Do’s and Don’ts for Legal Resumes
by Eboni T, ResumeEdge Certified Writer
Writing long documents with run-on sentences that are difficult to read seems like part of the job description in most legal careers. So, isn’t it reasonable to expect a lawyer resume to demonstrate that skill—by example? Not if you want it to avoid the circular file.
Resume format and flow are just as important in the legal industry as in any other industry. Here’s a briefing on what the well-written attorney resume should and should not do:
DO make your case compelling
As UNH Law advises, a legal resume should not simply contain a list of your work history and job responsibilities. It should highlight your academic and work experience that is most relevant to your potential employer. And you should customize it to demonstrate your skills, achievements, and qualifications to fill the particular position you’re seeking.
DON’T take the same action for every job
You need to create multiple versions of your resume to align your skills and experience to different law firms and corporate legal positions, as About.com suggests. You don’t want to pursue your career with a “one-resume-fits-all” strategy, because each legal firm is seeking specific qualifications, and they often exchange information. Sending the same resume out for more than one position without researching what each firm requires shows a lack of due diligence on your part.
DO go light on your “sentencing”
Unless you’ve been practicing law for numerous years, your resume really shouldn’t exceed one page. Two pages is plenty of space to showcase why you would make the perfect attorney for a job. And your layout should have a good amount of white space to make it easy on the eyes. The ideal font size is between 10 and 12 points. If it’s smaller than that, your content becomes hard to read. Don’t include references or “References available upon request” in your resume because that will only eat up white space. Besides, providing references is expected in due time, once you’re identified as a candidate.
DON’T ignore “retaining” order
Instead of listing everything you’ve done under each job, create a list of your outstanding career accomplishments and quantify your successful cases, without going into specific details. If you are seeking an entry-level law position or don’t have much experience, list your education at the top and include bullets about your studies and activities in law school. Your resume should not resemble a legal document in any way, containing large blocks of text.
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DO take action … verbs
In the legal world, where passive voice rules, you’ll find that active voice in your resume can help you stand out from the crowd. Consider this line: “Trial experience includes the handling of numerous criminal jury cases, of which most were won, due in large to my ability to build my practice and reputation as a litigator for criminal and white collar criminal cases.” Doesn’t it sound more impressive to lead with an action verb like this: “Built practice from the ground up, gaining reputation as a leading state attorney, with positive verdicts in 86 out of 90 criminal jury trials,” including the quantified statement of achievement (# of cases won)?
DON’T forget to cross-examine your resume
Accurate, error-free work product is critical in the legal profession. Therefore, it is important to proofread your resume carefully. In fact, have someone else proofread your resume for typos, spelling mistakes or omissions. Running spell check isn’t enough. It is nearly impossible to read your own work with the same eye as someone who isn’t familiar with it. If you can’t find someone to proofread, do the next best thing: read it aloud, every word and number.
DO leave something for your closing (the interview)
Your resume should include a bit about your practices and techniques or describe the skills you’ve gained during legal procedures or court. However, being able to articulate your expertise in person is an absolute must to land a legal job or advance in your career. After all, a large part of your success relies on your being an effective and compelling verbal communicator. Case closed.