Lawyers are lousy at marketing themselves to other lawyers. Just put out an ad for hiring a new lawyer and the proof of this statement, in the form of badly written applications, will come streaming in.
This week, I read a job application from an LL.B. graduate from England and Wales. It started “Hello,” Out sputtered a few lines of marketing jargon intended to impress the reader. The candidate then claimed to be familiar with the Canadian legal system. He had not bothered to find out his degree – an undergraduate LL.B. – does not qualify him to practice law in Canada. What a lawyer he would be!
Watch the jargon
There is a lot of good advice out there in the employment coaching business. Be cautious, because most of it is geared to communicating in “HR-speak.” Covering letters and resumes geared to land you a job as a management trainee in a business outside of law will not get you past the filter of a managing partner of a law firm. Law firm managing partners are (surprise!) lawyers. Good managing partners are sticklers for detail, so a loosely worded letter will not get you past the cut.
A job application is an act of persuasion
Detail and precision, however, do not mean volume and repetition. After reading uninspiring job applications, I am frequently been tempted to pull out the highlighter and count the number of times an author uses the words, “in addition,” “challenging,” and other filler ablatives and adjectives. If you want to leave the impression this is just another in a series of jobs you plan to have, then go ahead. The interviewer wants to evaluate you for how well you will fit in. If you want to telegraph an understanding of what the reader wants, then present an argument. Sell yourself as a complete package. Tie your attributes together with purpose, and show you are more than a list of experiences.
Words are lawyers’ tools of the trade. Prove you know how to use them
Despite the parochial education these partners received decades ago, they tend to be open-minded about most things – except for grammar and style. Subjects, objects, verb tenses, active and passive voices, singulars and plurals may be all kinda fluid in this social media world. But for a world where words translate to real power, and the failure to use them effectively can lead to the loss of rights, written language is critical. You are applying for a job as a lawyer. Just think of what that means, and what the public expects from someone holding that title. Don’t write a covering letter which is hard to read, repetitive and imprecise.
Conseil aux avocats francophones
Et si vous êtes francophone, il faut noter que la plupart des avocats-associés dans le secteur privée d’Ontario sont anglophones et unilingues. N’essayez pas de rédiger une lettre en français et de le traduire en anglais. Le rythme et le style du texte anglais ne sont pas les mêmes qu’en français. Commencez le brouillon en anglais, et puis consultez un ami ou un collègue anglophone à qui vous faites confiance, pour son opinion.