How Do I Find Legal Employment?

Career Services helps students from across the grade spectrum prepare for the job search process and ultimately land jobs.  We are here to advocate for all of our students.  So we do not pre-screen on behalf of the employers, and we will forward application materials from any student applicant who meets the correct class year requirement.  Our goal is to help every student show their credentials in their best light in resumes, cover letters and interviews.

To assist in your own goals and the job application process, students should work to obtain legal experience in law school through clinics and externships.


Cover Letter

A strong cover letter should introduce your resume by highlighting the components which are most relevant to the job and supplement the resume with important information about yourself. It provides the employer with a glimpse of you as a person and potential colleague.

Cover Letter Tips

Keep the following points in mind as your write and rewrite your cover letters:

  • Write to a specific person.
  • Use the person’s name and title.
  • Make sure the spelling is correct.
  • Position you are applying for and how you learned of the opening.
  • Why you are applying for the position, i.e., level of interest.
  • Explanation of your qualifications and how you can contribute to the organization.
  • Make reference to your resume; but don’t repeat the same information.
  • State what action you want from them: an interview.
  • Indicate what follow-up action you will take.
  • Limit your cover letter to one page.
  • Focus on the employer rather than yourself
  • Do not embellish

Resumes

A resume is your unique marketing and sales tool that summarizes that you’ve done to distinguish you from other applicants.

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.

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.

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. 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.  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.

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 of both paid and unpaid positions. Include employer, city and state, your title, dates of involvement and a brief description of duties and responsibilities.

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.

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.

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.

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. Do not include the statement, “References available upon request,” on your resume. Current and former employers are the most effective references. 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 expects a traditional resume.

Format:  Most employers prefer outline form.

Length:   A two-page resume is acceptable if your experience warrants it.

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.

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

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 EXPERIENCEOTHER 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.

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.

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.

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.

Resume Tools

  • Action Words (pdf)
  • Sample Resume 1L, no GPA, some experience (pdf)
  • Sample Resume 2L, no GPA (pdf)
  • Sample Resume 3L (pdf)

Writing Samples

When an employer asks for a writing sample, they are asking for an unedited writing sample, e.g. one that has not been substantially edited by another person.

  • Review of Writing Samples:  Career Services does not provide critical review of writing samples.  For a formal review of a potential writing sample, you may contact the Legal Research and Writing professors.
  • Length of Writing Sample: Each writing sample submitted should be no less than 5 and no more than 12 pages in length, unless otherwise indicated by the employer.
  • Writing Style: Unless otherwise directed, a traditional legal writing sample should demonstrate superior legal analysis, advocacy (where appropriate), perfect grammar, and formal use of a recognized legal citation method. Whenever possible, try to match the writing sample style and content to that of the employer’s mission and everyday style of writing (e.g., an administrative law memo for a federal agency application or a policy review paper for think tank).

Cover Sheet:  A cover sheet is recommended, but should always be used when submitting only a section of a larger piece.

Type of Writing Sample: Any of the following may be appropriate:

  • Legal Research & Writing Appellate Brief:  Submit only an analytical section of the brief, and attach a cover sheet (see above)
  • Actual Work Product—from your job, an externship or clinic, for example. In doing so, obtain approval from your supervisor to use the work product and to redact all confidential information.
  • Scholarly Work—published articles, law reviews, for example.  As above, the emphasis here should be on providing a sample of your legal analytical and writing skills.

Interview Tips

The key to a successful interview is preparation. There are two distinct levels to the process of preparing for an interview: (1) conducting research on the prospective employer and (2) conducting research on you. It is only when you have researched the employer and its practice, and identified your own goals, interests, and abilities, that you are fully prepared for the interview.

Preparation

Know yourself and your resume. Be prepared to discuss anything on your resume.  Know your strengths and decide how to handle your “weaknesses”. Always carry a copy of your resume, transcript and references to the interview.

Do your research. Know as much as possible about the employer and with whom you are interviewing. Employers consistently rank lack of knowledge of the organization as one of the primary reasons for not extending an offer to a candidate.

Develop a strategy. The underlying question in every recruiter’s mind is, “Why should we hire this person?”  Just as you tailor a resume or cover letter to a specific employer, it is important to differentiate each interview and focus on the fit between your background and that employer. Consider what skills the organization is seeking, what types of clients they have and the practice area(s) for which they are hiring. Be ready to discuss how your experience relates to these areas.

Develop your questions. Prepare a list of questions relevant to the employer, and if possible, to the interviewer. Be careful not to ask questions that can be found on their website or other easily accessible source.

Present yourself in a confident, enthusiastic and engaged manner.  Make good eye contact and play an active role in the conversation. Listen attentively and show enthusiasm for the employer and for the individual with whom you are interviewing.

  • Anticipate open ended questions, such as, “What can you tell me about yourself?” and frame your answer in relation to the employer and law school. Also anticipate awkward questions, such as, “Why did your GPA drop so drastically?” or “Why aren’t you on law journal?” The answers to these questions are less important than how thoughtful and logical is your response.
  • Practice is the most effective method to improve your interviewing skills. If you would like to have the CSO set up a mock interview, please let us know.

Do your homework.

Gather as much information about the employer and the position as possible before the interview.  Your questions and responses should be based on thorough research and should stem from your interests in the employer.

Dress Appropriately and Be On Time

Sample Interview Questions (pdf)

How to Handle Discriminatory Questions

Questions regarding your race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicap, age, sexual orientation or being a disabled veteran that do not relate to a bona fide occupation qualification necessary to perform a job are discriminatory and, therefore, not permissible. Knowledge of this type of information about a candidate may lead to discriminatory hiring practices – either intentional or unintentional – and you are not required to divulge this information, unless you choose to.

If you feel an interview has been conducted improperly, you are encouraged to report the specifics to the Director of the Career Services Office.