The legal market is hot with rising salaries and increased firm sizes. Is it time to make a move? Maybe your firm is calling you back to the office, and you want to move to a firm that will keep you working remotely. Maybe it looks like partnership is not in your future in your current position. Even if you are happy in your current role, making sure your resume is refreshed and up to date is never a bad idea. Whether you are awaiting bar results, have a few years of practice under your belt, or you are an experienced professional, now is the perfect time to polish up your resume.
Changes to Resume Format
You probably learned a certain format for a legal resume in law school. Forget all that. For a profession that can get stuck in tradition, there have been some surprising changes to that tried-and-true legal resume. One of those changes is the branding statement, which replaces the more formal objective section of a resume. Branding yourself is the new norm. A strong branding statement highlights what you will bring to the table, captivates the hiring manager or recruiter, and showcases your talents. Starting off with a branding statement (which is placed just below your contact information) is a fresh way to set yourself apart from the competition. Consider touting both hard and soft skills in your statement, and make sure you are tailoring the statement to the job you are applying for.
Another change to the legal resume is what font to use. With the rise of online applications and electronic resume submissions, there is discussion about which fonts look better in electronic form and which fonts look, well, terrible. Times New Roman held the title of the preferred font for years, which made sense when resumes where printed and mailed, but Times New Roman can be difficult to read on a computer screen. Fonts like Georgia and Helvetica are easier to read electronically. Play around with what looks good while you are reading your resume on a computer, but always keep in mind that a more traditional font usually is better (sorry Comic Sans).
Font is not the only hot topic surrounding updated resumes. There is debate on whether to stick with the classic bullet point layout in the experience section versus writing sentences or sentence fragments. While both are considered “correct,” do what flows the best. Bullet points can take up a lot of valuable space on the page, so if you are struggling with fitting your information on a page or two, consider the sentence fragment structure. If you do not have enough to fill the page, go with bullet points. A lot will depend on your personal style, your ability to be creative and concise, and what point you are at in your legal career.
How long should your resume be? The current trend in the resume length debate is that a concise resume is better than a curriculum vitae style resume. Recruiters and screeners do not spend a lot of time reading your entire resume (again, why the branding statement has become so important), so the push towards keeping your resume one page makes sense. On the other hand, one page may not be enough to express the entirety of your career, especially if you have been practicing for a while. Look at what you are trying to accomplish with your resume to decide if you should go over a one-page layout. The goal of your resume is to catch the eye of the hiring team or recruiter and wow them with your credentials without being too flashy.
For new attorneys, there is discussion in the resume world about whether you should include your law school GPA. Some advisors say that anything less than a 3.0 should be left off. Others say that if you started off on the lower end of the scale your first year but climbed your way out of the hole your second and third year, put it on and make that a selling point in an interview. Either way, the firm likely has asked for a copy of your law school transcripts; therefore, you can decide whether it goes on the resume or not. Go with your gut on this one.
Now that we have discussed some of the new things going on in the legal resume world, let’s look at how to get that resume ready, based upon where you are in your legal career.
For those of you just starting out in your legal career, resume content will heavily rely on your education, your activities, and your experiences during law school. Highlighting a clerkship or internship is a no-brainer, but keep in mind that there are many other candidates that had a similar experience. If possible, focus on something from that experience that was different or impactful. If you earned any achievements or awards, like booking your Constitutional Law class or being a TA, make sure you include them on your resume. Law Review and Moot Court experience are a vital component to your resume, but what about other clubs and organizations you belonged to? If you held an office within the club, think about including it; however, if the organization could point out your political leanings, ethnicity, or gender, decide if you want to include that information or not. You can always mention the organizations during the interview process if you feel it would enhance your interview.
You have toiled, you have slaved, and you have sacrificed for the first few years at your firm—do you stay, or do you go lateral? Some associates may want to stay put and keep moving towards that partner track. For others, this may be the time to truly consider a lateral move. If it is time to move on, your resume needs to stand out in this hot lateral market. Unlike when you were just starting out, your resume now needs to focus on your legal accomplishments, followed by your education. If you have more than three years of experience, lead off with what you have contributed to your firm, without the proprietary details, of course. Your targeted firm wants to know how you can come in and get working day one.
Remember all that discussion earlier about the branding statement and how important it is in today’s world? It is especially true at this level. There are a lot of reasons someone with your experience and achievements may want to transition out of your current role. At this point, given your status and work ethic, you have probably convinced a person or twenty of your skills and abilities. Think of your resume as you would closing a deal or solving a complicated issue and apply that to get to the result you desire—the job. Those abilities and skills you use in everyday life should be the content of your branding statement. As for the experience section, at this point in your career, you do not have to do a complete recitation of your life’s work on the page. For older positions, it may be better to list an employer and title, years in that role, and a brief sentence about your accomplishments. Leave out the day-to-day tasks for those positions—it is unlikely the recruiter or hiring manager will care about what you did as an associate 20 years ago. Focus what it is you are looking for in the job, and use that as motivation to inspire your resume.
While everyone should already have a general shell of a resume on hand, it is important to remember to update as discussed and to target each resume to both the company you are applying to and the position desired. Your resume may not be seen by a real human being until after it goes through an electronic screening by ATS (applicant tracking system). It is essential to add keywords from a job posting into the resume before you hit submit. You should also be very honest while marketing yourself. Do not put anything on a resume that is not true, and do not embellish or stretch your achievements too far.
Another option to consider, especially for those with more experience, is to hire someone to help you write your resume. There are many professional resume writers that specialize in working with those in the legal profession. They are well-trained in tips and tricks to get your resume through the screening process and on to an actual interview. It can be hard to find the time to sit down and write your resume with all the other work that needs to be done. This can be a valuable option, and can also save time and energy.
Now is the perfect time to update your resume, no matter what stage of your career you are in. With salaries on the rise, firms poaching laterals and hiring more staff, and more emphasis than ever on work-life balance, you want to be ready to move on to your next great adventure!