Legal Resumes that Get Results
A resume has one purpose – to motivate an employer to invite you to interview. Consequently, a legal resume is more than a biographical sketch. It is a marketing document designed to show the fit between your credentials and an employer’s needs. A successful legal resume:
- Concisely outlines your academic and employment background; and
- Demonstrates the fit between what you want and what the employer needs.
Think of your resume as a blueprint for future interview discussions. Your resume content and organization should steer the interview conversation in the direction of your strengths. Resume content should show the relationship between what you have to offer and what the legal employer values. Additionally, your resume should be tailored to fit the job for which you are applying. This might mean reworking your resume content to emphasize certain skills and employment history applicable to that specific job opportunity.
Begin resume preparation with an inventory of your unique strengths. The StrengthsQuest profile available through Moritz Career Development can help you identify your top strengths and how they relate to legal practice and specific substantive areas.
Next, make a comprehensive list of past work or school successes. The choices you make about resume content will come from this list of accomplishments and experiences. Examine the list for common themes and relevance to the practice of law. The list should include:
- Work Experience: identify skills transferable to the practice of law such as research, writing, analysis, teamwork, and counseling.
- Undergraduate and Graduate Academic Experience: note degree, major, minor, scholarships, awards, honors, athletics, leadership positions in organizations, and significant writing experiences such as a thesis.
- Volunteer and Pro Bono Experiences: identify skills transferable to the practice of law such as familiarity with a client group, entitlement programs, or specific governmental policy or social issue.
- Law School Experiences: journals, Pro Bono Research Group, trial, appellate, and negotiation competitions, clinics, PILF, certificate programs, research assistantships, Oxford and Washington, D.C. programs.
- Special Skills: language proficiencies, publications, or CPA.
- Interests: travel, hobbies, musical performance, or other unique experiences.
What Legal Employers Value
As you analyze your strengths, keep in mind those qualities legal employers seek in candidates. According to “In Search of the Successful Lawyer” in the National Association for Law Placement Bulletin, law firm recruiters most value:
- Political and interpersonal savvy
- Analytical, research and writing skills
- Personal integrity
- Institutional loyalty
- Entrepreneurial and client development potential
- Ambition, drive and ability to handle pressure
Understanding the relationship between what legal employers value and what you have to offer will help you construct a resume that emphasizes your fit with employers’ needs.
Participating in student or community groups is a great way to gain experience and meet people within the legal profession. Joining student and/or community groups will also help demonstrate the fit between what you want and what an employer needs. For example, including that you are a member of the Health Law Society on your resume will help reinforce to an employer with a busy health law practice group that you are interested in working in that area.
Develop an Agenda
Before you put a single word on paper, develop an agenda of the top three things you want an employer to know about you at the end of the interview. You might say, “At the end of the interview, I want the employer to know I’m committed to a large firm practice, perform best under pressure and have the energy and drive to meet high billable expectations.” As you develop resume content, emphasize experiences that support your individual agenda.
1. Contact Information Your resume should include the name you will use professionally and contact information including address, phone number, and email address. If you have ties to a geographic area you wish to emphasize, include both permanent and local contact information.
2. Academic Information Like all other resume information, academic information should be presented in reverse chronological order with the most recent information listed first. Include school name, location, degree date or anticipated date, major/minor, and grade point average for all post-high school institutions. If you are a dual degree candidate, treat each degree as a separate entry on the resume.
3. Grades Your law school performance can be listed as a letter grade, class rank, numerical average, grade point average or some combination. Generally, list grades if you possess an 85/100 or 3.0 or higher GPA. A Moritz career counselor can help you choose the most advantageous way to present your grades.
4. Honors and Extracurricular Activities Any honors and extracurricular activities should be listed based upon their ability to allow you to talk about strengths valued by legal employers. If you want to demonstrate leadership to an employer, list the organization in which you served as president first. Employers are most likely to ask you about the first item in any series you list. Include honors that demonstrate unique, personal successes. For example, an employer will give more weight to individual recognition as the top Sociology graduate than to a recognition many students share.
5. Employment Employment should include employer name, location, and dates. Emphasize duties transferable to the practice of law and, when possible, use the CAR approach:
C=Context. It can include employer size, market, your assignment or goal;
A=Action. What you did to accomplish specific goals; and
R=Result. The outcome of your work or any improvements you made.
For example, after giving context by listing XYZ bank as your employer, your bulleted description could state: “Negotiated sale of financial instruments (action) and increased bank’s market share by 20 percent through aggressive sales initiatives (result).” Not all jobs will have a result, but you can still highlight skills relevant to the legal profession. For example, if you were a resident assistant, you might say: “Responsible for well-being of 30 students (context) which involved dispute resolution (skill relevant to law practice), discipline, and administrative duties (action).”
If you have a very specific practice or market sector goal, tailor your resume accordingly. To emphasize an interest in labor and employment law, you may want to list all education highlights, research assistantships, related jobs and faculty references into a single section of the resume. A Moritz career advisor can help you tailor a resume to a specific practice area or type of employer.
Dividing employment into categories may help you emphasize experiences by moving them higher on the page. If you have law-related experience, you might separate employment into “law-related employment” and “other employment” categories. If you had a career prior to law school, you may want to create a more specific category such as “Banking Experience.”
For everything you list on a resume, you should have an example or story you can share with an employer that highlights a skill or ability relevant to the practice of law. Know that anything you list on the resume is likely to generate detailed questions. Be prepared to fully discuss any experience you include on the resume.
6. Military Service You may list military service in the employment section or create a “Military Service” category if you wish to give it greater emphasis. Quantify when possible, “Supervised a battalion of 500 soldiers.”
7. Publications If you have more than one publication, you may want to create a separate “Publications” category to draw attention to a skill transferable to the practice of law.
8. Special Skills Languages and level of proficiency, special licenses or certifications can be listed in a category titled “Special Skills.” This is also a place to list interests that will differentiate you from other candidates, such as “Murdoch Australian Rules Football,” or “recognized for excellence in acting,” or “Boston Marathon competitor.” Once hiring credentials are met, employers want to hire people who will be enjoyable co-workers. Discussing your interests allows an employer to know you better and builds important rapport.
9. Volunteer Activities Volunteer activities are particularly important to public interest employers. Emphasize Pro Bono Research Group and PILF activities, community service, or evidence of your experience with a client base public interest employers serve. However, you may be questioned about anything you put on your resume. If you are a member of an organization that may be controversial or that may lead to questions which can be interpreted as discriminatory, you may not wish to include it on your resume. See Equal Opportunity Interviewing.
10. References References can be, but are usually not, listed on the resume. When requested to produce references, provide a separate page with the heading, “References for [Your Name].” Include the name, title, employer, address, phone, and email address for the individuals you list. Law professors, undergraduate professors, and prior employers are appropriate references; relatives and friends are not. Be sure to get prior approval before listing a person as a reference. It is a good idea to provide your references with a current copy of your resume so they can refer to it if called.
11. Mechanics Appearance is another key to a good resume. If, upon first glance, your resume appears wordy, unattractive, and tough to read, it probably won’t be read. The following mechanics enhance readability:
- Do not use personal pronouns on your resume, i.e., “I,” “me,” or “my.”
- Use action verbs and phrases instead of sentences. For example: “drafted legal memoranda,” “researched the elements of a breach of contract cause of action.”
- Avoid a cluttered appearance. Have equal right and left, top and bottom margins, 1 to 1-1/4 inches all around.
- White space and a 10.5, 11 or 12-point type face increase a resume’s readability.
- Make absolutely sure you have no typographical errors or misspelled words on your resume.
- Use boldface, underlining or italics for emphasis.
Although the traditional view is that resumes should be one page, a reader-friendly, two-page resume is preferable to a crammed, hard-to-read single page. If you choose to have a two-page resume, type your full name in the top left hand corner of page two with the page number directly beneath it. Do not print on the back of pages.
Revisit your agenda of what you want the interviewer to know about you at the end of the interview. Go through the resume line by line to see where the best opportunities are to discuss your strengths and pre-plan responses that will demonstrate the fit between your strengths and an employer’s needs. Develop concrete examples and concise stories you can use during the interview to demonstrate your skills.
If, for example, one of your top strengths is adaptability, you might have listed on the resume a job in which you handled multiple work projects simultaneously. When asked about this job during the interview, you can describe the various projects you handled and relate your adaptability to the ability to manage the unpredictability of a litigation practice or the ease with which you will be able to shift priorities and respond to various clients’ needs as they arise.
Think strategically and utilize the expertise of the Moritz career counselors to make sure your resume is working effectively to showcase your strengths. We look forward to working with you to develop a resume that gets results.