What does a lawyer’s resume look like? In most respects, an attorney's resume is no different from an executive resume or any other six-figure resume of any other professional. It should clearly outline your accomplishments, experience, education and skills. It should look crisp and contemporary. It should be quickly digestible, so that the reader can appraise the basics of your qualifications in a few seconds. It should be guided by the fundamental principle of convincing the reader that you bring something of value that aligns with the employer's needs.
Of course, every field has its own traditions and idiosyncrasies, and the law is no different. In that light, analyze some legal sample resumes to notice that there are several areas that set the legal career perfect resume apart.
Perhaps because it is so cognizant of the value of precedent, no field is more respectful of tradition than the law. A legal resume is not the place to unleash your inner graphic designer or express your inherent creativity. The resume should be treated like a pleading and, just as a judge is unlikely to be impressed by a brief that departs from the accepted form, an employer will not be delighted by a novel approach to layout and typography. Black text on white paper is the best choice or, for the rebellious, black text on cream.
Even if your resume is but one of hundreds and likely to end up in the shredder, do not scrimp on your raw materials. Choose good quality, reasonably heavy paper and use a matching envelope. Pay attention to the print quality as well. If you are doing your own printing, this is not the time to opt for low-resolution, draft quality output. These same rules apply to your cover letter: It should be printed on good stock and, preferably, it should use formal letterhead from a professional print shop, not a homemade approximation.
A resume is not the place to show off your ability to write a brief. Sentences should be short, to the point and simple, using the active voice and not the all-too-lawyerly passive. Make it easy for the reader to grasp the resume's content. Break up long sections into digestible chunks and use headings and bullet points to clarify the resume's organization and draw the reader's eye to the right places.
An attorney's resume can have the same sections as any other resume, but it does not need much fluff. There is no reason to include a statement of your objective, given that you are an attorney applying for a position as an attorney. On the other hand, it can be helpful to open with an executive summary, especially if your resume itself is lengthy. A summary can give the reader a quick look at why you are worth hiring: "Proven competence in litigating complex multi-state bankruptcy matters as counsel to both creditors and debtors, including appellate appearances as lead counsel to several large business entities."
If you have been out of school for several years, education can be included after experience; if you are a new graduate with little experience, education can come first. Include academic distinctions that are likely to resonate with your reader.
Every resume should lean toward the specific and concrete. Instead of simply referring to your extensive legal experience in broad terms, provide noteworthy details. Those details can include successful trial or appellate appearances or significant clients you have represented.
Finally, remember that your resume may be screened by a computer or by clerical staff before it is seen by anyone with managerial authority. That initial review often focuses on keywords in the document, so be sure that your content aligns with the job description posted by the employer. A bankruptcy practitioner, for example, may wish to refer to admission to the relevant federal circuit and make special note of experience in contested matters or in a particular chapter of the bankruptcy code.