What is a Resume?

A resume :

  • Is your unique marketing and sales tool
  • Summarizes who you are and what you have done
  • Communicates strengths and distinguishes you from other applicants
  • Is a sample work product characterized by quality and clarity.

The primary goal of a law resume is to get you an interview. It cannot and should not, however, tell the employer everything there is to know about you. Instead, it should entice the reader to want to learn more. You may tailor your resume differently for different kinds of employers.

Common practices for law resumes, in both style and content, may be different from resumes used in other professions and from resumes used by undergraduates.

Remember that an employer will likely look at your resume for less than one minute. Every word counts. 

Standard Content

Identifying Information: Include name, current address, e-mail address and a telephone number where a caller may reach you or leave a message.  A permanent address may be included along with your current address if you wish to show ties to the geographic area of an employer to which you are applying.

Note:  Make sure the greeting on your phone is professional and does not include inappropriate music, lyrics or messages.

Education:  Include law school, graduate and undergraduate schools in reverse chronological order.  List name of school, city and state; degree(s) earned and date(s) received.

Note:  Your degree is a Juris Doctor, not a Juris Doctorate.

Include grades, academic honors and activities in this section, under the school to which they relate.

Grades:  For many employers, law school grades are a major hiring criterion.  Generally, employers assume you are in the lower half of your class if grades are omitted from the resume. Because each law school follows different grading curves and standards, and because the relationship between class rank and GPA changes each year, academic performance is most easily understood by employers when stated in terms of class rank or standing.

Note:  Do not round off your GPA.  Rounding is a violation of the Law School

Honor Code.  A 3.36 is a 3.36,  is not a 3.40. 

Honors:  Honors include academic achievements, such as graduating cum laude, scholarships, moot court or journal participation.  Honors are listed under the schools to which they relate – this makes it easier for employers to see what you have accomplished at each institution.

Activities:  Extracurricular activities may be listed in this section or, if they indicate significant skills or interests, in the Employment/Experience section.  Some activities demonstrate leadership, initiative, responsibility and energy level.  Activities often give an employer a sense of your potential, as well as your personality.

Employment/Experience: In this section, summarize your work history…both employment (paid positions) and experience (volunteer work, internships or other non-paid positions).  Include employer, city and state, your title, dates of involvement and a brief description of duties and responsibilities.  Non-law related work experience is significant when it demonstrates transferable skills, such as written and oral communication, problem solving, research, etc.

Suggestions:

  • Use action verbs to describe work accomplished
  • Describe current work in the present tense; prior work the past tense
  • Emphasize transferable skills

Organizing your information:  You want to attract attention by first listing positions that will be most meaningful to a prospective employer.  For example, your volunteer positions may make you more marketable to a certain employer than your paid positions.  Or, your most recent legal positions may be more important.   Tailor your resume to fit your audience.

Suggestions:

  • Organize information into categories (i.e., employment, experience, business employment, legal experience, etc.)
  • List positions in reverse chronological order within the categories.
  • Summarize relevant employment/experience into a single sentence if you wish to include information that does not warrant separate listings.  Example:  “Additional part-time and summer employment from 2000-2006 includes positions as camp counselor, lifeguard and sales associate.”

Optional Content

Special Skills/Languages:  Include skills that may be of interest to a potential employer, such as proficiency in languages, computer skills (if relevant), etc.

Community Service:  Demonstrated commitment to public service is important to public sector employers and a plus to many law firms.  List organization, title, duties and tenure.  Extensive volunteer work that demonstrates transferable skills may be described under Experience, if appropriate.

Personal Information:  If something is important to you, you have probably taken some action or joined a group.  This can be indicated under categories, such as Activities or Community Service.  Do not include a section that indicates marital status, health, number of children, religion, sex, age or other personal data that lawfully has no relevance to your employment qualifications.

Publications:  List legal and non-legal work that has been published.

Licenses and Professional Affiliations:  List relevant professional licenses and certificates, such as CPA or Real Estate Broker.  List affiliations, including name of organization, title and tenure.

Military Service:  Many employers give preference to veterans, so listing service involvement is recommended.  If military experience includes transferable skills, such as research, writing, supervision, organizational skills or management, you may want to list it under Employment or Experience.

Interests:  Including this category is a personal choice.  If your interests involve something out-of-the ordinary or are considered an asset in networking or business development, such as golf, team softball, etc.), include them on your resume.

References:  The preferred method is to list your references on a separate sheet that carries the same identifying information as your resume.  Provide full name, title, address and contact information for two to three references.  Always ask permission before listing someone as a reference and always ask if the person will give you a positive reference.

Include references on your resume only if the information may generate an interview.  When references are not included, it is understood that they are available.  Do not include the statement, “References available upon request,” on your resume.

Current and former employers are the most effective references.  They are familiar with your work product and performance in a work environment.  Faculty may be used if they can speak to the quality of your work and are always used when applying for judicial clerkships.

Basic Layout Elements

The legal community is conservative and expects a traditional resume.

Format:  Most employers prefer outline form (headings and brief phrases) as opposed to narrative (full sentences in paragraph form.)   The outline form is shorter and easier to read.

Length:   A two-page resume is acceptable if your experience warrants it.  Do not sacrifice content for the sake of producing a one-page resume.  Remember, however, that when employers copy your resume for distribution to their hiring committee, they sometimes miss the second page.  If you do have a two page resume, make sure your identifying information is on the second page and that you include the most important information on the first page – just in case.

Typeface/Fonts: Select an easy-to-read typeface.  Avoid ornate or decorate styles and do not use multiple fonts and type sizes.   Use bold typefaces for emphasis and be consistent.  If one position title is in bold, put all position titles in bold.  Consistency in abbreviations is also important.  If you use JD instead of Juris Doctor, use BA, MBA or PhD.

Paper:  Use white or ivory paper; pastels or bright colors are not acceptable.  Resume and cover letter paper should match.

Reminders

  • Do not use personal pronouns.
  • Do not use ampersands or abbreviations, other than for states.
  • Use an outline form.
  • Be concise.
  • Stress your positive points.
  • Always include a date of graduation; do not say “first year student.”
  • Keep personal data pertinent and to a minimum.
  • Do not round off your GPA.
  • Include any honors/activities/scholarships that will add value to resume.
  • Make your resume easy to read.
  • If you do have a two page resume, make sure your identifying information is on the second page and that you include the most important information on the first page – just in case.  Under no circumstances should you only a few lines spillover from the first page of your resume; if you are going to have a two-page resume, make the fullest use of the second page.

Writing a Job Description

A resume is not an autobiography!  Do not include every accomplishment or job you have ever held, and do not list every job duty or project you were responsible for in a given position.

Instead, include those jobs and accomplishments—and those projects and tasks within a particular position—which best exemplify your skills and show an employer that you can do the job for which you are applying.

List your work experience in reverse chronological order. Depending on the extent and nature of your experience, you may want separate sections for LEGAL WORK EXPERIENCE, OTHER WORK EXPERIENCE, and VOLUNTEER EXPERIENCE. Do not make distinctions between paid and unpaid work—you should include all law-related positions, both paid and volunteer.

For your past employers whose company names may not be immediately familiar to your target audience for your resume, include a brief description of what that employer does. (e.g., “EDS, Inc. (boutique software designer for educational materials)”).

Highlight your accomplishments, special projects you worked on, and specific things that distinguished you from other employees. Describe what you did (or do) using action verbs (see list of action words at end of this guide).

For non-law-related positions, spend some time crafting your experience in a form that is relevant to a legal employer. Highlight skills that are transferable to law—such as experience in public speaking, communication, problem-solving, negotiation, research and writing.  Use plain English.  Avoid industry and technical vocabulary, acronyms, or jargon that would be unfamiliar to a legal employer. For example, do not say, “Developed expertise in cXML, ebXML, XSLT, XPATH and created authentication and object-flagging modules”.   Instead, say that you are familiar with Oracle technical client applications.

You may present your skills descriptions in paragraph form or bullet form (or both).   Bulleted formats work better when you have less content and you need to fill up the page; paragraphs are better suited for getting more content in less space.

Examples:

Ozone Publications, LLC, Jackson, Mississippi
Editor, Legal and Business, September 20xx – July 20xx
Co-creator of start-up magazine focusing on the impact of global warming on corporate, legal and public sectors. Responsible for hiring, training, and supervising three full-time writers, five freelancers, and support staff. Presented at public health conferences in Seattle, New York, and Mexico City. Collaborated with company president on market research and business development. Helped generate $100,000 advertising revenue in first year.

OR

Ozone Publications, LLC,  Jackson, Mississippi
Editor, Legal and Business, September 20xx – July 20xx
Co-creator of start-up magazine focusing on the impact of global warming on corporate, legal and public sectors.

• Hired, trained, and supervised three full-time writers, five freelancers, and support staff.

• Presented papers at public health conferences in Seattle, New York, and Mexico City.

• Collaborated with company president on market research and business development.  Helped generate $100,000 advertising revenue in first year.

Do not exaggerate your job title, duties, or contributions. If you would not feel comfortable showing the description of your past work to the employer for whom you performed the work, then do not include that description on your resume.

When describing internships or jobs in law firms or judicial chambers, be specific about the legal issues you worked on, the legal documents you prepared.

NOT THIS:

Dutchess & Snow, LLP, Philadelphia, Mississippi
Law Clerk, Summer 20xx
Drafted court documents; attended hearings; interviewed clients.

Instead, be specific:

Dutchess & Snow, LLP, Philadelphia, Mississippi
Law Clerk, Summer 20xx
Drafted interrogatories, document requests, and answers. Researched and wrote memos on contract interpretation and non-compete agreement. Drafted brief seeking summary judgment on statute of limitations. Prepared arbitration binder and attended arbitration with firm partner.

Honorable Sybill J. Johnson, Hinds County Circuit Court, Jackson, Mississippi
Intern, Summer 20xx
Conducted legal research on evidentiary issues involving battered women’s syndrome and self-defense. Observed criminal arraignments, bail hearings, jury selection, trials, and sentencing proceedings.

Following are skills commonly used in the legal profession.  These may provide a framework with which to phrase your job descriptions:

Research

  • Identify areas of law you researched
  • Distinguish among research in federal, state or local laws

Writing

  • Drafted legal memoranda
  • Drafted pleadings, motions, complaints, answers
  • Prepared summaries of testimony
  • Drafted client correspondence
  • Drafted legal opinions, bench memos
  • Summarized depositions

Trial Preparation and Participation

  • Assisted and prepared attorneys for trial
  • Assisted with discovery
  • Assisted with document production
  • Participated in hearings, trials or depositions

Analytical Skills

  • Identified pertinent facts, issues
  • Analyzed case facts
  • Analyzed and summarized evidence
  • Analyzed, explored and researched all pertinent issues and prepared a comprehensive report.

Consultation

  • Consulted with attorneys
  • Suggested courses of legal actions under supervision of attorney
  • Briefed attorneys on case issues
  • Met with attorneys to obtain or exchange factual information concerning cases.

Interviewing

  • Interviewed potential witnesses
  • Conducted client intake interviews

Trial Experience

  • Observed motions and oral arguments
  • Assisted in witness preparation

Case Management

  • Briefed clients on case status
  • Handled cases from initial interview through settlement negotiations.