Resume

The Legal Resume: Back to Basics

Can you believe it? Fall is right around the corner! Say goodbye to warm temperatures, flip-flops, and trips to the beach and say hello to new textbooks, cooler weather, and a bit of polish for your resume. Resume work already? Of course! Rising 2Ls and 3Ls: the summer and long-term job search begins as soon as you return to campus (if not before). In addition to starting to send out resumes on your own, you will begin bidding for Fall On-Campus Interviews and Resume Collects (if you have not already) and you will want your resume to earn you some call backs and second interviews. Incoming 1L students: you’ll realize quickly that the legal resume differs from the typical business resume. A legal resume has a unique structure and format, along with its own set of rules and guidelines. This subject and more will be explained in detail as you progress through the Professional Development class, so no need worry about drafting your legal resume just yet.

As you begin the new job search, as well as throughout your career, keep in mind these important general tips for your application materials:

Focus on the employer’s needs
The legal resume is a unique marketing and sales tool that summarizes who you are and what you have to offer. It communicates strengths and distinguishes you from other applicants and also provides a sample work product characterized by quality and clarity. You can prove that you think like a lawyer by creating a resume in which you are an advocate for yourself.

Sometimes students draft cover letters that focus on their own goals (i.e. “I hope to gain meaningful experience from this internship”). Instead, do just the opposite. Close your eyes and picture the overworked hiring partners or recruiting personnel reading your resume. Their company has approved a new hire and they are sifting through stacks of resumes. What do they want? Someone intelligent, who has job-specific legal experience, gets along well with everyone else in the office, and can dive right in to their work, right? Make your resume reflect those needs by highlighting your work quality and experience. Such things that can demonstrate this are: Team projects, academic projects, writing samples, clinics, and volunteer work.

Make it pleasant to read
The legal community is conservative and expects a traditional resume. An employer is likely to spend less than 30 seconds on his or her initial review of your resume; therefore, a readable form is crucial. It can help the reader smoothly and quickly capture important information at the first glance. Make sure that you use underlining, italics, capital letters, etc. consistently from one position to another and one section of the resume to another. Your ability to do so shows your attention to detail.

Text that is jammed together, tiny margins, and distracting boxes and lines all make for an untidy, not aesthetically pleasing resume. The aforementioned tired hiring partners want to pick resumes out of the pile that are easy to read. Do this by limiting your resume to one page and pick a traditional font such as Times Roman, Arial or Garamond. With font size, choose 10 or 11 point; below that, you are risking someone not bothering to review your resume due to poor readability.

It’s not just a summary of experience
The purpose of your resume is to get you called in for an interview, so focus on marketing to the employer. Using excellent action verbs when you begin your phrases in your work descriptions can help you market yourself to the employer. Avoid passive voice, as well as the phrase “responsible for.” Briefly explain awards or scholarships, instead of just listing the name of the scholarship or award. Quantify where possible; for example, “Organized school wide fundraising auction. Chaired committee of 13 students; raised $7,500 for public interest scholarship.” Employers like hard data and facts. And keep in mind that the experience section of your resume can include clinical work, internships/externships, research assistantships, volunteer work, etc., as well as paid positions.

The biggest (avoidable!) mistake
Typos and grammatical errors are NEVER ok. Never. We’ll stop telling you this when we stop seeing them. Employers are likely to immediately eliminate you from consideration. They consider your resume your first work product, so make sure you spend time re-reading it – again and again. And when you think you’ve finished proofreading it, read it over again. Afterward, get a friend or faculty member to proofread it. Finally, email it or bring it in to your career advisor for a final look over. You can never have too many eyes looking at your resume when it comes to hunting for typos and grammatical errors.

What to learn more great resume tips? Check out our complete list of legal resume “Do’s and Don’ts”, advice, lists of action words, resume samples, and more in our Career Planning Guide. You can find it on Symplicity in the Document Library and on the Students section of our web site, in the Resource Center. Make use of this publication as your ultimate career guide and refer to it often during your time here at law school. It is a great resource to add to your law school toolbox!