3 Ways Lawyers Need to Write Résumés Differently

When attorneys work with me to create or update their legal résumés, their first request is often for me to provide a template. We lawyers do love a good template, don’t we?

Their disappointment is palpable when I explain that résumé writing is more of an art than a science and that--like most legal advice--the annoying answer to their question of what a legal résumé should look like is usually, “It depends.”

Although there is no “silver bullet” template, I can point you to the three elements of résumé writing that every attorney needs to know.

1. NO FANCY FORMATTING

Recruiters and hiring professionals in the legal industry don’t have time to search your résumé to find unorthodox locations for important information. They’re looking for specific information (hint: check the job description) and expect to find it in a predictable format.

(If you’re an attorney looking to change careers, then we can talk alternative formats.) 

When applying to traditional legal positions, remember traditional résumé formatting wins the day.

What this means for you: No columns, tables, colors or graphics.

2. ACCOUNT FOR ALL TIME POST-LAW SCHOOL GRADUATION

This tip is a two-parter:

Include Every Job Since Law School

A lot of very good résumé experts will advise against including job experience that extends more than 10-15 years in the past. But when it comes to attorneys, it’s all about the details.

That’s not to say you give older jobs the same amount of real estate on your résumé. 

As a general rule, any professional experience you held more than 10-15 years ago and after graduating law school should be indicated with a brief summary.

What this means for you: Indicate older professional legal experience using a format like, Job Title|Law Firm, location|dates employed

Address Gaps in Employment

If there are gaps between positions, lawyers shouldn’t ignore them and hope the recruiter or employer won’t notice. They’ll definitely notice...and wonder what you’re hiding.

While it may feel scary to draw attention to your time between jobs, being upfront demonstrates forthrightness and gives the employer context for why you weren’t working during that time. 

Considering that you will need to address any such gaps can also serve as motivation to find opportunities to utilize your legal skills while job searching (e.g., volunteering with organizations).

What this means for you: Consider whether you would you rather have employers assume you’re hiding something damaging or use your résumé gap as an opportunity to frame that time in the best possible light.

3. SUPPLEMENTAL DOCUMENTATION

If you’re a transactional attorney, maintaining an up-to-date list of representative transactions/deals/matters is a must. Not many job postings ask for one, but legal recruiters often do. 

Rather than scrambling to figure out the details of the major transactions you worked on in your career, make sure you have a comprehensive list in a format consistent with your résumé that you can quickly send off. 

Ideally, you’ll take some time to group your transactions into practice areas or industries that are particularly relevant to the target employer.

Added benefit: These lists are also excellent resources when you’re reviewing your job history for skills and accomplishments that you want to highlight on your résumé.

If you’re a litigator, you need a polished, professional writing sample. Again, not every job posting will require this, but most recruiters will request one upfront while employers will want one during the interview stage.

Some examples of litigation writing samples include excerpts from pleadings, motions for summary judgment, motions for dismissal and appellate briefs. 

While lists of representative matters are not requested as often in litigation, litigators would benefit from having a list, as well. If nothing else, it provides a quick reference sheet for accomplishments worthy of inclusion in your résumé and talking points for interviews.

**Important note: Make sure any appropriate redactions are made to writing samples and client names are omitted from representative transactions for any confidential or non-published matters. Don’t rush this step! Submitting confidential documentation is a sure way to get disqualified.

What this means for you: Schedule a recurring quarterly calendar reminder to do a quick update to your list of representative matters and revisit/refresh your writing samples.

RESUME WRITING CLASS FOR LAWYERS

Over the past several years, I’ve realized how much I enjoy arming lawyers with the skills and insight they need to create résumés that highlight their accomplishments, are infused with their unique voice and result in interviews. 

I also know not everyone needs or can afford 1-on-1 career coaching, but I have noticed that the most common career-related issue my clients bring up is how to write a modern and compelling résumé. 

For the first time ever, you’ll be able to work with me to learn a repeatable process for writing your own legal résumé outside my 1-on-1 coaching practice. 

I’m now offering In re Résumés, a two-week online résumé writing course for attorneys. Cue the confetti! 

If you’re ready to create a compelling résumé (in two weeks or less!) and land the interviews you want, get on the priority notification list to be among the first to know when I open the doors to In re Résumés.