The job market for attorneys is highly competitive. Therefore, ensuring that you have a well-written and polished resume that is organized, succinct and presents your experience and qualifications in the best possible light is very important. This piece is intended to give you basic guidance to do just that –as well as a handful of tips and resume do’s and don’ts.
You should always begin a resume with your contact information centered at the top of the first page. It’s important to include your full, legal name (preferably no nicknames), address (street address, city/state/zip), phone number and personal email. This is the information a prospective employer will use to contact you, so it should be up-to-date. In addition, it’s best to provide a phone number where you can be readily reached, such as your personal mobile number. Using a work or home number isn’t generally recommended.
In law school, we were taught to keep our resumes to one page in length. However, as you gain years of legal experience, your accomplishments, practice, and employers will change and grow. As such, it’s expected that your resume will also change and grow. It’s perfectly acceptable for your resume to spill on to more than one page if you have been practicing for 3+ years.
Typically, one of the first things a prospective employer wants to see when they are reviewing your resume is your education, including all degrees, fields of study, schools and year(s) of degree(s) completion. Thus, it’s a customary and recommended practice to create a section for education and list your degrees individually. It is further recommended that the education section be placed near the top so that it’s one of the first things the reviewer sees.
It’s generally best to list your completed degrees (e.g., B.A., M.A., Ph.D., J.D., L.LM., etc.), the field of study (e.g., major), the full name and location of the school (e.g., Harvard Law School – Harvard University, Cambridge, MA), and the year of degree completion. It’s best to avoid listing partially completed degrees or coursework as they are often not relevant and may simply clutter your resume.
While the identity of the school from which you earned your degree is necessary, it can often work for you or against you. If your school(s) is not well perceived due to rank, reputation, non-ABA accreditation, etc., this may put you at a disadvantage. Alternatively, if the person reviewing your resume is an alumnus of your school(s) or there are other alumni within the company, this is definitely helpful. In addition, your school(s) can be a huge advantage if it is respected and highly ranked.
Year of Graduation
Year of graduation is a sticking point with some candidates. Initially, please note that it’s one of the most important pieces of information on your resume. Why? It can be a quick and easy gauge of your level of experience.
If an attorney omits the year of completion for their law degree, this may indicate that the candidate is hiding it – this is a common trend among candidates that feel that they may be considered “too senior” for a role. This is a bad practice for multiple reasons: (1) If an employer senses you are not being forthright and honest, they may reject your candidacy; (2) If the year you earned your degree is missing, your resume may simply be disregarded and not considered; (3) If any employer is looking for a candidate with lesser experience, it’s better to know that from the outset and not waste anyone’s time.
Academic Honors and Achievements
Finally, if you graduated with honors or have other academic achievements that you feel may distinguish you, it’s a great idea to list them under the applicable degree – for example:
BOSTON UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW, Boston, MA
J.D., summa cum laude, 2005
Dr. John Ordronaux Prize
Edward F. Hennessey Distinguished Scholar
Dean’s Awards in Evidence, Corporations and Contracts
Article Editor, Boston University Law Review
University of Texas, Austin, TX
B.S., with Highest Honors, in History 2002
The best format for listing your legal experience on your resume is listing your employment in chronological order, beginning with your most recent/current experience first.
It is recommended that you list each employer individually and include the full name of the employer, location, title, practice area, and dates of employment. With regard to dates, it’s important to include the month AND year to avoid the appearance of gaps in employment.
Under each employer, list your primary duties and responsibilities succinctly, but with sufficient detail to understand the depth of your experience and responsibility. For ease of reading and an organized presentation, it’s a good idea to use bullet points when listing your duties and responsibilities.
A practice that some attorneys utilize is creating a “summary of experience” that lists or narrates all of their experience in one section. They then merely provide dates of employment for employers versus individually listing duties and responsibilities under each employer. This is not recommended. Prospective employers want to see exactly what you were doing at each place of employment. If you’ve been practicing the same area of law for many years and have changed employers one or more times, it’s expected that there will be some duplication of duties and responsibilities in your current and past employment.
Again, if you have been practicing for 3+ years, don’t worry that your resume may spill on to two or three pages.
A common mistake among junior attorneys is not including licensure on their resume – maybe because they haven’t updated it since they passed the bar exam. Be sure to include a licensure section on your resume and list all states, courts, or other government bodies (e.g., USPTO) to which you are admitted and licensed to practice law.
Many employers find other language skills to be valuable. Thus, if you are fluent in more than one language, it’s recommended that you include a “language” section on your resume and list your language skills. Please specify that you are fluent and whether you are able to speak, read, and/or write in that language.
FORMATTING AND SPELL CHECK
Formatting is extremely important since appearance makes the first impression. It’s a good idea to keep the text succinct, easy to read (e.g., not too small or too large – 11pt font is fairly standard), organized (e.g., bullet points), and in a modern font that is not only aesthetically appealing (e.g., Cambria, Times New Roman, Arial). Avoid a common mistake and make sure you use the same font throughout the document.
Also, it may surprise you how many experienced attorneys fail to perform a basic review of their resume. Please be sure to proofread your resume as you would any other work product and ensure that there are no errors in content, punctuation, or spelling.
While these resume tips are not exhaustive, they’re definitely a great start to creating a polished and professional resume.
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