I applaud all job seekers who realize they need help perfecting their job application documents. However, it is crucial to get help from someone with expertise in your field. A marketing resume looks different than a banking or finance resume, and it should. Industries mature at different rates, and you do not want to send an infographic resume to a traditional law firm.
Recently, I worked with a number of clients who, in the weeks before contacting me, had their resumes revised by a well-known company that specializes in business news and financial services job placements and by a solo resume writer who has built her business helping her clients with their documents and placing them in new positions.
When I saw these resumes I knew exactly what their target market was... except it was the wrong target. If a potential employer saw my clients’ original resumes, they would likely be confused.
Know your audience.
Do not send a standard business resume, for example, in response to most legal job postings:
- Law firms are typically very traditional and will expect (and understand) the traditional attorney resume described below.
- Businesses looking for "in-house" attorneys may accept something closer to a standard business resume, but be sure to emphasize legal work in a team setting, working with non-lawyers, plus the other points below.
If you are an attorney applying for a non-attorney position, use a standard business resume format because that's what your audience is expecting.
Lawyer/attorney resumes are different from standard business resumes.
Here are five significant differences between recent resumes I've seen drafted for lawyers, and what an actual legal resume should include or exclude:
1. Legal resumes do not include an introductory sentence with each experience entry.
Including 1-5 lines describing the firm or company is a waste of valuable space on a resume. What the employer does is not important. What the job applicant accomplished there is what the reader wants to know.
If the type of law practiced is unclear from the description of the work the applicant performed, then those accomplishment statements need to be redrafted. One caveat is if the job seeker is trying to change practice areas, then the specifics of practice can be more vague while the positive work product and success stories should remain evident.
2. Where a lawyer went to school should have more emphasis than the degree they received.
In the USA, the degree will either be a Juris Doctor (JD), the most common, or a Master of Laws, more commonly knows as an LLM or LL.M. In Britain and Canada, Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) is an undergraduate legal degree. However, the degree is not as important as where the education was gained and because most lawyers get their JD it is often assumed that is the degree lawyers have. Regardless, a lawyer is not legally able to practice law without admission to the bar, which, in most cases, is impossible without having received a law degree.
3. Bar admission is not part of law school and should not be listed under “Education” unless the section is titled “Education and Bar Admission.”
Most non-lawyers either don’t know or assume that everyone takes and passes the bar exam immediately after law school and so the two are connected. However, some lawyers take multiple bar exams, for different states, and they may take the exams years apart.
Bar admission has nothing to do with their law school degree. This is a common mistake people not familiar with the legal industry make and on a legal resume is simply confusing because a lawyer would know better.
4. Traditional law firms, which most are, prefer to see a traditional document.
Your resume should not be overly formatted with borders and monograms or anything else with too many sections and sub-headings. Most, if not all, legal recruiters and hiring managers prefer a straight reverse-chronological resume format, making clear the firms and organizations where the candidate has worked and for how long. Titles are important insofar as they show a clear progression up the hierarchy.
5. In business, what can appear to make someone look well-rounded and versatile can make a lawyer appear unfocused.
In the example below, the job-seeking lawyer has experience in transactional, litigation, trademark, and copyright law plus insurance fraud experience.
The list makes this candidate appear to be trying to appeal to potentially 5 different positions in one resume. That is not productive.
A candidate should focus on one practice area in each version of his or her resume. So the resume used to apply for corporate litigation positions would highlight the corporate litigation experience, the resume used for software copyright positions would highlight software copyright experience, etc. Of course, each career path varies, but a real estate firm, most likely, will not find specific trademark experience relevant and vice versa.
- Listing "JD in common law" is not appropriate in the USA.
This is a clear indication that a non-lawyer wrote the resume and that the lawyer who sent it did not proofread it himself or herself. "Common law" is the body of laws based on judicial decisions and precedent, as opposed to statutory law. Yes, all lawyers learn common law. In fact, most of the world uses common law as the basis for their legal system. Thus, listing it on one’s resume is practically redundant, and looks odd, for positions in the USA.
- There are generally no specialties or majors in law school. If, however, a student took many classes in an intended area of practice, mentioning that is helpful. If a lawyer earned an LLM in Taxation or Real Estate or another specific area of law, that is also important to include.
- A lawyer should not have an “Executive Summary” at the top of their resume since they are not executives as the word is commonly used. A “Professional Summary” or “Legal Summary” is more appropriate
- Lawyers’ job titles include "partner," "of counsel," "general counsel," "legal intern," and "associate," among others. In a law firm, a lawyer’s title would be "Associate" rather than “Associate Lawyer” or “Legal Associate.”
Knowing your audience is crucial when drafting your resume. All resumes must be drafted so that it is clear how the job seeker’s accomplishments at their former employer saved time, money, and energy, and can be transferred and replicated at the position for which they are applying. However, each job seeker and resume writer must also keep in mind the job seeker's target field and create a document that is within current accepted conventions.
© Copyright Jessica Silverstein, 2012. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
About This Author:
Jessica Silverstein is a lawyer and former legal recruiter. As Principal of Attorney’s Counsel she writes and revises resumes, cover letters, and LinkedIn profiles. Currently, she counsels attorneys regarding their job prospects, and how their interview skills and resumes can be used as an effective tool to reach their career goals. Contact her through her website, Attorney’s Counsel or her blog AttorneysCounselNY.com . Find Jessica on LinkedIn Linkedin.com/in/AttorneysCounselNY and tell her why you should connect. Follow her on Twitter @AttysCounsel, and feel free to contact her via email at JesEsq [at] AttorneysCounselNY.com.
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