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Resume Tips for Lawyers

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Will Rogers

Actor, Humorist

Many experts in the job recruiting field agree: there probably isn’t one correct way to write or design a resume—but there are wrong ways.

A strong resume is of great importance as it represents an employer’s or job recruiter’s first impression of you as a professional. We will dive into the specifics but your resume needs to be accurate, concise, well-organized, easy-to-read, visually strong, and error-free. Bear in mind that the recruiter or HR person will spend no longer than fifteen to thirty seconds on your resume. For this glimpse of your experience to be effective, the resume must be succinct while still offering the reader enough intel on you to pique their interest. A compelling resume informs a prospective firm or employer that you could be a solid asset before they’ve even met you.

Remember, as soon as you submit your resume you’ve engaged in a very competitive operation—you’re competing against other qualified candidates for a lawyer position. Therefore it’s your primary function to make the most important aspects of your career “jump off the page.”

Let’s start with the basics:

The Heading—include your name, mailing address, phone number, email address, and if you want to include your gender pronouns, this is a good place to list.

Listing Education vs. Experience—this is a common question, here’s the general rule: list first whichever makes you appear to be the most qualified to handle the job.

  • If you’re new to the profession and don’t have a great deal of experience, you will want to list your degrees in reverse chronological order. (Suggestion: do not include your high school.) As is the case throughout your resume, keep education brief. Let’s say your JD degree is from an Ivy League school, you probably don’t need any further information. If your degree is from a lesser known law school, you may want to include strong but brief facts such as class rank and honors. This is true even if during undergraduate, for instance: “magna cum laude in Political Science.”

  • If you’re an experienced attorney employed by top and/or well-known firms with an impressive list of clients, you will obviously want to lead with this information. Once again, list everything in reverse chronological order.

  • If you fall somewhere between these two above scenarios, choose your experience over education.

These are general conventions. Specific circumstances may alter or dictate your strategy when it comes to what goes first (or helping a piece of information to “jump off the page”). You may have fifteen years of outstanding legal experience at a top firm but you also graduated near the top of your class at a leading law school. You may decide to start with education.

Keep Your Resume Short

We can’t emphasize this enough. Keep picturing in your mind hiring managers skimming through resumes quickly, just a bit slower than a blackjack dealer in Vegas. You need simplicity that will grab their attention immediately. Be concise. Every word on the page should have a purpose.

Experts stress that you should keep your resume to one page. Of course, the longer you’ve been practicing the tougher it becomes. They suggest you can draft a two-page document if you have more than five or six years of strong experience. But never go beyond two pages including any publishing credits you may want to highlight.

Streamlined Format & Layout Law firms engage in critical work. They want to work with professionals who are equally dedicated and serious. Your resume should reflect your understanding of this basic tenet. That’s why the document should be easy to read, to the point, and with a simple format and layout. Your resume is not an avant-garde showpiece for an ad agency.

Use a standard font like Times New Roman with a font size of 11 points. Bold your section headers and do not use colors, text boxes, or multiple fonts. Streamline everything—for example, simplify dates by only using years and not months. Use bullet points wherever possible; this will help the reader lock onto the most important points.

Be Precise, Clear-Cut (and above all else) Be Honest

With regard to work experience, some attorneys focus on one specialty while others may practice in various arenas. Your resume should emphasize your specific expertise that speaks to the job at hand. Experts advise that you may craft more than one version of your resume—one that speaks specifically to a certain forte and another that’s more generalist in nature.

Stick to education and experience. Don’t bog down your resume down with skills that all lawyers should have like writing and research skills. Those should be a given and not necessary to mention. Also, if you’re a young attorney climbing the ladder, listing certain classes you had in school or seminars you’ve taken should not be included. Taking a class does not qualify you in the practice of law.

As you list your work experience with a firm, offer concrete examples. Don’t simply write that you have a certain expertise in the banking industry; be assertive with action-oriented statements like: Created internal auditing system for the Very Large Bank Corporation of America in order to monitor inter-governmental transactions. When describing specifics, use action verbs such as developed… drafted… implemented… negotiated… and so forth.

Lastly, be honest about everything on your resume. Lawyers are really good at identifying hyperbole and embellishment. Also, make sure you can speak intelligently and address everything on your resume in great detail.

Proffread. Proufread. And then Proofread again…

You can never proofread your resume too many times. In fact, we recommend that you have more than one set of eyes carefully proof your document.

Bonus tip: always send your resume as a PDF file and not a Word document.

Cite Relevant Experience & Skills

If possible, refer to experience solely in the practice of law. Only highlight work outside of the law profession if the position or experience is (1) of a magnitude that will interest or grab the attention of the recruiter or the firm (you were the Assistant General Manager of the San Francisco Giants); or (2), if the firm specializes in banking or you’re going for an in-house position at a bank and you have previous experience working as an investment banker. Germane information like this will be of interest and important to include.

Relevant skills should be mentioned only if they have a direct impact on your qualifications such as an additional language(s) for immigration law or medical expertise if the firm deals with malpractice.

Parting Shot

Always remember that your resume is a marketing tool and an advertising device—about you.

If it’s short, streamlined, precise, honest, relevant, and proofread, you have nothing to worry about and nothing to hide behind. Never has the adage “truth in advertising” been more important than when describing yourself. Your resume is a professional 10,000-foot glimpse of your ongoing career and your possible value to a firm. It’s your calling card to get in the door. And then, folks, it’s showtime.

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