How to Write a Winning Legal Resume

By Robert Half April 25, 2017 at 4:57pm

Today's legal job market favors specialists over generalists. Highlighting expertise with in-demand practice areas on your resume may help advance your career and win a prospective employer's attention as an experienced attorney, legal secretary, legal assistant or consultant. 

Your resume should call attention to the specific skills, education and experience that make you the ideal fit for a job while highlighting measurable successes you've had in your career. That way, a potential employer will know you can hit the ground running when you apply for a job. Here are six tips to give your legal resume a boost: 

 

1. Tailor your resume to the job opening 
A one-size-fits-all resume is rarely effective. If you plan on approaching firms in different practice areas, prepare separate versions that reflect the most relevant information specific to each employer. It just makes sense that your resume for an attorney or legal assistant position in a business law firm would be different from one targeting a firm specializing in real estate law. 

According to The Evolving Legal Profession and Emerging Workforce of Tomorrow, law firms and in-house teams want to hire attorneys and legal assistants with relevant business and industry knowledge. Customizing your resume can be as simple as reordering a list or dropping certain work or academic details and adding more pertinent information. If you attended law school, absolutely include it. But the semester abroad you spent in Japan as a student would be more relevant for a law firm that specializes in international business than for one that focuses on domestic tax issues.  

Be sure to also consider a law firm's corporate culture when tailoring your resume. This might influence how you prioritize items, as well the tone for any accompanying correspondence, such as a cover letter. You can glean information about a firm's corporate culture through its website and from the wording of the job posting — and, of course, from anyone you happen to know who works there. 

The only downside to having multiple versions of your resume (and cover letter) is that you open up the possibility of introducing errors each time you make changes to it. Be extra careful of this potential pitfall when making revisions and ask someone with an eagle eye to proofread the documents for you. 

 

2. Highlight special skills 
Does your unique skill set include bilingual abilities or experience with relevant technology? Skills such as these carry a lot of weight when a hiring manager is evaluating the merits of two legal assistant or legal secretary candidates with similar experience and education. eDiscovery experience can give you an edge and help position you for some potentially long-term assignments. Many law firms and organizations are assembling specialized project teams, which include legal assistants and consultants, as a way to address the costs and complexities of eDiscovery, according to the report Client Dynamics Driving Change in the Legal Profession. 

 

3. Integrate keywords 
Further tailor your resume to a job by including specific keywords and language from the job posting. Incorporating words from the posting that refer to the required experience and capabilities can boost your odds of making the cut for an interview when you apply for a job. Why? Due to the high volume of resumes generated by a single job posting, more law firms and companies use automated software to search for keywords the company deems most important in resumes, filtering out ones that don't match. Include as many keywords from the job posting as you can, assuming, of course, they actually apply to you.  

 

4. Keep it lean 
Be sure to keep your resume lean, direct and concise. You want to offer enough information to convince a hiring manager to contact you, but also keep the document to one page. After the electronic screening, your resume may get only a cursory scan by a hiring manager. Make it easy for the potential employer to quickly grasp the nature of your career. You can highlight more achievements in your cover letter, and discuss the rest of the information in your interview. For practice-specific resumes, list the practice area, along with the employer's name, in the first part of your work history section.  

 

5. But don't disregard details 
Don't expect your job title to do all the talking. For instance, it’s not likely that legal secretary explains the full nature of the work you've been involved in, attorneys you've assisted or the impact you've had in your role. Succinctly describe your accomplishments, key projects and responsibilities. Be sure to highlight notable cases or rulings you've worked on in your career. 

 

These tips are relevant for any law position today, but they are especially important for consultants. Most employers engage legal project consultants for only a short period and for a very specific reason. So they need to confirm up front whether you're equipped to help them address a particular need or challenge. So for every work experience you detail in your resume, underscore a value-adding contribution that you made. For example: "Applied knowledge of Brazil's tax environment to help client stay in compliance with corporate tax law and avoid significant financial penalties following an acquisition deal." 

 

For unbiased law resume tips from an industry insider, consider reaching out to staffing agencies. Their recruiters often have first-hand experience working in the field and staying on top of hiring and compensation trends for the legal industry. They can also help you to connect with legal consulting opportunities at leading law firms and corporations.

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