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November 24, 2020

Career Services Blog

The Legal Resume, Part 1: The Basics

Image by Joey Guidone, Behance Image by Joey Guidone, BehanceCrafting a solid resume is a seemingly simple concept; how complicated can it be to write a single page about your experiences?

Of course, we know that even the most straightforward things have minutiae, unspoken norms, and multiple approaches. In the context of resume writing, this can induce analysis paralysis as soon as you open a blank document—even the way you present your name should be done thoughtfully. Not to mention, writing a resume for the legal world is an additional nuance with its own expectations.

Some of the information found online about creating resumes can be contradictory, vague, or inapplicable to the legal industry. Thankfully, the Career Services office is here to help. In this two-part article, you’ll find advice for everything you need to know to create a strong legal resume - from the basics on what to include to the Top 10 Tips.

What to Include and How to Include It

Let’s begin with an overview of categories a legal resume should include: a header, education, experience, community involvement, languages/special skills, and interests. Information within these categories should be listed in reverse chronological order, with the most recent experience first and working backwards.

Header:  The header of a resume should include your name and contact information - email address and phone number are standard, along with your address. If you are posting your resume online, however, it is advisable to just list a city rather than your full physical address - safety first. You may also include your LinkedIn profile. Make sure your header stands out from the rest of your resume. 

For a more polished application packet, use this same header for all of your application materials such as your cover letter and any cover sheets.

Education: The education section of your resume should list your present or most recent degree first, followed by prior degrees. Be sure to include the school, the program you are in, projected graduation month and year, and the city and state of the school. You may include any school-related activities, honors, or awards you’ve received. Don’t forget to mention your moot court competitions, law review, and leadership roles.

You may also include your GPA and class rank if it is impressive. Typically, this is the top-third of your class for law school. If listing cum laude on a resume, keep it all lowercase and in italics, listed after your degree: Bachelor of Science, summa cum laude

Some quick tips for Lewis & Clark Law School students and graduates:

  • Lewis & Clark Law School uses an “&” rather than “and” in its proper title.
  • List your law degree from Lewis & Clark as, “Juris Doctor” – and not a Juris Doctorate, Doctor of Law, or Doctor of Jurisprudence.
  • Indicate you are a law student as, “Juris Doctor Candidate, May 2021.” 

Small details like this are important, even if it feels like they are so small that they’ll go unnoticed. 

The Education section will usually be at the top of your resume if you are a student or a recent graduate but you may consider putting your Experience first if you have significant relevant experience that outshines your educational activities.

Experience: Just like listing your education, your current or most recent experience should be listed first. Include your job title, the name and location (city, state) of the employer, and dates worked. Set out the month and year instead of school term to look more professional (i.e., June 2020 - September 2020).

When writing about your experience, the goal is to describe the work you did in a way that highlights your responsibilities, accomplishments, and skills that will transfer to a legal career, such as writing, research, analysis, presentation, leadership, and client communication. Using a bullet point format is one of the easiest formats to read but there are other formatting options.

What kind of experience should be included in this section? Should there be separate sections for paid work experience, internships, and long-term volunteer service? Generally speaking, experience is experience. All of those variants can be listed in a single Experience section so that your resume is not disjointed or unnecessarily longer than it should be. 

Community Involvement: As with your experience, list your community involvement in reverse chronological order; include the position you held, the name of the organization you volunteered for, dates, location, as well as a brief description of the work performed. As your experience grows, you may decide to shrink the descriptions of your community involvement to save space.

Including your engagement is valuable because it indicates you have leadership qualities, business development abilities, a vested interest in bettering your community, and clues an employer into your interests and passions. Make a point to showcase the tasks you did that highlight these things.

Languages/Special Skills: Language skills are always worth putting on a resume; you’d be surprised by the demand for it! Be sure to list the language(s) you speak as well as your proficiency level.

As far as special skills, it is important to note that this does not mean following the current trend in non-legal resumes to include a bullet point list of soft and technical skills like “teambuilding” or “time management.” While these are good skills to possess, they are largely presumed for law students and graduates and are seen by legal employer as fluff. Describe them in your tasks instead. The skills employers are interested in for a special skills section are more concrete like website design or certifications.

Interests: This category is optional, but may helpful to include under some circumstances. For example, if you have limited experience to list, sharing the things you are interested in can be a great way to fill out your resume while adding a little of your personality. It is helpful when applying for judicial clerkships, as it is important to work alongside a judge with whom you have things in common. Or, if you happen to know that the employer has a shared interest with you, it can certainly be worth including on your resume. For example, if you learn your potential employer enjoys the symphony, you may want to highlight that you are a concert violinist. 

Even if you don’t know what this employer may be interested in, sharing your own interests offers a peek into who you are as a person, and may help you to stand out. Keep in mind that if you choose to include your interests, it is more powerful to include activities that demonstrate dedication, high skill, determination, and uniqueness. Something average such as going on day hikes once in a while doesn’t imply dedication or high skill the same way as listing that you hiked the Pacific Crest Trail or summitted Mt. Hood. The former may be ho hum while the latter would be worth mentioning.

It is more important than ever to have a strong resume that helps you stand out while still conforming to the expectations of legal employers. To learn more about how to effectively fill in these sections started above, stay tuned for the next installment: The Legal Resume, Top 10 Tips for Creating a Powerful Legal Resume - Part 2 will discuss the following tips:

  1. Keep it Concise
  2. Use an Elegant Format
  3. Make it Easy to Scan
  4. Tell a Story
  5. Avoid First-Person
  6. Use Active Verbs
  7. Describe Work
  8. Emphasize Skills
  9. Avoid Fluff
  10. Proofread

by Devra Sigle Hermosilla, Assistant Dean of Career & Professional Development,
and Jessica Peterson, Career Services Graduate Assistant