Looking for work isn’t easy, but—with the help of a few tips and a solid strategy—updating your lawyer resume doesn’t have to be hard.
In today’s economic climate, the competition for jobs among lawyers is stiff. It’s important to equip yourself with the best tools, like a great resume, to set yourself apart. However, even though you’re a professional when it comes to argument and persuasion, selling yourself on paper can be uncomfortable.
Here, we’ll outline ways to optimize your lawyer resume. From how to design your resume, to what to write to best showcase your accomplishments, these attorney resume tips will help you create a winning lawyer resume so you can get noticed—and hired.
1. Create a well-designed lawyer resume
When you’re writing a lawyer resume, first impressions count. Just as you wouldn’t show up at a job interview in old sweatpants, you don’t want to distribute a resume that’s disorganized, haphazard, or out of date.
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, at the very least, it ups your chances of your resume being read.
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 resume a polished look to grab a potential employer’s attention.
2. Start with your lawyer profile or summary statement
As a lawyer, you’re trained to make a concise, persuasive argument. This is what you’re doing with your lawyer profile (also known as your summary statement). Think of your lawyer profile as your opening statement. In two-to-four sentences, your profile should succinctly summarize who you are as a lawyer, show 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 she practices, and what she’s passionate about
- Her areas of expertise and where she’s been successful
3. Highlight your best skills
At first glance, the skills section may seem like an easy one to write. It’s just a short list of your top skills, highlighting your strengths at the top of your resume.
However, before you list off the first few positive attributes that come to mind, consider what an opportunity this section actually is. Each item you choose to include is significant—so be sure to highlight what you’re best at, and be specific.
When listing skills, you can showcase your interpersonal skills, your legal-industry-specific skills, or 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
Also, focus on things that the job description suggests the role that you’re applying for requires. Here are a few examples:
- Oral communication and arguments
- Persuasive writing
- Legal research
- Technology skills (more or this later)
4. Use action words in a detailed employment history
Here, create a balance between including as many details as possible and ensuring that what you include is relevant to the position you’re applying for. Choose your words carefully. Here are a few tips:
1. Create an easy-to-follow employment map. Include details like law firm names, years employed, and your job title.
2. 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.
3. Highlight your accomplishments. Don’t be shy when it comes to your achievements. Call out your accomplishments—as long as they’re relevant.
5. Include your educational background
How many (or few) educational background details you should provide on your lawyer resume can vary depending on a few things. This might 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 points when writing the educational background section of your resume.
Focus on what’s notable. You want to honestly outline your educational credentials, but you don’t have to detail every course you’ve ever taken. Add only the relevant parts of your educational background, including legal designations, as well as honors like any notable certificates, accolades, or memberships.
List your GPA or class ranking 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, you likely don’t want to 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 as necessary to go into extreme detail about your educational background—instead, list the basics and save space for your relevant, recent experience and skills.
6. Highlight any relevant technology skills
Today’s law firms are tech savvy—and they’re looking for staff that can pick things up quickly when it comes to using 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.
With this in mind, if you have technology skills, show them off on your resume—technology skills can help set you apart with potential employers, giving them the confidence to know they won’t have to spend time training you to use new technology.
7. Focus on the legal practice area you would like to be in
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 that you’re in (or would like to be in), and apply them to your lawyer resume.
By considering what area you’ll be working in, you can tailor your resume to focus on the necessary work history, keywords, and skills that are most relevant to that legal practice area.
8. Make sure your resume is specific to the legal role you’re applying for
Once you have created a lawyer resume that’s specific to the practice area you’re aiming for, you can then more easily customize each resume you send out—taking care to match the tone of the specific employer or firm you’re applying to (a good way to learn a firm’s tone is to check out and read their website).
By editing certain sections of your resume to make them more relevant to the role, you’ll set yourself up for greater success with each individual law firm. This customization is also important to help you get past resume scanning software.
9. Use keywords in your work history
How can you know what 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 job that you’re applying for. This is especially important if you’re applying for a job at a larger firm, as using the right keywords can ensure that you’re not prematurely eliminated from consideration due to an algorithm.
10. Keep your audience in mind
You need to consider all stakeholders who could be reading your resume—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.
Depending on the size of the law firm you’re applying to, your audience could include:
- Resume scanner software
- 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 will need to offer something that helps you authentically stand out to appeal to firm partners and hiring managers.
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 for job hunting, 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 the jobs out there are other law firms, it’s entirely possible that you might not want to pursue the traditional law firm model—you might want to instead opt for a work from home lawyer job, 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 more control over who your clients are.
That’s what Tara Burd found:
If you think that 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 the clients? You’ll have more success if you already have devoted clients you can take to your solo practice.
Alternatively, going through the process of updating your lawyer resume may unlock other insights into your career future. You might want to pursue a different career entirely. If so, here are some things to consider before changing careers.
You’re a professional when it comes to persuasion, so use those skills to sell yourself via your lawyer resume and secure the job.
By using the attorney resume tips that we’ve outlined here, you can update your resume to create a winner. Just be sure to keep relevancy top of mind, highlight the skills and experience that are most appropriate for the legal practice area and job you’re applying for, and be succinct.
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