Resume Refresh: 5 Tips for Sprucing Up Your Legal Resume

More than a quarter of lawyers interviewed in a recent Robert Half survey say their firms or companies are planning to hire. That means it’s important to make sure your legal resume is current and fresh — regardless of whether you’re on the hunt for a new legal job. A legal recruiter or a professional connection might ask for your resume, and a great new opportunity might be just around the corner — especially given the growth of online networking.

And what better time to dust off that resume than springtime? It’s a time of revitalization and growth, not just for nature but also for firms seeking specialists to fill open positions. 

Here are five tips for freshening up your legal resume.

1. Take time to reflect. As you reevaluate your legal resume, spend time reassessing your career focus and goals. Perhaps you’re happy with your career path, but if you feel it’s time for a change and you’ve been acquiring skills in a new area of the law, for example, be sure to adjust your resume to include this.
Consider creating multiple versions of your resume to showcase your traditional strengths and your new area of focus rather than generalizing for a wider audience. That way, you’ll have the right resume for the right job when it comes along.
2. Learn more about industry trends. If it’s been a while since you’ve been on the job market, you may need a quick refresher on legal industry hiring trends and what specialties are in greatest demand. For unbiased insider advice, consider reaching out to a recruiter or a staffing agency that specializes in the legal field. An employment specialist can provide insight into both full-time and project opportunities in the industry, as well as suggest ways you can better target your resume for today’s legal careers.
3. Tighten it up. Employers want to see resumes that are targeted, relevant and easy to read. Toss out dated material, such as unrelated activities or now-irrelevant skills. If your legal resume is filled with dense text, break it up with bullet points. Narrow your experience down to the past 10 to 15 years, or to the jobs that are most relevant to what you’re searching for. Aim for a one-page resume, but two pages are fine if you have extensive experience and/or have written many articles for law reviews.
Does your resume conclude with “References available upon request”? If so, take it out. There’s no need to include such obvious statements in what is supposed to be a concise document.
4. Show the fruits of your labor. Forget about listing job duties; law firms already know what legal professionals are supposed to do. Instead, focus on your impact. What potential employers want to see is how you’ve taken those responsibilities and achieved specific results. Reflect this in your resume by including recent accomplishments. Use powerful active verbs like create and lead instead of participate in or help. For the job that you presently hold, use the present tense. All other jobs should use the past tense.
5. Specialize to stay current. Law firms and legal departments have become more exacting in the skills and abilities they require. The shallow pool of legal professionals with expertise in the most in-demand specialties has resulted in talent shortages. According to the Robert Half Legal 2014 Salary Guide, firms and companies especially seek experienced legal professionals in healthcare, litigation, and general business and commercial law. There also is a need for attorneys and paralegals who bring valuable expertise from areas outside the legal profession. It’s not unusual today for an e-discovery and intellectual governance team to include someone with a B.S. in computer science and attorneys who are certified in computer forensics or e-discovery, for example. Technology skills are particularly important. Do you have niche specialties? Are you bilingual? Tech savvy? Can you help manage risk exposure and meet regulatory compliance? Then you are also in demand in the legal industry. As you clean up your resume, ask yourself if you have these and other sought-after expertise. If not, consider professional development or a training program to update your skill set.

Just as you shouldn’t wait too long to do spring cleaning, allowing clutter to accumulate and making the task more arduous when you do tackle the project, you shouldn’t let years go by before you refresh your legal resume. Besides having a clean and sparkling document at the ready, this process is an excellent opportunity to reflect on your present legal job, evaluate where you want to go, and how best to get there.