How to Build a Legal Resume

Preparation

Catalog Your Experiences

  1. Write down every job you have held and every meaningful volunteer experience you’ve had to get an idea of how many experiences you have to choose from
  2. You can use the Resume Content Worksheet to keep an ongoing file that you can use to tailor your resume when needed
  3. 1Ls: It is okay if you do not have any prior legal experience!  Any work or volunteer experience can be shown to have developed some skills related to the work of lawyers.   Examples of related skills are:
    • Research
    • Writing
    • Editing
    • Client-interviewing
    • Public speaking
    • Customer service
    • Multi-tasking
    • Organization

Select the Most Meaningful Experiences

  1. Research jobs that might interest you to help you determine what in your past experience fits best with what employers are looking for in a candidate
  2. The less legal experience you have, the more you will have to use other types of experiences to show your skills and achievements
    1. If you are applying to a non-profit, a government office or a legal aid office, it is important to highlight your volunteer experiences, especially those that further the same kind of work/values as the employer or serve the same community as the employer
  3. Instead of listing eight organizations of which you are a member, choose the one (or two) organization(s) in which you hold a leadership position and expand on the attendant responsibilities of that role that you do well

Organization

Resume Heading

  1. Create a professional heading format that includes your name, address, phone number and e-mail address
  2. If you are looking in a state where you are from, list your permanent address in that state
  3. The heading from your resume, cover letter, references and writing sample should all match
  4. Look at some HeadingExamples to help you get started

Section Headings

  1. Organize experience in reverse chronological order (with the most recent first)
  2. Always start with an Education section:
    1. Law School information first, because it is the most important
    2. Any post-graduate work next (Master’s Degree completed or significant coursework toward Master’s Degree)
    3. Undergraduate information last
    4. Do not list high school education
  3. Other standard section headings could include:
    1. Experience
    2. Legal Experience
    3. Work Experience
    4. Other Experience
    5. Volunteer Experience
    6. Community Service
    7. Customer Service Experience
  4. Generally, any legal experience (paid or unpaid) related to the employer’s work should go before other work experience
  5. Other Potential section headings:
    1. Put underneath Experience section(s), unless directly relevant to a job (in which case you may want to make it more prominent):
      1. Bar Admissions/Certifications
      2. Publications
      3. Languages:  Be clear and accurate about your level of proficiency (conversational, fluent in writing and speaking, etc.)

Describing Your Experiences

Translate Your Skills from Past Experiences to Future Legal Work


This is the most important thing your resume can tell employers: how the skills you’ve developed or enhanced in previous experience can carry over into strong lawyering skills.  Show how your past successes in any field make you the right person for the job.  For example, if you worked in retail and developed relationships with clients, or received a performance-based promotion, make sure you highlight that success!

When choosing what to put on your resume, include and describe those items in the following order:

  1. Accomplishments
  2. Results
  3. Skills and Abilities
  4. Duties and Responsibilities

Describe Your Experiences Specifically

  • Use Action Verbs (PDF) to describe the duties you successfully performed and the work you completed, instead of just listing the job description
  • Instead of telling the employer you drafted memoranda, tell the employer you drafted memoranda on employment discrimination.
  • Be completely honest about what you have done.  Do not fabricate anything, or it will come back to haunt you!

Catalog Your Specific Unique Interests

  1. If you put it on your resume, be prepared to talk about it in an interview!
  2. An interests section is not required and if you have an interests section, only include truly unique interests
    Example: Reading crime dramas, running 10K charity races and cooking Thai food, sounds much more interesting than Reading, running and cooking.
  3. Do not add interests if it would take you into a second page.
  4. If you do choose to have an interests section, do not add so many interests that it appears you are more interested in hobbies/leisure than in working for that employer!
  5. Be cautious about adding controversial interests or activities, such as political activity. 
  6. Never add a Personal section or any information regarding your race, religion, gender, sex, age, marital status, children, weight, pictures or any other personal data
  7. Know enough about any interest you list to talk about it specifically.  An interviewer may connect with you about one of your interests, and you want to know what you are talking about.

Recommendations

General Recommendations

  1. A hiring manager will review your resume in less than one minute! Make it count!
  2. Proofread, proofread, proofread!
  3. Assure there are appropriate amounts of white space.
  4. Use 11-12 point font: smaller is too difficult to read, larger looks cartoon-ish.
  5. Do not use more than one font!
  6. Some fonts that work well for resumes:
    1. Times New Roman
    2. Arial
    3. Garamond
  7. Use tabs, boldface and italics consistently from one experience to the next.
  8. Be sure to highlight the most important aspects of your experience by placing it strategically on the page:
    1. Do not put the date at the left hand edge: it is rarely, if ever, the most important part of your experience, so don’t emphasize it by putting it first!
    2. Same goes with location of the experience: not the most important part, so don’t put it on the far left
    3. Either put the name of the company or the position you held at the far left, regarding work/volunteer experience
  9. Proofread again!
  10. Go through the ResumeChecklist‌ (PDF)

Printing Recommendations

  • Laser print on high-quality resume/bond paper
  • Do not choose colored paper as it copies poorly
  • White, off-white or cream work well and copy better
  • Match envelopes if possible
  • Consider mailing in full-sized 8 ½” x 11 envelopes, as creases make a resume more cumbersome for the reader (The Postal Service offers free document envelopes for Priority Mailing.  These keep your documents safe and show they are important.) 

Online Submission Recommendations

  1. If submitting via e-mail, convert to a PDF file so that no one can inadvertently change your content or layout (or check original showing mockup)
  2. Put your name in the PDF file name
  3. Practice sending your resume by email (to yourself or a friend) before actually submitting to make sure it works