A good recruiter will help you identify your unique strengths and tailor your resume and cover letter for each potential position accordingly, but even if you are conducting your search on your own, the same basic principles apply: be aware and get specific.
First, it is important to constantly be aware of the value you are providing as an attorney, and be thinking about what experience you have that would be attractive to a prospective employer, even if you are not planning on ever making a move. This is because thinking this way will make you a better attorney to your current clients, as well as improve your future career prospects.
If someone walked into your office right now and asked what you were working on, why it was important to your partner/client (i.e. why you should be getting paid for doing it), and why you are the best person to be doing it, would you have an answer? If so, excellent – if not, well, there’s a problem that needs to be addressed. Perhaps it is the quality of work you are receiving or that particular project, but if you cannot consistently answer this question in a satisfactory way, you should re-think your approach to your work and become more aware of how and why you are providing value to your clients.
The same goes for your resume and how you present yourself to a prospective employer. If someone asked you why a given line was on your resume, could you explain what you did, why it was important to your partner or client, and why that experience would be valuable to the firm you are hoping hires you? If not, get rid of that line and replace it with something better. If you do not have anything better, this brings us to the second basic principle: get specific.
In conveying your value, it is critically important to get specific both on your resume and in how you can describe your experience. It is not enough simply to say you worked on a large case, because that could mean anything from jumping in to help on a document review for a week to serving as the lead trial counsel for a full-blown federal jury trial. What did you contribute to that case? If you have “deposition experience,” specify that with the number of depositions and the type of witness. If you were on a deal team, which documents did you draft, and were you the negotiator of the terms?
It may be hard to remember all of these details for your resume, especially if you have not updated it in awhile and are not currently thinking about a job search, but no matter your position it is helpful to your career to keep a running list of your experience, contributions, and accomplishments so that you can articulate your value to current clients and partners, as well as future clients or potential employers. This will also help you identify areas in which you might want to gain experience to become a more well-rounded attorney, and to know what type of work to request or seek out going forward.
Thinking in this way, being aware of your value and how to describe it to others with specificity, may sound simple, but you would be surprised at the number of attorneys (even great attorneys), for whom this is either a difficult task or takes quite a bit more thought than they would have anticipated. Getting started now will make you a better attorney, and will lead to a much more successful career.