Resume Basics for Law Students

Resume Basics for Law Students was originally published on Firsthand.

Did you know the average time an employer spends looking at a resume is less than 10 seconds? That’s not a lot of time to make a great first impression! To get recognized as a desirable candidate, your resume needs to be concise, easy to digest, and eye-pleasing. This is especially true when you’re going through OCI and callbacks, as law firms review tons of applicant materials throughout the process. The following tips will set you on the right path to building a successful legal resume, but make sure you don’t stop here. Your career services office will have even more school- and market-specific guidance as well as sample resumes you can use for inspiration, so be sure to take advantage of those resources.

Keep it simple.

In some industries, it’s okay (or even encouraged) to have a flashy, colorful resume. The legal industry, however, is still very traditional—which means your resume should be too. This means you should use a standard font like Calibri, Times New Roman, or Arial in size 11 or 12, with normal page margins. A heading with your contact information followed by clean, clear subsections is all you need—and you can use bolding and italics to set apart components like job titles and dates. Your resume should be organized around a few main “buckets”: education, professional experience, licenses/certifications, and skills. There is flexibility, however, as to how exactly you organize your resume. If you have a lot of legal experience, for example, you might create a “Legal Experience” section rather than a more generic professional experience section. If you have a lot of volunteer experience, you may break it out as a separate “Volunteer Experience” section; whereas, if you have less, you may include it within your professional experience. How you organize your resume is ultimately up to you, your background, and your skills—as long as there is logic behind it.

Tailor it.

A good rule of thumb is to limit your resume to one page unless you have already had an extensive career or extensive relevant experience. If your resume is trickling onto a second page because you’re still listing your high school job at the ice cream shop, it’s time to do some cleaning up. Now that you’re in law school, you don’t need to keep anything on your resume that happened pre-undergrad, and even your college experiences should be included thoughtfully. What exactly you include will depend on your individual circumstances. If you’re not sure whether to include a certain item, think about whether the experience demonstrates relevant professional skills, such as critical thinking, writing, project management, or skills that show strong interest or experience in the legal profession.

Use short, specific descriptions.

Each job or volunteer experience on your resume should include a description of your main responsibilities and accomplishments, but it’s important to keep these items short and sweet. Don’t write paragraphs—use bullet points and short sentences, and be sure to use a mix of action words. (Remember the 10 second statistic? You want to convey your experience quickly!) You should also be as specific as you can. For example, don’t just say you “drafted motions” as a summer intern. What types of motions? For what kinds of cases? Was what the ultimate outcome—did you win the motion? Adding these details—concisely—will give employers a much better sense of your experience and expertise.

Grammar, spelling, punctuation—make it all perfect.

Your legal resume needs to be perfect. For one thing, a typo provides an employer with an easy way to eliminate your resume from the pile. Not only that, you are entering a profession that requires attention to detail, and your employer won’t have much faith in your abilities to do so if you can’t master a one-page document (about yourself, no less—your ultimate area of expertise!). To ensure perfection, you should proofread your resume dozens—literally dozens—of times. To catch as much as possible, focus on a different component of your resume each time you review. For example, first read through and focus only on punctuation; the next time through, focus on spelling; and so on. And don’t stop there. Send your resume to a variety of people to review: your law school career counselor, trusted classmates, friends, family members—whoever is willing. Their fresh eyes will probably catch errors that you have been glossing over—and that an employer would notice right away.

Consider including an interests section.

Personal interests can make for fantastic talking points during interviews, both to break the ice and to set yourself apart as a memorable candidate—especially during OCI through which employees meet with dozens of candidates in a day. This section should go at the bottom of your resume, formatted as a simple list. Be sure to carefully consider what you put in this section: While you should certainly use it to express your personality, keep it professional. Remember that the legal industry is very traditional, so while hobbies like baking and guitar-playing are great, you might want to reconsider sharing that you’re a freelance tattoo artist in your spare time.  If you’re not sure whether you should include this section, or whether your interests are appropriate to include, talk to Career Services for market-, firm-, and/or school-specific guidance.

By Shelley Awe - Firsthand
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