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Dalila2

Cover Letter Advice - no interviews

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Posted (edited)

Hello everyone, 

I am looking for advice beyond the ‘do what you feel best represents you’ that career services provided me. 
 I am about to graduate from a combined MBA/JD program this spring and have not yet secured articles. I do have a banking job to turn to, but general consensus seems to be not articling or working in law will close the door on my being a lawyer. 

I believe my failure to find articling is because I lost my husband in the first year of school, literally weeks before 1L exams. I went ahead with exams after the news (both because I’d put a year of hardwork in and I honestly could not afford to pay the tuition again) but scored awfully, resulting in 3 Cs and a C-. Rather than take the next year off, I enrolled in a combined program and stuck to the business classes the next 3 semesters. After a term of Bs, I scored straight As the rest of the business program. Back in law, I scored mostly B+s and A-s.
However, due to the nature of the combined program, I only took a 10 law options and they are fairly random (anything that was applicable to my life (ie. tax, legislation, family, policing, etc). 
 

I am have not yet addressed this in any cover letters and have not received a response from 40+ applications at this point.  I have had my resume and cover letter reviewed many times in both law and business. 
My original interest was in criminal law but I didn’t anticipate I would be the only provider for my family as I started my legal career (hours/client securing concerns) [edit to add: I am late 30s with 4yo and 6yo & a background in running a local shop]. I think this is a big part of my desire to apply to general firms, but I have little to say to convey my interest as I do not know a lot about most areas of law (took so few courses) or what day to day practice looks like in those areas. 

I have not addressed my loss in my cover letter or spoken to my poor grades, as I assumed I could speak to them in an interview - but I have not yet received one. I am unsure if those marks really are insurmountable and I should accept that and look to other options and would like to hear any thoughts on this or advice on what to try next. 
Harsh realities and inspiring anecdotes welcome. 
 

Edited by Dalila2
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I would address it. So sorry for your loss.

Those marks are quite poor but you had extreme extenuating circumstances between losing your husband and becoming a single parent. The fact that you even passed your exams at that point is very impressive. No decent employer will hold your 1L marks against you. 

I think it will be a hard to get an interview without employers knowing what led to those grades, so I’d add a sentence offering some explanation of the circumstances. 

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Thank you for your reply. I had avoided mentioning it as there seems to be an alternative opinion that an explanation is just an excuse. The last ‘first impression’ that I would want to make is that my loss defines me as a potential employee.  
 

Any advice on how to address that my course load really was not tailored to a specific practice area?
[I have lurked on this forum long enough to know the importance of a “demonstrated interest”, but remain bewildered as to how a law student truly understands practice enough to develop one.] Does having the skills from an MBA provide a potential selling feature to solo/small/medium firms?

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The marks are not insurmountable because you have described a clear upward trend + your poor 1L marks have a very sympathetic explanation. 

Experience running a local shop + experience in banking can both be decent assets for someone seeking certain types of law jobs. The MBA itself could serve as "demonstrated interest" for some types of law. I'm thinking more corporate or commercial practice areas, but the smaller you get every type of practice is fundamentally entrepreneurial. 

For certain offices I could see your perseverance and entrepreneurial slant as being pretty attractive. Running a law office can be tough and you seem pretty fucking tough.  

 

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Posted (edited)
22 minutes ago, Dalila2 said:

Thank you for your reply. I had avoided mentioning it as there seems to be an alternative opinion that an explanation is just an excuse. The last ‘first impression’ that I would want to make is that my loss defines me as a potential employee.  
 

Any advice on how to address that my course load really was not tailored to a specific practice area?
[I have lurked on this forum long enough to know the importance of a “demonstrated interest”, but remain bewildered as to how a law student truly understands practice enough to develop one.] Does having the skills from an MBA provide a potential selling feature to solo/small/medium firms?

I think giving a reason for poor grades could read as an excuse if it was something trivial. But I don't think a quick note explaining that you suffered a major and life-altering personal tragedy could ever be read as an "excuse", unless the person reviewing your application has no empathy whatsoever. Your grades improved substantially afterwards so it's not an excuse so much as it is context. Law is a demanding profession, so employers are going to want to know what led to you "struggling" in 1L and whether the issue will arise again (obviously it won't, in your case). I understand your hesitancy, but it's about giving the employer a fuller picture of your circumstances, not asking for special treatment. 

Are you applying to firms with a solicitor practice? I would think a MBA would be very attractive to solo/small/medium firms that do business law. 

 

Edited by Starling
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Thank you very much for your advice. 
I feel less disheartened on the Articling search knowing a few tweaks may help me land an interview or two. 

26 minutes ago, Starling said:

I don't think a quick note explaining that you suffered a major and life-altering personal tragedy could ever be read as an "excuse", unless the person reviewing your application has no empathy whatsoever.

 

Apologies for taking up more of your time, but where would I be best to put such a sentence? In the first paragraph outlining my background and interest or towards the end, alongside my academic achievements and extracurriculars? 
 

28 minutes ago, Starling said:

Are you applying to firms with a solicitor practice? I would think a MBA would be very attractive to solo/small/medium firms that do business law. 

 

Mostly small- or mid- size general firms (general practice having small business, Wills, real estate, etc) and even a few solo practitioners if the posting was up. 

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Posted (edited)
9 minutes ago, Dalila2 said:

 

Apologies for taking up more of your time, but where would I be best to put such a sentence? In the first paragraph outlining my background and interest or towards the end, alongside my academic achievements and extracurriculars? 
 

 

No problem, ask as many questions as you like! 

I'd probably put it near your academic achievements. I'd note the strong upward trend and you could probably just mention a personal tragedy as being the circumstances behind your 1L grades, since you may not want to get into too much detail in a cover letter. 

Edit: in response to your other response, I would definitely hype up your MBA and talk about how having a better understanding of how a client's business works will help you serve them better. Or something. 

Edited by Starling
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38 minutes ago, BringBackCrunchBerries said:

For certain offices I could see your perseverance and entrepreneurial slant as being pretty attractive. Running a law office can be tough and you seem pretty fucking tough.  

 

Thank you for this. My experience in law school was that my personal tragedy made me suddenly someone to write off and I had projected that mindset onto potential employers  in not addressing it.
Your perspective is empowering in knowing how hard I worked that I can be proud of it. 

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The advice provided above is spot on. 

I'd also recommend focusing on networking with lawyers that you admire and asking how they'd go about applying to jobs, and working with your schools Career Services Office - you pay them to help with this sort of thing. I know these tips are generic but they cannot be overstated.

 

 

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Posted (edited)
8 minutes ago, Dalila2 said:

Thank you for this. My experience in law school was that my personal tragedy made me suddenly someone to write off and I had projected that mindset onto potential employers  in not addressing it.
Your perspective is empowering in knowing how hard I worked that I can be proud of it. 

You have a lot to be proud of. You've been through so much, along with your kids, and came out of it with two advanced degrees. I can't even imagine getting through law school in your circumstances. 

If anyone actually wrote you off, they're just lucky enough not to understand real loss or the impact it has. Don't put stock in their opinion of you; it's meaningless. 

Edited by Starling
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9 minutes ago, Starling said:

you could probably just mention a personal tragedy as being the circumstances behind your 1L grades

Not to get pedantic. And I recognize that this is obviously a personal choice for OP. However, I do feel that framing it as losing a husband weeks before exams is more compelling than as "a personal tragedy." When I read OP's post, I want to help. If I read that OP had a "personal tragedy", that's a lot more subjective. It could mean anything from losing a husband to a hamster with glaucoma. It doesn't move me in the same way, and doesn't give me the same insight into why OP's grades dropped in 1L. 

Again, it's OP's choice - they should do whatever they're comfortable with. But maybe something to think about.

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Posted (edited)
17 minutes ago, Starling said:

If anyone actually wrote you off, they're just lucky enough not to understand real loss or the impact it has. Don't put stock in their opinion of you; it's meaningless. 

100% agree. 

Edited by realpseudonym
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Posted (edited)
4 minutes ago, realpseudonym said:

Not to get pedantic. And I recognize that this is obviously a personal choice for OP. However, I do feel that framing it as losing a husband weeks before exams is more compelling than as "a personal tragedy." When I read OP's post, I want to help. If I read that OP had a "personal tragedy", that's a lot more subjective. It could mean anything from losing a husband to a hamster with glaucoma. It doesn't move me in the same way, and doesn't give me the same insight into why OP's grades dropped in 1L. 

Again, it's OP's choice - they should do whatever they're comfortable with. But maybe something to think about.

That's true, you're right. I guess I thought OP might not be comfortable with sharing that much detail in the cover letter but you make good points. 🙂

Edited by Starling
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9 minutes ago, Dalila2 said:

Thank you for this. My experience in law school was that my personal tragedy made me suddenly someone to write off and I had projected that mindset onto potential employers  in not addressing it.
Your perspective is empowering in knowing how hard I worked that I can be proud of it. 

You've been given good advice here and I don't have anything to add to that.

I just wanted to echo though that your perseverance and what you've accomplished in your circumstances truly is inspiring. I wanted to emphasize this because I'm sure that your articling hunt has been discouraging, but I wanted to make sure that you know that from the outside looking in what you've done thus far is quite remarkable.

I'm confident that if you tell your story, employers will feel that way too.

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5 minutes ago, Starling said:

That's true, you're right. I guess I thought OP might not be comfortable with sharing that much detail in the cover letter but you make good points. 🙂

Something like this. I know the world of law is small and I don’t want my reputation to be premised on my tragedy. I can - and hopefully will - excel as a lawyer and want my eventual success to stand on its own. I know we don’t choose our circumstances, but I try hard not to be defined by mine.


This thread has helped me to realize that acknowledging them and being defined by them are actually very different things, even if law school wasn’t conducive to that line of reasoning. 
 

Thank you sincerely to every one for their words of encouragement and helpful advice. 

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13 hours ago, Dalila2 said:

Hello everyone, 

I am looking for advice beyond the ‘do what you feel best represents you’ that career services provided me. 
 I am about to graduate from a combined MBA/JD program this spring and have not yet secured articles. I do have a banking job to turn to, but general consensus seems to be not articling or working in law will close the door on my being a lawyer. 

I believe my failure to find articling is because I lost my husband in the first year of school, literally weeks before 1L exams. I went ahead with exams after the news (both because I’d put a year of hardwork in and I honestly could not afford to pay the tuition again) but scored awfully, resulting in 3 Cs and a C-. Rather than take the next year off, I enrolled in a combined program and stuck to the business classes the next 3 semesters. After a term of Bs, I scored straight As the rest of the business program. Back in law, I scored mostly B+s and A-s.
However, due to the nature of the combined program, I only took a 10 law options and they are fairly random (anything that was applicable to my life (ie. tax, legislation, family, policing, etc). 
 

I am have not yet addressed this in any cover letters and have not received a response from 40+ applications at this point.  I have had my resume and cover letter reviewed many times in both law and business. 
My original interest was in criminal law but I didn’t anticipate I would be the only provider for my family as I started my legal career (hours/client securing concerns) [edit to add: I am late 30s with 4yo and 6yo & a background in running a local shop]. I think this is a big part of my desire to apply to general firms, but I have little to say to convey my interest as I do not know a lot about most areas of law (took so few courses) or what day to day practice looks like in those areas. 

I have not addressed my loss in my cover letter or spoken to my poor grades, as I assumed I could speak to them in an interview - but I have not yet received one. I am unsure if those marks really are insurmountable and I should accept that and look to other options and would like to hear any thoughts on this or advice on what to try next. 
Harsh realities and inspiring anecdotes welcome. 
 

I'm so sorry for your loss. While you may not want to address your personal situation in your cover letter, I do think you can indirectly mention it without going into detail. It would be a good idea to explain how you persevered through law school during a very difficult time of your life while juggling your responsibilities as the breadwinner of the family. Employers are looking for lawyers who have such qualities and I think your experience is a fitting testament to your resilience and determination. 

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Posted (edited)

@Dalila2 I am so incredibly sorry for your loss, but admire you for your resilience and perseverance. To that end, I recommend that you note your resilience in your cover letters. I make no pretence of having the same experience as you, but to share a bit of background, I spent a brief period during undergrad without a home. My family has always had money problems, and this was the genesis of such problems. I struggled to balance school and working 2-3 jobs for a long time, but I got back on my feet. Soon thereafter, I became the legal guardian of my younger brother. I did not expect just a year after getting myself off the street to become responsible for a child not much younger than myself.

All that is to say, while I cannot possibly understand what you're going through, I can at least cognize the difficulties of being the sole provider for multiple mouths whilst trying desperately to advance your career. I noted as much in my cover letters. Not all firms took to it. A few very much did, and have been incredibly supportive. Law can seem incredibly cold at times as a profession, but never lose sight of the fact that at these firms are real people, many of whom have good hearts and loads of empathy. You've shown that you can persevere and succeed in law despite seemingly insurmountable circumstances. That shows more than just a sympathetic narrative. It shows strength the likes of which few of your peers have ever had the opportunity to demonstrate, strength which you will need to be a terrific lawyer. Say as much in your cover letter. The firms worth working at will recognize your strength.

Edited by UTorontoLit
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I am so sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine losing my wife and being the sole caretaker of my kids at all, let alone with a few weeks before exams and then bringing myself to write them. I agree with @Starling, the fact that you were able to pass at all is an incredible accomplishment. 

If it helps, perhaps try to frame it as an example of your resilience and perseverance. That way you are achieving two purposes, highlighting how incredible it was that you were able to even write exams after a loss like that (let alone pass) and it provides an explanation for the poor grades (which, I agree, no decent employer would ever hold against you). 

I have every confidence that if the grades are put into context you will find something soon. 

Best of luck!

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Sorry if someone already suggested this, but I wonder if there’s any merit to having a cover sheet to your transcript that’s separate from your cover letter. That way you’re not giving up real estate in your cover letter. Might be worth discussing approaches with your CSO if you haven’t already.  

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