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You've Got a Story to Tell

Sometimes people have unique stories behind their reasons for pursuing a certain career, changing careers, or taking a break from the law or the working world altogether. If you feel that you have a story that you need to tell in order to make your experience understandable to employers, go ahead and tell it. Just make sure that you don't go overboard. You want to give enough information that the employer gets where you're coming from, but you don't want to write a novel in the process. Below are some examples of cover letters that address unique circumstances in a job-seeker's background:

Dear Hiring Coordinator:

Since graduating cum laude from University of Connecticut Law School in 1996, I have gained significant experience as a corporate attorney and, most recently, as a pro bono attorney helping to advise small businesses in disadvantaged Connecticut communities. In 2002, I left work for several months, as my husband was fighting cancer and I wanted to focus all of my energy on battling his illness. In light of that experience, I have re-evaluated my goals and am now focused on transitioning to a practice in the areas of trusts, wills, and estate planning. As such, I hope to explore opportunities for employment with your firm.

While it was extremely difficult for me to assist my husband with his estate planning needs, drafting his will, naming beneficiaries of his life insurance policies, selecting a health care proxy, applying for social security benefits and managing his disability insurance gave him a sense of control in the midst of all the chaos. I want to give this sense of comfort and control to others.

I am now seeking a new challenge where I can utilize both my corporate law experience and the legal skills that I have acquired relating to estate planning and administration. I am looking forward to engaging in work that will allow me to pay close attention to clients' needs and help them achieve personal goals.

Please contact me to further discuss my qualifications and your firm's current needs. I look forward to hearing from you.


Attorney X
Dear X:

Life's greatest opportunities can sometimes come disguised as its toughest challenges. Recent events in my professional life reflect exactly such a situation.

After four years of service, I was recently laid off from Spears, Daugherty & Poor. I began as a summer associate with the firm, continued as an intern, and as an associate, I excelled with the real estate work to which Spears assigned me. As a first-year associate, I was already bringing new clients to the firm. Unfortunately, the changes in the economy made it simply impossible for Spears to maintain all of its numerous real estate attorneys. In 2002 it was found necessary to conduct a third round of massive nationwide layoffs, and I, as a junior associate, was among those who left the firm.

As distressing as this turn of events was, there was a hopeful aspect. I resolved almost immediately to use this opportunity to begin my practice anew in the field which had originally motivated me to become an attorney-environmental law.

I feel well prepared to enter into this practice area. As an undergraduate, I earned simultaneous degrees-a B.A. in Spanish and a B.S. in Geology. Prior to attending law school, I worked as a science research assistant, and while pursuing my law degree I enrolled in numerous environmental and land use courses. Furthermore, as my previous practice at Spears was primarily real estate-oriented, I have had extensive exposure to site assessments, toxic torts, and construction litigation. Since my layoff, I have also been sharpening my expertise in environmental law as well as taking time out to get married. I am now ready and excited to take on a challenging new position.

As I am entering a new legal area, I am flexible as to year classification and compensation. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss with you in person my potential with your firm. Please contact me at your earliest convenience if you would like to arrange a meeting.


Environmental Advocate
Dear X:

I am a recent law school graduate with extensive real estate experience and an unparalleled work ethic who is interested in joining your firm. Since earning my law degree cum laude from the University of Texas School of Law, I have taken and passed the North Carolina Bar Examination. Now, I am eager to apply my dedication, passion, and motivation as a first-year associate.

As my enclosed resume indicates, I split my legal education between Texas and the Duke University School of Law. This unique circumstance was a result of my having to return home to the North Carolina area after my first year of law school to care for a critically ill family member. Despite the situation at home, however, I maintained a 3.2 at one of the nation's top law schools, refusing to defer my dream of a successful legal career.

Since relocating to the United States with my family at twelve years of age, I have played a crucial role in managing my family's business-a real estate leasing company. As a result, I have developed a keen business sense, excellent communication skills, and the ability to work under pressure.

I truly enjoy the business aspects of legal issues and transactions, and I am confident that my experience, both personal and professional, well prepares me to handle your clients' needs. I am no stranger to hard work and know the importance of caring about the work product that is produced. I can adapt quickly to new environments, step up to challenges, and see projects through to successful completion. Additionally, I believe my bilingual skills are an asset given the rapid growth of the Hispanic community in North Carolina

Please contact me at your earliest convenience to personally discuss my qualifications and the ways in which I can benefit your firm. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Yours truly,

Attorney Z
Not all stories should be told-even if they do help someone understand your plight. If you received poor grades, in particular, the best remedy is to omit any mention of them from both your resume and your cover letter. If an employer asks for a transcript, at that point you can provide an explanation. But even then, you should make sure that you don't get into too many personal or intricate details as they may hurt rather than help. Here is an excerpt of a cover letter I read, which serves as an example of "what not to do" in telling your story:
Unfortunately my law school grades were not what they should be. I became severely stressed after moving out west and away from my family. Then I got wrapped up in a bad relationship with a boyfriend who my parents hated. I then underwent breast augmentation surgery because I thought it would help my low self-esteem. It didn't. I started getting anxiety attacks because of my stress, and I started eating less and less. Plus, there were complications with the surgery, which meant I spent a lot of time away from campus and I lost many of my friends. This exacerbated my stress even more.

I actually had a very high LSAT score and had excellent grades as an undergraduate. But all of the things that happened during law school caused me to drop to the bottom of my class. I promise that I do excellent work as an attorney, however, and I would welcome the opportunity to prove it.
Hopefully these examples gave you some insight into how to present yourself in the most flattering light possible, regardless of your situation. It's OK to let a bit of your personality come through in your cover letter. If you can get employers to view you as someone who works hard, who is truly committed to the work you do, and who has succeeded in the past, then you've done your job.

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