Writing resumes can be tricky for lawyers or paralegals applying for a position at a law firm or corporate legal department. You might wonder how best to order the components and whether certain information should be included at all. And would a flashy design help your chances or hurt them? The following tips for writing legal resumes can help you land the position you're pursuing:
1. Keep it short and sweet
Key advice for writing resumes: Be concise. Legal hiring managers scan resumes quickly, and if you write one that's too wordy, you run the risk of burying the things that make you a good fit for the job. You don't have to keep the document to one page if you have five or more years of experience, but don't let it go on too long. Every word should make you look good by summarizing your strengths.
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2. Education or experience first? It matters!
Whether you start your resume with your legal education or experience will depend on the length of your career. If you've worked as a lawyer or paralegal for more than three years, lead with your experience. If you're a new associate, start with your education. If the law school you attended is top-tier, you might want to start with your education, even if you've been working for a few years. No matter which section you start with, use reverse chronological style when describing your career: Put your most recent education or experience first.
3. Provide a brief narrative — with action verbs
Avoid vague or wishy-washy verbs like performed, conducted or assisted with. Instead, use strong verbs that describe exactly what actions you took, like researched, analyzed, solved or negotiated. And focus on your impact. Include concrete positive outcomes of your work — that $300 million case was litigated successfully thanks to your skillful work? Mention it. Explain your strong command of family law, your precision in preparing legal arguments, motions and agreements, or how you streamlined the filing system so it was easier to retrieve specific documents.
4. Tailor your resume for each job
Think about your resume as a living document — you should continually update it, and customize it for each job you apply for. Find out as much as you can about the job and the kinds of cases you'd be working on, and modify your resume to highlight the relevant skills that would help you excel in that particular kind of litigation. Patent attorneys should include a list of patents they have written or assisted with as a second page to the resume. Corporate and real estate attorneys should include deals and transactions they have worked on with client names omitted. Litigators can include writing samples and copies of briefs they are especially proud of.
5. Think simple elegant layout
Steer clear of unusual colors or graphics when you're writing resumes for a legal job. A flashy format will make your resume stand out in a bad way. Also avoid using multiple fonts that might make your document hard to read. Simple black serif type (such as Cambria, Times New Roman and Garamond) on a clean, neutral background is best. Use bullet points, headings and bold words to make it easy for hiring managers to skim your resume quickly.
6. Emphasize relevant professional skills
Make sure to mention any other languages you speak, along with your level of proficiency — basic, conversational or fluent. If you can't carry on a conversation in the language, don't include it. Also list any sophisticated technical skills that make you stand out, such as experience with eDiscovery software or any applicable experience outside the law, like a background in computer science or computer forensics.
Paralegals on the job hunt: Check out this blog post about the most in-demand skill sets for today's legal support professionals.
7. Highlight your publications
If you've published a few law articles, list them all on your resume, especially if they're related to the firm's practice area. If your publishing history is extensive, compile your law articles in a separate document and include a note on your resume that states, "List of published works available upon request."
8. Keep hobbies and interests pertinent to the role
Some legal employers like to read about candidates' outside interests because those hobbies can serve as an ice-breaker in an interview and show that you're a well-rounded person. If you do include your interests, note activities that showcase your leadership skills, self-discipline or other positive qualities. Remember that any hobbies and interest you list should be work-appropriate, so use your best judgment when determining what makes the cut and what doesn't. Also include any memberships or affiliations you have with alumni, law or special interest groups.
9. Proofread and get help reviewing for typos
Someone else's grammatical and spelling errors might be funny, but not yours — especially on a resume. Even one little error can torpedo your chances of getting a job, so make sure to read your resume thoroughly before you send it out. Print a copy to proofread it; it's much easier to spot changes on a piece of paper than on a computer screen. Even better, ask a few friends to read it through. Many times, they'll catch errors you didn't.
An attorney or paralegal resume should not only serve as your introduction to a law firm but act as a marketing document to convey why your skills are exactly what they're looking for.