Your resume is your only opportunity to sell yourself well enough to earn the chance to wow your potential employers in person. Employers on average dedicate just six seconds to each resume they receive, so putting in the time to craft the perfect resume is a must. This is especially true in the legal field, where competition for jobs is famously intense.
The good news is that if you can write a normal resume, you’ll be able to write a legal resume without much difficulty. The key is that you’ll have to orient this one towards highly experienced members of the legal profession, such as barristers, legal executives, judges, or the leaders of powerful organizations.
We’ll provide you with insights on how to nail this task, including a couple of insider tips that will help you create the best resume that will stand out from the crowd and help you land your dream job interview. So, without further ado, here are the basics that you must include.
Legal Resume Format
Like other resume types, a legal resume should ideally be one page long - two pages if absolutely necessary. While adhering to this length restriction, it should still provide enough content to get new employers interested and leave them wanting to hear more from you in person during your interview.
For higher-end positions, experienced legal folk might opt to provide a CV or a resume with an addendum - these allow for enough room to include all the relevant work.
Typically, a good resume will follow a specific format consisting of multiple sections. Below is the standard template you should follow; we’ll explain each part in detail.
What Is the Legal Resume Template?
- Resume objective/summary
- Law license
- Work experience
- Additional sections
Resume Summary or Objective
Most resumes start with your contact information, and yours should do the same. However, since you probably know that you should include your name, email, phone number, and address in the resume header, we’ll skip right to the resume summary or objective, which is often the primary headache job-seeking lawyers struggle with.
The pressure on this section is high, as it will likely be the only thing your new employer reads before making a preliminary decision. So, here’s the best way to approach this part of your legal resume.
If you’re a novice in the field and don’t have much experience to impress prospective employers, spending plenty of time on your resume objective is a smart move. You shouldn’t use this opportunity to “beg” for the job, but rather to present what you can bring to the table and what you’re hoping to achieve once you become a member of the team.
This is your opportunity to highlight your volunteering experience, any pro bono projects you’ve worked on or assisted with, and other relevant experiences that will put you in good stead as a new attorney.
In short, if you’re asking yourself “what should a resume look like?” try to remember: “Seeking to build on my experience” is always better than “Looking to gain new skills.”
Where this is stressful for aspiring lawyers writing their resume for their first job, it is also stressful for even the most experienced ones. If we’ve learned anything from the previous example, you need to choose your words carefully to best demonstrate how your employer would benefit from hiring you.
Experienced lawyers should consider tailoring their resumes to a particular job position, emphasizing relevant years of experience, relevant cases, and, if possible, any pertinent indicators of pertinent success.
Here is some more resume advice: Everybody can write that they have “won many cases,” in their legal resumes, but writing that they have “proven success achieving case dismissals and advantageous settlements” is more likely to pique the employer’s interest.
It may seem a bit obvious at first, but listing the details of your license - or even a pending one - is mandatory. If you don’t include that, your potential employee might think that you don’t have a license at all.
Bar admission, if you’ve secured it or even if it’s pending, must also be on your resume. Additionally, if you have other relevant licenses or qualifications, this section is the right place to list them.
This section will likely require the most time to polish, and it’s second only to the summary in terms of importance. The best way to approach the legal resumes format is to list your most recent employment first and then follow it with others in reverse chronological order. As with any other resume, you should include the employer’s name, dates of employment, job titles, and achievements in the position, but be mindful not to let your resume length get out of hand.
For a job-winning resume, the key word here is achievements. No one wants to read about you pushing a pen from one side of the desk to the other. They’re really interested in whether that pen-pushing was between two important clients who were signing a high-commission merger that you, as a corporate lawyer they should hire, made possible. Highlight your impressive achievements and note the responsibilities that made those achievements possible.
This is true even for students writing a legal resume for their first ever job. You should list your achievements through volunteer work, unpaid employment, pro bono projects, research for professors, or anything else that could be relevant.
Keep in mind that you should leave out irrelevant work experience, unless it has had a significant impact on your skills or achievements. No lawyer wants to know that you used to flip burgers at McDonald’s.
If you feel that what you have written up so far isn’t good enough to land you that job interview, then adding additional sections might help you close it.
Additional sections could include anything relevant to the position you’re applying for. However, it might be difficult for you to judge what to include in a resume and what to leave out with these sections.
Here’s an example: “Extensive knowledge of the UK’s soccer teams” might not be the thing that will land you a job as an environmental lawyer, but publications on environmental cases under your name might. However, if you’re applying to become a sports lawyer, highlighting your knowledge and passion is essential.
In this section you should list relevant volunteer work, as well as any conferences you’ve attended or where you were a keynote speaker.
Pro Tips that Can Make a Difference
What you write is the most important thing to think about, but there are also some tiny things to consider that could make a big difference. Here are our top three legal resume writing tips:
Style Your Resume
Once you put all your information down on paper, it’ll probably look a tad boring. Styling your resume correctly might be the reason why your employer picks yours out of the pile and reads it.
Make sure you find a layout that looks beautiful and highlights crucial information. But most importantly, stay consistent to your styling choices throughout the resume.
Ask for Feedback
Having someone take a second look at your completed resume can make a big difference. Apart from the fact that they can help catch any typos that would otherwise make you appear unprofessional, you can also rely on their opinion of your law resume. For example, you can ask them questions like: “What stood out? What felt dull?” Getting feedback is vital, as you can’t always be objective. It will also help you identify where you can improve.
Demonstrate Your Tech-Savvy Skills
If you send your resume electronically, there are a couple of rules you should consider following. Switching your resume to a PDF format before you send it shows some technical knowledge. It also hides the document history and formatting, allowing you to present only the final product. Be mindful of the document’s name as well. “John-Doe-resume” will leave a better impression than “resume-final” or “hksnduj.”
All in All
Your legal resume is the first impression you make, so it’s crucial to get it right. Paying attention to detail, listing relevant achievements, and ensuring it has all the necessary information to show that you are the right person for the job could be the reason why you get hired.