11 Resume Rules Every Law Student Should Follow

April 27, 2021
11 Resume Rules Every Law Student Should Follow

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In today’s virtual world, it is even more important for law students to get their resume right.

“A bad resume is far more detrimental to your job search than a good resume is beneficial – many potential employers view bad resumes as disqualifying,” said Mike Wippler, member of the national law firm Dykema. “Your resume should look professional, be easy to read, tell an accurate and truthful story, and highlight your readiness and skills for the position.”

Learn the top resume rules from the experts to stand out from the crowd and land the legal job you want.

1. Keep It Short.

A good legal resume doesn’t need to be long. In fact, it should be one or two pages at most.

“As a hiring manager, I want candidates to be able to eloquently and succinctly articulate their experience and career goals – this is especially critical for someone who wants to be a trial lawyer,” said Noel Edlin, managing partner of San Francisco-based law firm Bassi Edlin Huie & Blum.

Similarly, “use bullet points effectively – state what you did and how you did it in a way that demonstrates your experience, skills, and the results you achieved,” said the University of Miami School of Law Career Development Office.

“For students or junior lawyers with minimal experience, try to keep it to a single page and succinctly summarize your experience, linking it to qualities that you want to highlight – for example, analytical abilities, taking initiative, [and] attention to detail,” said Katten chief talent officer Melanie Priddy.

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2. Keep It Traditional.

Traditional legal resumes for law students are structured in three to four sections in the following order: Heading, Education, Experience, and an additional optional section, such as Interests, Languages, or Skills, according to the University of Miami School of Law Career Development Office.

“Do not go crazy with color or design – black type on a white background is preferable, and do not include your photo or other graphics. Pick one font and stick with it,” Edlin said.

Ensure a consistent layout, too. “Use a resume format that is simple, professional, and easy to read,” Priddy said. In this vein, “Formatting should carry through the entire page – bold/italics, font, spacing, indentations, etc., should be consistent throughout.”

3. Proofread Everything.

“A resume is the first example of your ‘work product,’ and it can be hard to overcome a negative first impression if there are errors,” Priddy said. “Proofread your resume and make sure it is free of grammatical errors and typos, including the law firm [name].”

Finally, in proofreading, review abbreviations. “Use abbreviations only if they are universally understood,” said the University of Miami School of Law Career Development Office.

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4. Update Contact Information.

“This seems like a no-brainer but be sure you’re providing updated contact information – full legal name, address, email, phone, and LinkedIn profile link,” Edlin said. “It helps save administrative time if we decide to extend an offer of employment.”

Similarly, “add a professional voicemail message that confirms who a caller has reached and clear your voicemail inbox regularly so employers can leave you messages,” Priddy said.

5. Boost Your LinkedIn Presence.

In parallel, “complete your LinkedIn profile and add it to the contact section of your resume,” said the University of Miami School of Law Career Development Office.

“Make sure [it includes] a banner image, a good headshot, an about section, and links to any articles you have published,” Edlin said. Similarly, “Be active on the platform by posting/liking content and recognizing the accomplishments of contacts. Try to acquire at least 500 contacts,” Edlin said. “It helps to paint a picture of who you are and stay on the radar of employers.”

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6. Be Truthful.

“Do not include anything that you do not want to discuss in an interview,” said the University of Miami School of Law Career Development Office. Similarly, “do not overexaggerate your language skills – you may be asked a question in whatever language you claim fluency.”

The same holds true for hobbies. “Make sure that any hobbies or interests on your resume are truthful – interviewers will likely ask for details,” Priddy said. “Even if you get hired, it may cost you the job later,” Wippler added.

7. Do Not Assume Reader Knowledge.

“Don’t assume that everybody assumes you have technical skills – if you have them, make sure you point them out,” said Chris M. Smith, partner and co-head of DLA Piper’s New York real estate practice.

“If you’ve done anything that is a little bit different, make sure it shows on your resume,” Smith added. “And if you have a connection at the firm, have them try to put in a good word for you.”

8. Customize the Content.

“Customize your resume for different employers by highlighting experiences relevant to the particular job an employer is seeking to fill,” said the University of Miami School of Law Career Development Office. The same holds true for the cover letter.

“Add something to your cover letter that relates your application to the organization or the law firm in a way that stands out from the generic cover letter,” said Efrén Olivares, deputy legal director of the Immigrant Justice Project at Southern Poverty Law Center. “That’s going to make a difference, and it’ll send your resume to the top of the pile.”

For further customization, “include a two- to three-sentence summary at the top [of the resume] that directly aligns with the job posting,” Edlin said. “Customize this section using keywords in the job description in a way that makes it clear you are a strong candidate for the opportunity.”

9. Reach for “Power” Words.

“Replace generic words with power words and action verbs – ‘advised,’ ‘advocated,’ ‘resolved,’ ‘advanced,’ ‘enhanced,’ ‘maximized,’ ‘achieved,’” said the University of Miami School of Law Career Development Office.

“Oftentimes, your resume is being scanned by machine learning/natural language processing programs that have been programmed to search for keywords, so include keywords you’d find in the job you want,” Edlin said. “Even if your CV is being reviewed by a decision-maker, it may get a one- to two-minute scan, so leverage that time by including keywords that will stand out.”

10. Focus on Relevant Experience.

“When describing prior work experience, include details that highlight your ability to lead and work with a team, collaborate with others, and provide client service,” said Lauren Marsh, director of attorney recruiting at Akin Gump.

“Some students may assume they have no relevant skills if they did not work before attending law school – however, they should be sure to highlight the comparable experience they gained through internships or college activities,” Marsh said. “These are skills we highly value in our candidates, and an indicator they have developed skills that will enable them to be successful at the firm.”

Also, “Where you went to school is not as important to me as what you did there, how you engaged with the community, organizations, and leadership development,” said Jason Starr, litigation director of Human Rights Campaign. “A strong academic record [is important], but what else about you demonstrates a real passion and a real willingness to dig in?”

11. Be Clear About Your Licensing Status.

“Depending upon where you are in the process, you can indicate it in several different ways, and update your resume as you move from one category to the next,” said Shauna C. Bryce, who practiced law and served on a law firm hiring committee before starting Bryce Legal Career Counsel.

“If you’ve been admitted to practice, are active and in good standing, then your bullet point is simple – something like this: ‘Bar Admission: California.’ If you have not yet applied to take the bar exam but are eligible to take it: ‘Eligible for July 2021 California bar exam.’”

“If you’ve submitted your application to sit for the exam but have not yet sat for the exam: ‘Candidate for July 2021 California bar exam.’ If you have sat for the exam but have not yet received the results: ‘Candidate for July 2021 California bar exam (results pending).’ If you have passed the exam, but not yet been sworn in: ‘California (admission pending).’

[Log in to Bloomberg Law to read the full article: Ask the Hiring Attorney: How do I show my bar status on my resume?]