- A polished and well-crafted lawyer resume is crucial to leaving a positive first impression on potential employers in the competitive legal industry.
- lawyer resume should be concise, properly formatted and organized, with accurate and relevant descriptions of work experiences that highlight skills and certifications.
- Job seekers should tailor their resume for each specific job, avoid including irrelevant information or narratives, and be mindful of the expectations of the legal industry.
Whether you’re looking to start a new legal career, lateral between law firms, or move in-house, a polished and well-crafted attorney resume will be a difference maker for your job search. At worst, sloppy resumes will get your candidacy sent straight to the trash bin. At best, the perfect resume effectively relays your professional highlights to employers and complements your interviews to leave a positive impression.
Although every lawyer’s resume will be tailored to their individual specialties, experience level, and the potential employer, certain characteristics of a polished resume remain constant. In this article, we will cover the fundamentals for a perfect resume, give you a checklist so you don’t make any obvious mistakes, and even provide a lawyer resume example to use as a resume template or inspiration.
Why a resume matters for legal jobs
Most resumes get looked at for less than 30 seconds. Some may hear this and think that resumes really aren’t that important, but the reality is that being lazy about your resume is giving up an opportunity to stand out. Many jobs in the legal industry are competitive positions so your resume should present your best self on paper even at a glance. Having a polished resume doesn’t guarantee that you will leave an impression but a sloppy one will definitely hurt you.
Law is a fairly conservative and slow-moving profession. Although some recruiters and hiring managers these days are open to dynamic, graphic, and unique resumes, the proper resume for law still uses time-tested methods for clarity, organization, and attention-directing. Legal employers are used to a certain kind of resume that is comfortable to read, so deviating too far from the expectation can hurt your chances in a job candidacy.
Additionally, law is a very status and prestige-based profession. Where you went to school, what previous experience you have and where, and other indicators of qualifications and past successes will matter greatly. The resume is an upfront opportunity to convey some of your strengths and standout qualities.
Finally, resume writing is very important for lawyers and your professional resume is one kind of writing sample. How you describe your professional experiences is going to be important because if you can’t write well when talking about yourself, why would an employer trust you to write well on the job? In addition to strong substantive writing, attention to detail, formatting, spelling, and grammar can all be judged from a quick glance at a resume. For a one-page document, there should be absolutely no mistakes!
Characteristics of a standout resume
There are certain things you should and should not do with your resume. Let’s start with some of the stuff to you should absolutely do:
- Keep it to one page. Try your best to cut out anything unnecessary and include only the most relevant information. If you are struggling to fill up a page, get creative and find ways to get rid of any excess empty space. A common rule of thumb to follow if you’re tempted to go over one page is that if you have to ask, then you’re most likely a one-pager!
- Format it properly. Use fonts that are commonly used and easy to read (probably Times New Roman and 10 or 12 point font size). Keep your margins and alignments consistent throughout. Be strategic about using bold words or italics to systematically draw your reader’s attention. Clearly distinguish the different sections of your resume so that a reader will never get lost looking for what they want to see. List your work experience first (or education if you’re a law student).
- Organize your experience by either chronology or relevance. Most people will opt to have their experience section in reverse chronological order with their most recent job listed first. It’s also easiest for employers to follow reverse chronology. Every now and then, the relevance of a particular job will be more important and should be placed at the top. Most importantly, don’t have your work experience listed randomly without rhyme or reason. Make sure to list accurate dates for the start and end of your experiences, usually including the month and year. Many jobs held prior to law school can be shed, but keep the relevant stuff in, like if you have paralegal experience.
- Be mindful of your job descriptions. Consider the amount of space you dedicate to each piece of your work history. Your most relevant and recent jobs will likely take up more space than some part-time job you held in college. Don’t fall for the mistake that every job you list needs exactly three bullet points. Use action verbs to describe your job and highlight specific tasks (e.g., trial preparation), hard skills, soft skills, interpersonal skills, and communication skills. Applicant tracking systems will often scan for certain kinds of words or phrases so don’t try to come across as too unique or fancy with your descriptions. Finally, include any notable certifications you may have that set you apart (e.g., CIPP/US for privacy attorneys or Lexis/Westlaw legal research certifications for law students).
Now let’s talk about a few things not to do when you build your resume:
- Don’t lie. It may be tempting to fluff up or exaggerate when you’re selling yourself but lying on a resume is a very bad idea. Not only will employers conduct background checks, but if your resume does not accurately reflect you as an individual, your interviews will suffer due to the dissonance. If you have any weak areas, consider omitting information, but don’t lie.
- Don’t use the same resume for every job. Even though most of your resume should look very similar substantively, don’t assume that one version will be equally effective for every position you apply to. Be mindful about how you select your resume format and also how you describe your experiences and skills so that each legal resume is best suited for the specific job you’re applying to.
- Don’t include irrelevant information or narratives. Your resume is not your autobiography or a comprehensive mirror of your LinkedIn profile. Don’t bog down a reader with irrelevant information and save your stories for the cover letter or interviews. Keep your personal information to the bare necessities, and leave out any pictures, references, or anything vague. Use your limited space wisely. In your education section, leave out your law school GPA if you already have many years of experience (but you can include honors or recognition for writing or advocacy). One common mistake when listing your law degree is actually incorrectly listing it—it’s just “juris doctor”! Finally, some resume builders will suggest adding a resume summary or skills section, but lawyer jobs won’t really be looking for those.
Lawyer Resume Examples
Here’s some example lawyer resumes for you to use as templates or inspiration:
- Biglaw Investor Lawyer Resume Template: Download
Joseph Kim is a 3L at Notre Dame Law School. Joseph grew up in California where he developed an interest in working with music, powerlifting, and bowling. He's been a member of the FIRE community since before law school and plans to pursue FatFIRE following graduation.