Lawyers, paralegals, legal secretaries, legal assistants, and other legal industry professionals work in a complicated industry filled with paperwork, documentation, and data. But that doesn’t mean that a legal resume should read like a lengthy legal brief.
Today, legal job postings online are the norm rather than the exception, which means that legal recruiters and hiring managers are flooded with applications from job seekers for any open position, says Jamy Sullivan, JD, Executive Director of Robert Half Legal, a premier legal employment agency providing highly skilled legal professionals on a temporary, project, and full-time basis to law firms and corporate legal departments in North America and globally.
What’s Unique About a Legal Resume?
“Legal candidates need to highlight a broader range of skills and capabilities on their resumes than are typically required of job applicants in other industries,” says Sullivan. “They need to outline the breadth of their legal knowledge and experience and business acumen.”
She continued: “They also need to include examples of their advanced technical skills and capabilities, especially if they possess specialized legal tech expertise or qualifications (for example, eDiscovery certification). Legal professionals should also demonstrate exceptional soft skills and competencies that are essential in the legal profession – such as relationship building, service orientation, teamwork and collaboration, leadership, communications, and negotiation, to name a few.”
Legal Resume: One or Two Pages?
Unless you have a very long work history in the legal profession, you will want to keep your resume to a single page, says Sullivan. If you have tenure or considerable expertise to showcase, do not sacrifice listing your experience to make your resume one page.
For those with vast experience (10+ years), several published articles, a unique list of in-demand industry technical skills, or quantifiable results that match a unique job description, two pages resume “is perfectly acceptable for experienced legal professionals,” says Sullivan.
If you are an entry-level legal industry professional and applying for your first job out of law school, a resume should only be one page.
“On average, recruiters may spend only a minute or two, or less, reviewing each resume,” says Sullivan. “So it’s critical that your legal resume strongly conveys your background and abilities in a clear and concise manner.”
The Basics of a Legal Resume
It seems simple, right? Providing basic information should be standard. But failing to provide the pertinent contact information and other specifics can quickly eliminate legal professionals from consideration. According to Sullivan, a legal resume should include the following:
Your name and contact information
Including mailing address, personal email, and phone number. Avoid using a work email or phone number.
Short summary section
Once you list your contact info, start the resume with a summary section quickly highlighting your background and how it matches the specific job. This should be tailored for each job.
After the summary, list 4-5 short and relevant bullet points highlighting your legal industry experience, technical skills, most impressive and relevant successes, and any other pertinent information. Adjust for each job as necessary.
Items to include in a profile include a listing of state licenses, key technical skills (more on that below), your law school education in a brief sentence, and any other key successes.
After the profile, list your experience and remember these resume tips from Sullivan:
1) Consider your key strengths and capabilities that make you uniquely qualified for the open position. Highlight those skills, knowledge, and experience in your resume.
2) How you convey the information is also important. Use a clean format and employ bullet points, headings, and bold words to help recruiters or hiring managers scan and identify critical details quickly.
3) Experience should be listed in chronological order using this format:
Job title, company, city/state (years)
4) Be sure to include a short description of the type of firm you work for. For example:
Attorney, Smith and Associates, Los Angeles, California (2012-present)
[Results achieved in this role] for law firm focusing on personal injury, medical malpractice, and criminal defense:
- Include a relevant bullet point that highlights a related success or achievement.
- Add a relevant bullet point that lists accomplishments or related skills.
- Read the job description to match your bullet points to the next job.
- It’s typical to have 4-8 bullet points (or more) depending on experience or time spent at a job.
Repeat this for every job for the last 10-15 years. Eliminate jobs after 15 years. Some recruiters say that after 10 years you only need to list the basics in one sentence, without bullet points, such as:
Law clerk, Orange County District Court, Orange, California (2005-2006)
5) When documenting your bullet points, it’s important to offer your career highlights and accomplishments. Don’t just list current and past duties and responsibilities. As you summarize your experience and capabilities, do so by highlighting how your knowledge and expertise resulted in specific achievements and concrete, quantifiable outcomes.
“Focus on achievements related to the position to which you are applying,” says Sullivan.
Education on a Legal Resume
If you are an entry-level legal professional, list your education immediately after the profile section at the top of your resume but before experience. For experienced legal industry professionals, listing your education after experience is the norm.
Do you list the year you graduated from law school?
“My go-to guideline is to not include the date you graduated from law school or received your undergraduate degree on your resume if it was 10 or more years ago,” said Sullivan.
In addition to your education, be sure to list any certifications or specialized continuing education courses/training completed. This is valuable as one advances in their career, to show employers specialized training/skills and continuing education.
Legal-Tech Expertise is In-Demand
Legal professionals today are expected to be proficient in the use of online information and research databases and services, says Sullivan, so refrain from including these basic capabilities on your resume. For example, instead of listing Microsoft Office software and legal technology tools that facilitate daily duties, highlight only advanced and specialized tech skills and competencies that relate directly to the job.
“The ability to effectively leverage technology to enhance client service and reduce operational costs is a threshold requirement for legal professionals today,” says Sullivan. “They need to demonstrate proficiency with tech-driven software and online programs to manage web-based meetings and collaboration, case management and trial preparation, billing and time management, and more.”
Paralegals and lawyers who can use litigation and eDiscovery software and platforms to manage, sort, analyze, and track evidence and case-related documents are in demand. Legal candidates are also being sought to design and implement complex databases to manage, sort, index, and extract large volumes of data produced in litigation.
The demand for advanced legal-tech skills is also creating new positions within the legal workplace. Litigation Support Analysts conduct, analyze, and manage eDiscovery matters and help collect, produce, and manage electronically stored information (ESI) in litigation cases. Document Coders are also needed to help organize and manage data in eDiscovery engagements. Cybersecurity is an in-demand area of expertise. Cybersecurity and data analysts work closely with legal and IT professionals to manage growing concerns relating to data privacy, security, and compliance matters.
If you’ve published any law articles, include them on your resume if they relate to the job opening. Consider adding that information in a separate section, or as part of an Additional Information section at the bottom of the resume (more on that below).
General Legal Resume Writing Tips
Keep it short and to the point – Remove the fluff
“When writing your resume, make sure every word counts and helps convince the manager that you’re an ideal candidate for the job,” says Sullivan. “Your resume should be uncluttered, short, and concise.”
What is fluff? Information that has no relevance to the job, or does not sell yourself for the position for which you are applying. This includes listing tangential personal hobbies or an over-abundance of soft skills (tenacious, resilient, analytical) that aren’t backed up by hard evidence.
What would be beneficial in an Additional Information section? Instead of listing hobbies, it can be beneficial to add a section that features relevant industry experience. For example:
- Pro Bono: Served as legal adviser for Orange County Chapter of Association of Non-Profits, providing legal expertise for 6 area non-profit organizations.
- Contributed as guest lecturer on a variety of legal topics to students at UCLA Law, focusing on business and labor law, finance and securities law, and family law topics and issues.
- Treasurer, Greater Los Angeles Lawyers for Love, a non-profit organization of area legal industry professionals who hold fundraising events for family members of area law firms suffering from cancer. Held events that helped raise $326,000 from 2013-2017.
Tailor your resume
A one-size-fits-all resume doesn’t work for anyone, including lawyers, paralegals, and other legal industry professionals.
“Each time you apply to a job posting, tailor your resume to underscore your experience, skills, and achievements that match the specific job requirements,” says Sullivan.
Understand Applicant Tracking Systems
Because many legal employers run resumes through screening software to streamline the hiring process, you should incorporate resume keywords that match important skills, phrases, and qualifications noted in the job posting, says Sullivan.
Your resume might be getting lost in these systems. Learn more:
- Taleo: 4 ways the Most Popular ATS Ranks Your Job Application
- 8 Things You Need to Know About Applicant Tracking Systems
- Jobscan Learning Center: Applicant Tracking Systems
Proofread your resume thoroughly before sending it out and ask a friend to review for typos to ensure there are no errors.
What Should NOT be on Your Legal Resume in 2018?
- Avoid flashy graphics, images, charts, and boxed information. Steer clear of fancy fonts, colors, and complicated layouts. These items not only distract from your message, they may lose their format when sent electronically, says Sullivan.
- Don’t list references or state that “references are available upon request.” Hiring managers expect that you can provide references and will ask for them if they’re interested.
- Don’t list salary information from previous positions. Wait until you land an interview to discuss your salary expectations or compensation treatment in prior jobs.
- Don’t explain why you left past positions on your resume. Be prepared, however, to provide this information if asked during job interviews.
- Steer clear of overused terms and clichés on your resume – words such as “team player,” “highly-qualified,” “people person,” “problem-solver.” Instead, provide specific examples of your accomplishments or concrete ways you applied skills or capabilities to overcome challenges or achieve results.
- Do not include an objective on your resume – anyone who reviews your resume is looking for what you can offer their organization, not how they can help you achieve your professional goals. The summary replaces the objective. Focus the summary on how you fit the next job.
Follow these tips and you’ll be on your way to writing a legal resume that gets noticed and lands an interview.
Matt Krumrie is a professional resume writer, and owner of Resumesbymatt.com. He has 15 years of resume writing experience and specializes in eliminating the clutter and information that won’t add value to a resume.