- On June 2, 2019
Advice on resumes abounds, but not everything applies to legal resumes since law is a conservative and niche space. Below I clarify what pieces of conventional wisdom you should follow and which you should disregard.
- Traditional advice on length holds true. Keep your resume one to two pages max: one page for anyone 10 years out, and two pages for anyone with more than 10. If you have great experience, create a stand-alone Representative Matters document that gives more in-depth details of relevant work. That way you can keep your resume tight and give more examples of relevant work.
- The advice on including your results holds true. For some reason, lawyers don’t seem to follow this standard piece of advice when they should. Often legal resumes only indicate what area of law the lawyer practices, but does not include what happened on the person’s watch! List metrics and results like wins, deal sizes, product launches, matters successfully settled, etc.
- Do not get creative with modern fonts or an unusual layout. Your resume should be memorable for its content, not delivery. Use Times New Roman font (or similar); studies have shown fonts with serifs lend content most credibility. For the layout, start with name/contact info on top (some people omit their contact info, which is crazy because how is the employer going to reach them?). The Education section is next for recent grads or grads of impressive schools. The Experience section should take up the bulk of the resume. End with Bar (no, it is not a given that you passed the bar, so list your credentials that you worked so hard for!). Skip Interests unless you were an Olympic athlete or a programmer etc.
- It is true your resume is only going to get a cursory skim, so make your resume readable. Do not list what you do in the order you do it. Instead, craft your resume so in a brief review the reader can learn the top points about yourself. For ease of skimming, start each work entry with a topic sentence (e.g., “Lead attorney at public software company [supporting X Business Units] [responsible for ABC areas of law”). Limit the number of bullets underneath each employer to three to five, so pick and choose what information to convey. The bullets should also follow some sort of order, for example the phases of a lawsuit or the key stages of a corporation. Alternatively, each point should cover an important skill set (drafting/negotiating, counseling, etc.). Ideally, the reader can see how your career leads up to the job in question, e.g., after graduation, you trained at a law firm in X, went in-house to a client to do more X, and now it makes sense to build out X at the company you are applying to.
- Use active verbs, but also know there are terms of art for lawyers, e.g., “draft and negotiate” and “counsel” or “advise.” Don’t use other synonyms. Other common yet important skills for lawyers are scaling the company and mitigating risk, so include these if you can, with details. Avoid blah verbs like “handle” (sounds ineffectual!). Here are some suggestions for other words..