In every field, having a flawless and professional resume is imperative to getting your foot in the door for an interview, but in the field of law, this is even more true. As an attorney, you’re expected to possess utter attention to detail and be very savvy about the best way to present yourself.
Here are ten things we’ve learned about law resumes during our many years placing senior level attorneys in their dream jobs.
1. Keep it short. If you're a recent graduate or you’re new to the field of law, keep your resume to one page. If you have more experience, it’s okay for your CV to be two pages, but make sure it’s still concise and to the point.
"In certain cases you may have additional material to add to your resume - representative cases or published work, for instance - but more is not always better. Don’t clog up your potential employer’s inbox with excess materials." - Niki Zotou, Manager of the legal division at Robert Walters.
2. Sell yourself, but be honest. Don’t exaggerate or overinflate your experience and skills. Be specific about your experience and back it up with details. Always be ready to defend those details with facts and anecdotes in a face-to-face interview.
3. Customize your resume to include information specific to the job you’re applying for. Every resume you send out should be slightly different. This is particularly true for the short objective that opens your first page. Instead of simply rehashing your skills, make a pointed reference to the job you are applying for, and make your objective about what you can do for them; not just what you are looking for in a job. For example:
Attorney with 7 years of volunteer work in civil rights seeks nonprofit to assist with legal issues.
4. List your educational achievements in reverse chronological order. Include basic information about the schools you attended, your degrees, thesis topics, and other achievements (see the next point for more). Do not, however, list LSAT scores. They are irrelevant to your actual academic performance.
And remember, most legal departments and law firms will background-check your academic information before hiring you, so it’s vital that you are entirely honest - no embellishing the facts of your education.
5. Consider whether to include your law school GPA. The American Bar Association recommends including your GPA only if it’s above 3.0. But note that most hiring committees will assume that no GPA is a bad GPA. You can offset this with references to academic achievements and activities. List any professionally relevant extracurricular experiences you engaged in, organization memberships, leadership positions, and awards won.
Law firms and departments tend to be very credential conscious. So never skimp on bragging about your scholastic and other achievements.
In certain cases you may have additional material to add to your resume - representative cases or published work, for instance - but more is not always better.
6. If you’re newer to the field, include unpaid legal experience. And if you still need to bulk up your resume with non-legal experience, be sure to visually separate it on your CV. If your resume is on the lean side, and a lot of your job experience is not law-related, you can put a positive spin on your “other” work by saying things like “Financed law school with employment at XYZ while in school full-time.” This helps bulk up your experience while insinuating that you’re a committed hard worker. It also proves that you can hold down a job.
It is important to explain any gaps in time in your resume even if you were not working. “Sabbatical to gain travel experience” or “full-time student” are valid excuses for a six-month gap in your work experience.
7. This is true of all resumes, but particularly true for those in the legal field: in general, leave off personal information that it would not be legal for a prospective employer to ask you about in an interview. This includes things like marital status, sexual orientation, political affiliations, health, and physical capabilities.
Remember, you can always work this sort of information into an interview if you think it’s important. If there is any chance it will bias the interviewer against you, leave it off.
8. Be unique and interesting, but not overly personal. The American Bar Association says that you should mention a little bit of content to shed light on your personality, but keep it very professional - avoid references to alcohol, for instance, even if you think your sommelier certification was a cultural achievement.
9. Need filler? Other things to consider including:
10. Last and far from least, make sure it’s perfect. Berkeley Law’s rules for resume writing insist that every CV be honest, concise, positive, visually conservative, and also attractive, selective, and perfect - no typos or grammatical errors. Have several people whose grammar skills you trust implicitly proof your resume; don’t just rely on Microsoft Word’s built-in grammar and spell check tools.
And a little grammar hint: save space (and a headache) by leaving out the pronouns. The reader knows this resume is about you; no need to use words like “I,” “mine,” or “Miss Smith.” Simply state the truncated facts: “5 years of litigation experience.”
Remember, your resume is one of your best marketing materials. It should be honest, compelling, and easy to read. Check your CV against the tips above and you’re already halfway to a great interview.
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