The competition for lawyer jobs is now stiffer than ever. Indeed, the annual National Association for Law Placement (NALP) Update on Associate Attrition report shows an overall decrease in associate hiring of nearly 50%. On a positive note, a survey by the consultancy firm Robert Half found that candidates specializing in bankruptcy, labor and employment, litigation, healthcare, data security, intellectual property, and insurance are in high demand.
While it’s true that law school grads are having a harder time finding jobs, you can take steps to improve your chances of landing a job at the law firm of your choice. The key to ensuring you stand out from the crowd when applying for a law firm position is to equip yourself with the best tools on your job search—and a great resume tops the list.
To help set your application apart, this guide for new or experienced legal professionals will help you optimize your legal resume to secure an interview. Whether you need design tips, guidance on how to best showcase your accomplishments, or ideas for tailoring your resume to engage multiple stakeholders, these tips will help you create a winning legal resume that will get you noticed—and hired.
1. Use good design to ensure your lawyer resume stands out
When you’re writing a legal resume, first impressions count. Just as you wouldn’t show up at a law firm for a job interview in old sweatpants, you don’t want to distribute a resume that’s disorganized, out of date, or lacking professional polish.
While the content of your resume is obviously important, it’s critical that your lawyer resume looks professional, too. A simple, easy-to-read design that’s laid out with the user experience in mind goes a long way—and boosts your chances of the hiring manager reading your resume.
Spending hours agonizing over how to lay out your lawyer resume like a pro isn’t an effective use of time. No one expects you to be a graphic designer so use tools to help. Free design software like Canva can provide professional resume templates—making it easy to give your legal resume a polished look to grab a potential employer’s attention. If you’re looking for lawyer resume samples, Yale, Notre Dame, and Berkeley have some examples that you may find helpful.
2. Lead with your lawyer profile or summary statement
As a lawyer, you’re trained to make a concise, persuasive argument—your lawyer resume should lead off in the same manner. Think of your lawyer profile (also known as a summary statement) as your opening statement. In two to four sentences, your profile should succinctly summarize who you are as a lawyer, illustrate what you bring to the table, and highlight your accomplishments.
Consider the profile statement in this lawyer resume example for a litigation defence attorney:
“Persuasive litigator backed by dual-state licensure (NY, NJ) and practice-area expertise spanning antitrust, product liability and catastrophic personal injury defense. Passionately represent client interests, working diligently to analyze case merits, minimize risk and propel positive resolutions to complex legal matters. Proven success achieving case dismissals, no-fault judgements, advantageous settlements and favorable verdicts.”
In three sentences, this example statement effectively summarizes:
- Who the lawyer is
- What type of law they practice and what they’re passionate about
- Their areas of expertise and where they’ve been successful
By outlining information about your specialties and experience first, you’re essentially summarizing the resume, saving your hiring manager’s time.
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3. Showcase your specialized skills
Before you list off the first few skills that come to mind, consider this section as an opportunity to paint a picture of your specialized skill set. Each attribute you choose to include is significant, so be sure to highlight what you’re best at—and be specific.
When listing skills, consider that employers want your lawyer resume to showcase your interpersonal skills and your legal-industry-specific skills—or ideally, a combination of both.
Here are some examples of relevant interpersonal skills that might be worth mentioning:
- Problem solving and critical thinking
- Conflict resolution and mediation
- Adaptability and ability to manage pressure
To highlight your suitability for the position, focus on the skills mentioned in the job description. Common examples include:
- Oral communication and arguments
- Persuasive writing
- Legal research
Technology skills (more on this later)
4. Use action words to strengthen employment history
In the employment history section, balance between including as many details as possible and ensuring you include details relevant to the position you’re applying for. Choose your words carefully. Here are a few tips:
Create an easy-to-follow employment map
Include details like law firm names, years employed, and your job title. Consider bullet points to keep things organized, but only if your information will still fit on one page. You may also choose to list relevant experience first, even if it’s not the most recent.
Use action words
Don’t just list where you’ve worked and what you did—use action words to convey more meaning. Generic words like “participated,” “worked,” and “managed” take up space on the page and are wasted opportunities. Instead, create a story by using appropriate action words like “advocated,” “negotiated,” and “counselled.”
Here are some action words that might fit into your employment history:
- Creation-related words: Formalized, conceptualized, orchestrated.
- Teamwork- or leadership-related words: Mentored, collaborated, directed.
- Achievement-related words: Spearheaded, accelerated, expedited.
- Problem-solving words: Overhauled, devised, rebuilt.
Consider these additional action words to create impact and deeper meaning:
Harvard Law School has also compiled a list of action words which you may find useful for optimizing your lawyer resume.
Highlight your accomplishments
Don’t be shy when it comes to sharing your achievements. Call out your relevant accomplishments to let hiring managers know why you’re the best candidate for the role.
5. Focus on relevant education
The level of educational background detail you should provide on your lawyer resume varies depending on several factors. These factors include how far along you are in your career, what type of law firm you’re applying to, and how relevant different parts of your education are. Consider these employer-friendly tips when writing the educational background section of your resume:
Highlight the notable
Don’t detail every course you’ve ever taken. Add only the relevant parts of your educational background, including legal designations and honors, such as notable certificates, accolades, or memberships. If you feel expanding on your education background would add value to your application, you may include additional details in your law firm cover letter.
List your GPA or class ranking only if it’s stellar
As hard as you worked in law school, if you weren’t top-of-the-class at a big-name school, don’t waste resume real estate detailing this part of your educational experience. Unless you’re applying to a Big Law firm, your GPA likely isn’t relevant here.
Consider your experience
If you have a few years of legal experience, it may not be necessary to go into extensive detail about your educational background; instead, list the basics (e.g., where you went to law school) and save space for your relevant, recent experience and skills.
6. Demonstrate that you’re tech-savvy
Today’s law firms are looking for staff who can start working efficiently right away—when it comes to using and learning technology. From cloud-based practice management software like Clio Manage, to client intake and CRM software like Clio Grow, more and more law firms are using legal technology to streamline processes, facilitate effective remote work, and offer a better client experience.
Technology skills can help set you apart in the eyes of potential employers, giving them the confidence to know they won’t have to spend time training you to use new software and systems. Keep in mind that if you land an interview, you may be asked to explain or demonstrate how versed you are in the specific programs you’ve listed on your resume.
7. What is your ideal legal practice area?
What sort of position are you seeking in your job search? Are you looking for jobs in immigration law? Do you want to specialize in family law? Regardless of your previous work history, think about the unique characteristics of the legal practice area you’re interested in (or would like to change to) and apply them to your lawyer resume.
Nobody wants to read a generic legal resume. Make sure you tailor your resume to focus on the necessary work history, keywords, and skills that are most relevant to the specific legal practice area you’re targeting.
8. Craft language and content to reflect the specific role
Once you have created a lawyer resume that’s specific to your preferred practice area, you can customize each resume more easily. You can also match the language and tone of the specific employer or firm you’re applying to more easily. A good way to learn a firm’s tone is to read content on their website.
To set yourself up for greater success with each individual law firm, start by editing various sections of your legal resume to make them more relevant to the specific position you’re seeking. This customization is also important to help you get past resume scanning software.
9. Make keywords work for you
You’ll come across many buzzwords on your job search—knowing what to do with them could be the key to your success. But how do you know which keywords to include? While you don’t want to just blindly copy-and-paste words from the job description, you can look to the job description for clues.
Thoughtfully integrating keywords and key phrases into your lawyer resume shows that you’re attuned to the specifics of the legal job that you’re applying for, which may impress legal hiring managers. This keyword integration is especially important if you’re applying for a job at a larger firm to ensure you’re not prematurely eliminated from consideration due to a screening algorithm. Did you know 75% of recruiters and hiring professionals use a recruiting or applicant tracking system (ATS) that screens resumes based on keywords?
In addition, legal hiring managers and other employers often scan resumes quite quickly, especially when there’s an influx of applicants. Including keywords and key phrases helps grab their attention so your application doesn’t get lost in the (digital) pile.
10. Keep your audience in mind
You need to consider all stakeholders who could be reading resumes—and think about who you want to have the biggest impact on. Just as you would tailor your legal arguments to the audience you’re speaking to, your legal resume needs to target the needs and wants of the primary stakeholders that will be evaluating your application.
Depending on the size of the law firm you’re applying to, your audience could include:
- A resume screener
- A recruiter
- The firm’s hiring manager, or
- Your future manager
You’ll want to include the right keywords and phrases to cater to those higher on the list, but your resume also needs to offer something that helps you authentically stand out to appeal to firm partners and hiring managers.
11. Demonstrate your knowledge of industry trends and recent regulatory changes
Potential employers want to know that you’re keeping up-to-date with industry trends and evolving regulations within the legal profession, such as:
- The digital transformation occurring across the legal industry
- The impact of remote working
- The growing focus on client experience
- Workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives
By reflecting your understanding of current trends within your desired profession, your lawyer resume can convey a level of professionalism and real-world competence that hiring managers are looking for in an employee.
Bonus: Tap into your social and professional networks
With as much as 85% of jobs filled with the help of networking, when it comes to finding a job, it often really is about who you know.
Networking is a powerful tool in your legal job search, and keeping your networking efforts fresh goes hand-in-hand with having an effective lawyer resume. While you’re updating your resume, it’s the perfect time to update your LinkedIn profile and other social media platforms. And, if you’re thinking of breaking into a new legal practice area, it’s a good idea to turn to your social networks; if you already know someone practicing in that field, it could be valuable (and help give you a leg up) to connect with them.
Consider starting a solo law firm
After going through the process of updating your lawyer resume and considering jobs at other law firms, it’s entirely possible that you may not wish to continue your job search or pursue the traditional law firm model. Instead, you may opt for a work-from-home lawyer job, become a freelance attorney, find a way to practice law part-time, or even start your own law firm. With a solo law firm, you get the benefits of owning and running your own business, being a leader, and gaining more control over who your clients are.
See how Tara Burd grew a $1 million law firm:
If you think starting a solo law firm may be a good fit, ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you an entrepreneur? Going solo has many benefits but won’t necessarily be easier than applying for a traditional job at another law firm. To start a solo firm, you’ll need to be a business owner and a lawyer—so be sure you’re up for the task.
- Do you have the connections? Make sure you have good connections from other lawyers who will potentially refer clients to you (just be sure you know the rules of referrals).
- Do you have enough loyal clients? You’ll have more success if you already have devoted clients you can bring to your solo practice.
Alternatively, going through the process of updating your lawyer resume may unlock other insights into your career future. You may want to pursue a different career entirely. If so, here are some things to consider before changing careers.
Putting lawyer resume tips into action
As a lawyer, you’re a professional when it comes to persuasion—it’s time to leverage those skills to sell yourself via your resume to secure the job you want.
By using the lawyer resume tips that we’ve outlined here, you can create a winning resume to streamline your job search efforts, or update and refine your current resume to help you get noticed. Be sure to keep relevancy top of mind, tailor your skills and experience to the legal practice area and job you’re applying for, and be succinct.
Note: The information in this article applies only to US practices. This post is provided for informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal, business, or accounting advice.
We published this blog post in June 2020. Last updated: .
Categorized in: Business
How to write a legal resume that law firm hiring managers will notice
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