people to a certain extent. It has no relevance to anything and should be avoided like the plague!
You do not need to give references at this stage, and references available on request will suffice. Indeed there are firms out there who request references prior to deciding whether to offer a post, and this can put you in an awkward position.
Contrary to popular opinion your covering letter should be something that can actually be read.
Too many people write a big long list of all the words they think a solicitors firm want to see in a covering letter and example of this is “I am pro-active in my development of my legal knowledge and wish to practice in a firm that offers an open strategic environment suitable to a development of a career in these fields of law”.
Three or four paragraphs of writing with the appropriate salutation with ‘yours sincerely’ or ‘yours faithfully’ at the bottom.
The three paragraphs should include a paragraph saying that you wish to apply for the job. A paragraph explaining who you are, at what stage of your career you are at and what you are aiming to do.
A paragraph outlining any information that is going to be of interest to a firm and is particularly relevant to a certain firm as opposed to being a general catch all paragraph. Then a final paragraph to say that you have enclosed your CV and you look forward to hearing from the firm.
If you follow these basic guidelines you will ensure that your covering letter is not too long or waffling and that it is read to a certain extent by the firm.