The following suggestions are for law students and recent graduates who are seeking law clerking or entry level attorney positions. An experienced attorney who is preparing a resume for a lateral move should list legal experience before academic background. For the experienced attorney, legal experience/work history now becomes the prime credential for a prospective employer.
- Use your formal name. If you are generally called by your nickname, this can be indicated by signing your cover letter using your nickname.
- Both permanent and school addresses should be listed, if applicable.
- Include area code with telephone number(s). Indicate if it is a message, cell or answering machine number.
- Include email address.
- DON’T include picture, date of birth, marital or health status, height/weight, social security number, or number of children. This information is not relevant on a job application.
If you have not yet graduated, an assumed objective is a law clerk position. If you have graduated and passed the bar, the assumed objective is an attorney position. If, however, you have an interest in one very specific area and nothing else, indicate that as an Objective on your resume. The Objective is vital when applying for nonlegal positions. It is appropriate to simply state the position title.
Admission to bar
If you have recently passed a state bar exam and have been sworn in to practice, you should indicate that fact on your resume. After a relevant heading, indicate “Passed Arkansas Bar Exam, February 2011″ or “Awaiting Admission to Arkansas State Bar” or “Licensed, State of Arkansas, February 2011.” It is not essential to include this category. Most attorneys will assume that you are licensed or will be shortly and view this category as unnecessary.
List the schools you attended in reverse chronological order with UALR William H. Bowen School of Law first. For your law school entry, list your expected date of graduation and additional relevant information. Class rank and GPA are obvious selling points if your GPA is 3.0 or higher. Of course, not listing it indicates the probability that your GPA is less than 3.0. If you’re borderline (2.9, 2.8), you may want to list it. For undergraduate and other graduate degrees, be sure to include the month and year these degrees were conferred and the specific degree received. Academic performance in undergraduate or other graduate education should follow the same guidelines as for law school.
If your cumulative grade point average is not outstanding, but you have a top paper, or your grades in a few specific courses are strong, list these courses. If your Legal Research or Reasoning, Writing and Advocacy grades have been consistently high, indicate that. If you are applying in a specialized area of law practice, list the relevant courses to show an employer that you have studied in this area.
List academic honors, such as Bowen Fellow, and extracurricular activities such as Law Review or Moot Court, and indicate your capacity. When listing student organizations and associations, always list the full name, not initials (i.e., Student Bar Association (SBA) and office(s) held). This not only fully identifies the organization, but looks more impressive. Be sure to list honors and activities under the school at which they were achieved. In general, list these items rather than write them in paragraph form.
Always list first the assets that are your greatest selling points for the position, but do not overload. This is true for undergraduate as well as other advanced degrees. Excellence in academics before law school is worth noting, but be selective. You do not want to overshadow your law-related experiences.
Do not list the high school you attended unless that high school has a national reputation or there is some other major significance associated with your high school experience (i.e., you were an exchange student in a country where you now have professional interests).
Experienced attorneys – Remember that this category follows the “Legal Experience” category on your resume.
If you have written a law-related article that has been or is about to be published, list it immediately after the education section. Be sure to use an accurate citation. If the articles are not law-related, list them under a Publications heading towards the end of your resume, after Work Experience.
Legal positions should also be listed in reverse chronological order. Include all jobs that are relevant to your legal training, including volunteer, externship, and internship positions. Give the name of the firm or company, city, and state. State your job title – Law Clerk, Research Assistant, Judicial Extern, etc. Briefly describe your activities/accomplishments. Use action words as much as possible to describe your accomplishments (e.g., supervised, interviewed, analyzed, researched, drafted, organized). This is preferable to saying, “Responsibilities included…” Avoid using the word “duties.” List substantive areas of law with which you have dealt, types of legal documents which you’ve drafted, and your relevant accomplishments.
Dates of employment may either be stated at the end of the description or in the left hand column of the resume. Do not state salary or reasons for leaving.
Experienced attorneys – Remember that this section should be first on your resume. Your legal experience is of prime importance in future job considerations.
Additional professional experience
This category can be used if you have had a previous non-legal career or you are presently employed as a professional in a non-legal field. Listing these types of jobs separately allows the employer to note at a glance your legal versus non-legal experience. These positions should be listed in the same manner as the legal jobs. Dates of employment should be listed in a consistent manner with those under Legal Experience. Keep in mind that listing dates in the left hand margin highlights them, which may not be an asset if the experience dates back too many years or there are significant gaps in your work history. Again, use action words to describe your accomplishments. However, be as concise as possible. By elaborating in tremendous detail your many responsibilities and accomplishments in another career, you might relay a message of preference for that career over one in law.
Other work experience
This category includes employment, other than legal, that is not at a professional level. Part-time and summer jobs such as waitress, store clerk, camp counselor, etc., can be put in this category but only if you lack other work experience. You should use your judgment as to whether this adds anything to your resume. First-year students in particular may want to use this category because you lack significant job experience in the legal arena. In any event, the jobs can be handled simply by listing the job titles consecutively without reference to employer and without descriptions. A simple sentence such as “Various summer and part-time jobs to finance education, including…” will suffice. This will save space and account for a time period in your life.
Language proficiency, special skills, interests
Be sure to add any foreign language proficiency to your resume. Those in high demand, like Spanish, should be placed higher up in the resume after Education. Unusual or interesting hobbies, athletic abilities, and/or organizations in which you actively participate, may be included on your resume. These items can be listed paragraph-style so that they do not take up more than a couple of lines. Information of this sort may be interesting to smaller firms where common interests and compatibility are especially important. Additionally, some firms feel that outside activities are a good source for potential business. Other interests frequently serve as an opening for discussion at an interview.
Membership in professional organizations should be listed in this separate category. Always mention legal organizations first.
Writing sample available upon request
This phrase is sufficient at the bottom of a resume. Do not send a writing sample unless instructed to do so. If you are asked to submit a writing sample, select a research memo, brief, or other short legal research paper that is your best work, preferably related to the area of law that the job requires. Quality is more important than length. Most employers won’t read beyond 5 to 10 pages. Know your writing sample and be prepared to discuss it. Bring a copy to the interview with you, but only offer it if asked. The writing sample should be free of markings, comments, grades, etc.
- Whether to list references is a controversial topic, but I suggest you list them. Generally, most potential employers do not contact your references until after they talk to you. To keep your resume as short and concise as possible, have a separate but optional “Reference Page” which lists 3 to 5 individuals. Be sure to include your identifying information (copied from your resume for visual consistency). Never list a reference without asking them in advance.
- Law faculty and legal employers are the best references. Undergraduate faculty members are also good references, as well as former employers. Definitely do not use relatives or friends. Be sure to include the reference’s name, title, affiliation, address, phone number and email address, if known.
- For some graduating students and recent graduates, listing two or three references on the resume can be beneficial. If your resume lacks outstanding academic credentials and/or substantial legal or work experience, list those references who can best attest to class performance or work experience.
- As you progress in law school, you should begin to work towards three references among law professors, other legal professionals, politicians or business and civic leaders known in the legal community.
- Be sure to send a copy of your resume to each of your references.
- If references are not included, end your resume with “References available upon request,” or to accommodate both references and the writing sample, “References and writing sample available upon request.” While some experts consider this a non-essential addition to the resume, others see it as, in essence: “The end.”
If you are employed and are seeking a job change, you probably don’t want your current employer to know that you are job hunting. It is appropriate to include a statement at the very bottom of the resume requesting that a prospective employer not contact a current employer: “It is requested that current employer not be contacted.” Or, “Confidentiality with regard to present employer is requested.” This message must also be included in the cover letter which is sent with the resume.