The goal of a legal resume is to create a good first impression for your potential employer. Due to the limited time hiring managers have to spend reviewing applicants, your resume must be precise, relevant, and professionally written. In our guide, we will highlight the important elements of a law resume and how to present them whether you are an experienced attorney or a law school graduate.
Most law students will look to legal resume examples when composing their first one. However, merely finding a professional-looking resume isn’t enough. There are several other essential elements you need to consider. Furthermore, the resume outline for a law practicing professional is not the same as for other job positions. In our guide, we will go over each section in the order they need to be included in law resumes.
In the resume header, you need to include your full name, email address, LinkedIn URL, phone number, and home address if you’re sending your resume by postal mail. If you are still a student, you can include your school email and address on campus. If you are applying for a legal job that’s not within daily traveling distance to your location, you can leave out the address.
If you include your home phone and cell number, it’s good practice to format your legal resume to make a distinction between the numbers by having “(C)" or “(Cell)” and “(H)” or “(Home)” next to them.
Including a link for your LinkedIn profile is great if you keep it updated. Also, make sure that there aren’t any discrepancies between the profile and the resume you are sending to the employer.
It’s important to know whether to list your education or work experience first. A legal resume’s format often prioritizes education unless you’ve worked as a lawyer for more than three years. In certain instances, it’s always a good idea to list your education ahead of the work experience.
When adding education, make sure to list it in reverse chronological order. A law student resume should include whether you’ve acquired a Juris Doctor or JD degree or when you are expected to graduate. This section should also cover undergraduate studies, studying abroad, or other graduate degrees before law school. Use a bulleted list and make a separate entry for each educational milestone. If you’ve completed your thesis, add it below the appropriate degree and include the title in italics.
The publications section should include any law-related articles you’ve written during your studies. This section should come right after education. According to legal resume templates, such works should be cited in accordance with where your potential employer is based or by using The Bluebook style manual. Make sure to separate any articles you might have written before and after law school and anything that’s not law-related.
Honors and Activities
The resume should also include academic honors and activities. It’s important not to overstate any achievements and have no more than three to five entries. A resume for law students shouldn’t have more entries in these categories because they can act as a distraction.
The honors section is reserved for cum laude, summa cum laude, magna cum laude, Dean’s List, Phi Beta Kappa, and academic achievement awards. Keep in mind that these Latin phrases should always be italicized and in lower case. If you decide to include your GPA in a legal resume, it’s best to have it in brackets next to cum laude honorifics. Make sure to write down your exact GPA, and don’t round it up or down. Also, if the GPA is below 3.0, don’t include it on your resume.
The activities listed on a law firm resume should show if you held public office or if you were a member of a sports team or any student organization during your time in university.
There is no need to include your high school education and standardized tests and LSAT scores on the resume.
A lawyer’s resume should outline prior work experience in reverse chronological order. There is no need to include more than the last five jobs you had. Furthermore, don’t include every job you had before or during law school. It’s more important to list the most relevant and significant work experience.
Recent graduates or law students should include clinical work they’ve done during school. Volunteering also comes under work experience, and it shouldn’t be included separately in lawyer resumes. However, if you’ve done a significant amount of volunteer work, you can add a separate community service section.
Most often, if there are gaps in your work experience or if you omitted something that’s not relevant to the job you are applying to, it may catch the hiring manager’s eye. Be prepared to explain any such occurrences. When it comes to duration, it’s enough to write down the year you started and stopped working on each of the jobs included in the resume.
Any legal resume template includes a description of the work done in previous job positions. These are essential, as they showcase your responsibilities and what kind of experience you have as a legal professional. Keep in mind that you should always emphasize job descriptions relevant to the position you are applying for.
The best practice is not to exaggerate the responsibilities you had at your previous job position. Just concisely present what you did and the scope of work you handled. There are plenty of examples of legal resumes online that will show you how to describe the work you did precisely. Furthermore, you should avoid using personal pronouns in the resume and begin sentences describing your work with action verbs. This way, you’ll avoid cluttering the resume and highlight important elements. Try to avoid using verbs such as “help” and “assist” as they are vague and do not showcase any specific skills you possess.
Applicants that are conversant or fluent in multiple languages can add the “Languages” category. For example, it’s enough to simply write “Fluent in Spanish” or “Conversant in French” to denote your skill with a foreign language.
There isn’t any attorney resume template that doesn’t include a category for showcasing your personal interests or hobbies outside your career or law studies. Most hiring managers will want to learn more about your personality, and this section is an excellent way to start a conversation without having to resort to broad and awkward questions.
Include hobbies or interests that reflect positively on your character. Also, avoid broad categories like “reading,” it’s much better to specify what type of literature you’re interested in.
What Not to Include in a Resume
You’re likely to come across templates for law resumes and examples that include categories we haven’t mentioned here. That’s because most often, these are viewed as unprofessional and inappropriate for the legal profession.
Placing the career objective or a related category in a prominent spot on your resume is often not appropriate for the law profession. This is even more pronounced if you are a student that’s looking for first-time employment. While it’s helpful for hiring managers when reviewing a legal intern’s resume and assessing if a candidate’s expectations match the job position, it may lose you the job interview.
The best practice is to have your education, area of study, research papers, and experience speak for themselves and show what position you are qualified for. You should include any specific career goals in the cover letter.
An attorney resume doesn’t need to include a summary of your personal traits, like your great sense of humor or outgoing personality. These are inappropriate for legal resumes, so leave them out of the document.
Ending the resume with “References available upon request” is not necessary. Most hiring managers know that these can be provided when necessary. To keep your resume clear and concise, you can list references in a separate document with the same heading. There is no need to have more than three to five references to send to the hiring manager on demand.
A resume for a lawyer should reflect their skills through previous work experience, action verbs, and education. There is no need to create a separate list, as your work experience and qualifications will be enough for your potential employers.
How to Include Bar Exam on Your Resume
Most importantly, you need to disclose the status of your license. Most attorneys and law students will need to include a licensure section or a bullet point in their resumes.
A bar exam is a critical component of your portfolio. Here are a few ways to include it in a law resume with examples.
If you passed a bar exam in one state, you could add a bullet point that states “Bar Admission: [name of the state or states].”
For law graduates that need to take the bar, there are a few different ways to showcase it in your resume. If you are eligible to take the exam, but you haven’t applied yet, you should write “Eligible for [month and year of the test] [name of the state] bar exam.”
Legal resumes for bar applicants can also indicate when they will sit for the exam: “Candidate for [month and year of the test] [name of the state] bar exam.”
Maybe you’ve passed the bar, but you’re not sworn in yet. Then you should include the bar exam in the following format: [Name of the state] admission pending.
How to Format Your Resume
A resume for lawyers, attorneys, and paralegals needs to follow a specific formatting and style guideline that’s in line with industry standards. Keep in mind that the goal of the format is to emphasize your strengths. It needs to be clear and concise so the reader can see the relevant information within 30 seconds.
As a candidate, you need to relay professionalism, so the resume needs to look the part. You are most likely to provide the document through an email or upload it through an online application form, so the best thing is to save it as a PDF.
Avoid Using Templates for Your Resume
Because resume templates force their formatting structure, your information will adjust to the template instead of the other way around. Your legal resume format should follow the expected form, and then it’s up to you to edit it and use the appropriate font, paper size, and margins.
As a standard, you should use font size from 10 pt to 12 pt, while the header can go up to 14. You should use traditional fonts like Times New Roman, Arial, Cambria, and Courier.
When formatting either your PDF resume or a hard copy, make sure to use the letter format, which is 8.5” x 11” in size. If you plan to print and send a hard copy of your resume, make sure to use high-quality white paper.
You should fit your resume within margins between 0.75” to 1” on the left and right. The top and bottom margins can be somewhat smaller at 0.7” and 0.5”, respectively.
Length of the Resume
The length of the resume for lawyers and other applicants that work in the legal industry should generally fit on one page. This is especially recommended for law students or individuals with limited experience. Individuals with extensive experience can have two-page resumes.
Remember that reducing font size below 10 pt or expanding margins to fit your information within the required format isn’t recommended. It’s better to use action verbs to make your text more concise.
Proofreading is essential. Having grammar and spelling errors is unprofessional and shows a lack of attention to detail.
With this information, legal resume writing should be straightforward for any future and current law professional. Even if you haven’t heard back from an employer yet, you should prepare for a law firm interview while keeping in mind that questions for paralegals are somewhat different than those for prospective attorneys.
Remember that after the interview, writing a thank you letter can leave a good impression and improve your chances of getting a job in the legal industry.