In-House Counsel Cover Letters

This is the second part of a series on getting yourself in the door to an in-house position. If it’s not up your alley, read no further. Based on the feedback I received from last week’s entry, this is helpful to some folks out there. Don’t worry, my tell-all book is in the works, and when I’m ready to retire, I’ll regale you with stories of love triangles and hexagons that will make your head spin. Until then, let’s work on getting you that gig in-house.

It is presumed that you worked hard on your resumes and cover letters in law school, vetted them through the career office, and had at least two or more folks review them before sending them out for OCI and beyond. If you’ve been practicing for a while, and are now looking to jump in-house, you’ve likely dusted off your resume and edited it to include the substantive work you’ve done, your many court appearances, and your list of mega deals that you’ve brought to completion. Or not. The reality may be that you don’t have all that much “sexy” work to list on your updated resume.

This may not be a problem…

Depending upon which position you’re going for, a diverse experience at your firm can be a great benefit to your candidacy. The smaller the shop, the more they’re going to be looking for someone who knows enough about several topics to be useful. So, if you’ve spent your time in litigation handling IP cases, securities transactions, bankruptcy fights, and so on, you could turn out to be an ideal candidate for a particular in-house gig. To put a finer point on it, the more you’ve handled in private practice, the more attractive you’d be to a company looking for a generalist. This is generally the opposite of what law firms are looking for in lateral candidates.

So, as far as your resume goes, tailor it to the job you’re seeking. But don’t just say “handle securities transactions.” Instead, go into as much detail as possible about what substantive knowledge you have about securities. Did you handle filings, proxies, reporting, compliance, etc.? The same goes for any area of law for which the company is hiring. The rule about the one-page resume may well not be appropriate for an in-house job. Detailed information carries the day as far as I am concerned.

The exact opposite strategy should go into your cover letter. Your old letter likely goes into depth that your old resume did not. On and on about your qualifications, and your desires and your successes, etc. Cover letters are usually nothing more than a chance to screw up your candidacy. Be bold. Think about the company you’re applying to, and tell them what they want to hear. If it’s a sell-side company, tell them why you will boost the year-end numbers. Give evidence of what you’ll do for the company instead of droning on about your experience in a given area.

“Dear so-and-so, I possess the qualities you seek. In my current position, I have helped clients achieve annual revenue in the tens of millions of dollars. I will do the same for you. I look forward to meeting you.” Done.

If the recruiter likes what you have to say upfront, they’ll go on to read the interesting and informative resume you’ve prepared. If not, they won’t. But, depending upon the job you’re seeking, boldness can help you stand out from the hundreds or thousands of other candidates. In this economy, it doesn’t hurt to be bold. It might not be wise to be arrogant, but placing yourself in the recruiter’s shoes in order to help you craft a letter that makes them want to hire you is the way to go.

For next week: you’re in the door, and the process begins. How to keep the ball rolling and receive an offer.

After two federal clerkships and several years as a litigator in law firms, David Mowry is happily ensconced as an in-house lawyer at a major technology company. He specializes in commercial leasing transactions, only sometimes misses litigation, and never regrets leaving firm life. You can reach him by email at

Your name
Street Address
City, State zip

Employer Name
Street Address
City, State, Zip


First paragraph: Mention the name of any person who referred you to this employer first, if this information is available to include. Otherwise, start your letter with a powerful statement that will grab the reader's attention. Identify yourself and the type of position you are seeking. State how you heard about this job opening. ("As an attorney with 15 years experience in the prosecutor's office, I am writing in response to your advertisement in the New York Times for litigators.")

Second paragraph: Explain why you are qualified for or interested in this particular position. Stress how you can benefit the employer and what you have to offer. Don't repeat word-for-word the text of your resume. Rather, highlight and embellish upon the most significant aspects of your background with regard to the particular employer. Consider using bullets to draw attention to your accomplishments.

Third paragraph: Restate your interest in the particular organization, and express your desire for an interview. State how the employer may contact you if your address and phone number are different from the information on your resume. You may also state that you will call to set up an appointment. If you are truly interested in this job, feel free to take the initiative.


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Excerpted from Jobs for Lawyers by Hillary Jane Mantis & Kathleen Brady (Impact Publications 1996).

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