Harrison Barnes' Legal Career Advice Podcast - Episode 86
I have seen many attorneys screw up their futures with resume mistakes that could easily be avoided. Most recruiters do not even understand the rules I am about to share with you.
You are about to get an inside view of how the most prestigious law firms and I review and think about your resume. I have reviewed more than 500,000 resumes throughout the past two decades from attorneys trying to get jobs in the largest law firms. I've been responsible for placing thousands of attorneys in the largest and most prestigious law firms in the world. You are about to learn what I know.
Read related article: Leave Sex, Politics, Religion, and Social Activism out of Your Job Search and Career If You Want to Work in a Large Law Firm
With a resume, you are applying to be a firm's employee and go to work for it.
Your resume is essentially an application.
The only things your resume needs to communicate are that you are (1) the most ready and (2) the most capable of doing the job. Every legal employer expects you to come to work, fit in and put in a lot of hours.
The partners you are working for as an associate want soldiers and not dilettantes. The more you talk about your needs and interests, the worse off you will be.
If you are applying for a job in a large law firm, your record, for the most part, speaks for itself.
- Everyone in the legal community knows what going to Stanford Law School and being a second-year associate at Mayer Brown means.
- Everyone in the legal community knows what going to the University of Chicago and spending eight years at Kirkland & Ellis means.
- If you are in law school and looking for your first job, everyone knows what going to Duke for college and being in the top half of your class at Columbia Law School means.
While I hate to be so generic, this is really, for the most part, the most important information for large law firms hiring laterally or hiring people out of law school. Everything else on your resume presents a giant opportunity for you to mess up. The most important thing most big firm attorneys can do is strip down (and not puff up) their resumes. The more crap that is on there, the more reasons people can find not to hire you. If you take one thing from this article, you need to understand that.
- See What Law Firms Look for in a Lateral Resume for more information.
Most large law firms do not like people who try to stick out. In their experience, these people can be problems:
- They will leave if they do not get lots of praise,
- may turn on the firm and undermine morale,
- are likely to seek unnecessary attention from clients (and may even try and steal them), and
- are most likely to leave if something better comes along.
Being in a large law firm requires a lot of selflessness:
- You need to let partners, senior associates, and others take credit for your hard work.
- You need to put in the time before large rewards come.
- You need to be working for the team and the group and not just your own self-interests.
- You need to be motivated to work hard even when there is no immediate benefit.
- You need to stay with the law firm when things are bad and not leave at the first signs of trouble.
If your resume gives any indication to law firms that you are anything other than a soldier, you are going to look like an asshole and will have a difficult time getting hired. It is not about you. It is never about you. It is about the employer.
I've been looking at resumes all day, every day for almost two decades. I look at hundreds each day. I see tons of resumes that are full of worthless information, and it makes me sad. People who write this much about themselves are missing the point. They rarely get hired.
There are a huge number of applicants for most legal jobs (more than you want to know) in large law firms. Why risk making even a small mistake on your resume if it is likely to prevent you from getting hired?
Here are the six big mistakes that I see attorneys make on their resumes. You need to remove these items from your resume immediately.
1. Too Many Personal Details
Most attorneys have information on their resumes that is polarizing or just plain stupid to have on there. It's often not a bad job market. It's a bad legal resume!
I'm just thinking off the top of my head here; however, here are some personal details I have seen on resumes over the past week or so (all of which are bad):
- Avid hunter and outdoorsman. Depending on where you are located, a number of the people you are interviewing with are not going to be too impressed with the fact that you enjoy killing animals in your spare time. This is not a good idea. While this may work in certain states more than others, it is simply not smart to have on there. If you piss off just one interviewer, this will harm you.
- Member of the First Baptist Church. Nothing wrong with being part of a church. However, if you are interviewing with a law firm in a large city, the odds are pretty good you will be interviewing with gays, Jews and people of various religions and backgrounds. Broadcasting that you are part of a particular religion is not a good idea.
- Missionary for two years (LDS) in Brazil. Do Mormons approve of gays? Weren't blacks barred until the 1970s from holding the Mormon priesthood? You get the idea. Why risk alienating others?
- Married mother of three. "Married? You are gorgeous but not that qualified. I'm moving on. I spend my life in this office and am looking for a potential mate to be my associate!" Never a good idea to put this on your resume. Don't kill the messenger here (this is just how many attorneys think). "Three kids? Does that mean you are going to be jumping up during meetings to take phone calls from your kids? Does that mean that you are going to miss work when they get sick? What if you cannot find childcare?"
- Creative email address. While I have taken a bit of liberty here, I've seen some emails like this in the recent past: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm not kidding. These are more common than you think. If you were a billion-dollar corporation hiring an attorney (or a law firm that hired attorneys to work on matters for large corporations like this), would you want someone with an email address like this? Leave this stuff off of your resume. No one wants to see it. Make sure your personal email address is professional.
- Your work email address. This is very common. "Really? You want us to communicate with you at your work email address?" What this says is pretty simple:
a. My current employer is paying me.
b. I'm looking for a job at work.
c. I must not respect my employer very much.
d. I must not be very loyal.
e. I must not care what my employer thinks of me.
f. I do not care if my employer learns I am looking for a job on its time.
g. Maybe I was fired and my employer knows I am looking, which is why I don't care. (Hey, I'm bad at my job anyway!)
h. I will do the same to you if you hire me!
i. I'm an idiot!
Don't use your work email address.
- An email address such as Harvard.edu, Stanford.edu, UChicago.edu, Princeton.edu, Yale.edu."You went to a prestigious college or law school! Good for you! What have you done since then? Do you think you need to advertise what a great school you went to? I went to Ohio State you arrogant asshole!" Get a Gmail or similar personal email address. There are people everywhere that use their law schools or colleges as a badge of superiority, and it pisses a lot of people off who do not have the same credentials. Many people in large law firms grew up poor and worked very hard to get into prestigious state schools that their parents could afford and then worked very hard once they were in college. Princeton? Are you kidding?
Why would you want to have an email address or put something on your resume that could alienate you from others before they even meet you? Going to a prestigious college or law school is a very good thing. What is not good is wearing that on your sleeve. It can drive people away from you and make others (even partners) feel inferior and insecure. That can prevent them from hiring you.
- A private high school. Most people did not attend St. Paul's, Exeter, Andover, or other elite private high schools. Most attorneys in large law firms went to public schools where they worked hard. Being an attorney is also a largely middle-class profession, and the parents of most attorneys could not afford to send them to $50,000-a year private schools. Putting this information on your resume can alienate others and is never a good idea.
- Member of Mensa. Mensa is an organization for people with high IQs. While there is nothing wrong with being a member of Mensa, what is most humorous about this is that most people who put this on their resumes did not go to the best colleges or law schools. Most attorneys at big law firms are extremely intelligent anyway, so this looks stupid. In addition, this screams underachiever: "If you are so freaking smart, why did you go to such a bad law school and why can't you get a job?"
- A link to your personal blog. Don't get me started. You will show exactly the sort of person you are if you do this. Interested in health? Then why work 3,000 hours a year in a large law firm? A personal blog provides opportunities to get in trouble. During a law firm merger, I once saw a partner (with a good amount of business) lose his job. The law firm taking over in the merger found his personal blog and did not like a section he had on there about why he did not like being an attorney and what he would do if he quit.
- Home addresses far away from the office. Los Angeles (where I work) is a giant area. Commutes between different areas of Los Angeles can often be two hours or more. If you are applying for a job more than an hour from your home, it is best just to leave your home address off of your resume. If an employer hires someone who needs to commute a great distance to work, they know that the odds are very good that this same person will leave if they find a job closer to their home, especially if the pay is close (or equivalent).
- Trips during law school or between jobs. You know what? The partners in the law firm bringing home $2 million a year never traveled during law school. They've also certainly never taken time off to "travel" while looking for a job. Are you out of your mind? Leave this stuff off there.
- See Law Firm Diversity: They All Talk the Talk, But It’s Harder to Walk the Walk for more information.
|Submit Your Resume to BCG Attorney Search and Get Feedback|
2. Irrelevant Work Experience and Education
Anything you put on your resume that is not related to practicing law is a bad idea and almost always fatal. Here are some stupid things I have seen recently:
- Left a law firm and started a business (with a description of the business). "You started a business and failed? Sorry, our law firm does not hire people who fail. What's wrong? You did not like practicing law? You think you are better than us?" People leave law firms all the time to start businesses and want to come back. It is rare that large law firms will ever welcome these attorneys. Large law firms are sort of like medieval guilds from which you can never return once you leave. The biggest issue with leaving a large law firm is that, in almost 100% of the cases, the person who leaves to start his own business will do so again and "be plotting his escape" from the second he steps back in the door. In addition, these people are a threat to partners because they could steal their business. These attorneys are rarely hired. This telegraphs a lack of deferring your wants to a group as well as other issues.
Many attorneys believe having a solo practitioner law firm is a good thing. Again, this is also a bad thing. Law firms assume (rightly so) that you likely did not work on important matters while a solo practitioner, did not get good training, and (often) only did this because you could not get a job with a large law firm. Additionally, you are also a threat because you may steal the law firm's clients. Law firms will avoid you if you were a solo with your own business.
- Any business you started before becoming an attorney. In almost 100% of the cases I have seen, attorneys who had businesses prior to going to law school are always bad hires and end up leaving. While there is nothing wrong with having an entrepreneurial nature, a large law firm requires you to sublimate your needs to that of the group and trust the group. Entrepreneurs are always looking for a better angle and situation (just as businesses are always trying to come out with better products).
- HOW TO TELL IF YOU ARE MORE OF AN ENTREPRENEUR THAN AN ATTORNEY: I know a guy who makes over $500,000 a year (in cash) washing windows in a suburb outside of Detroit. He has been doing this for decades. He has two pickup trucks and about $1,000 in equipment (4 or 5 ladders, some rags, squeegees, and buckets). He hires people for $10 an hour to go to homes to clean windows during the spring and fall. He works for about six months a year. Would you rather do this or work as an attorney for $180,000 a year? Personally, I would rather be an attorney due to the sense of a higher purpose, working with talented people, and for other reasons. Many people would rather run the window-washing business. If this is you, you are far more of an entrepreneur than an attorney.
- Took business courses while at a law firm and got a certificate. "Wait a minute. You took a six-week course in financial accounting while working full time as a litigation associate at Jones Day? Are you serious?" I have seen intellectual property attorneys list real estate courses they took at New York University Law School and corporate attorneys list courses they took on "How to be an entrepreneur." Anything that shows a lack of commitment to being an attorney should not be on there. If you are a tax attorney who took a bunch of classes in tax law, that should be on your resume. Just do not put anything on there that is likely to detract from showing your commitment to being an attorney.
- Too much emphasis on what you did as an undergraduate. "You were in a fraternity? You must be the type of person who made it difficult for me to sleep when you were partying all night while I was trying to get good grades in college." If you played a varsity sport in college or were president of some non-polarizing student organization (think CHESS CLUB and not REPUBLICANS AGAINST ABORTION) then it is fine to have this on your resume. In general, though, no one cares about:
- Your race
- Your religion
- Your pro-feminist leanings
- Your socialist leanings
- Your political affiliation
- Your sexual orientation
Why on earth would you put any club, organization, or other information on your resume that would force an interviewer to choose sides? Wars, protests, and killings occur due to peoples' passion for one religion, political affiliation, and other organizations. Leave this off your resume.
- Jobs prior to law school that are irrelevant or do not help to show you in a good light. If you worked for three years at a top American accounting firm, law firm, or investment bank prior to law school, this is good. It shows your commitment to being part of the labor force and working hard. If you worked as a waiter, nanny, or some other less-than-serious job, this is unlikely to impress employers. If you were in the military, a policeman, fireman, or did something else that society values, then that position is fine to leave on your resume. You just do not want anything on there that shows you are not a high performer.
- Bar in a different state despite the fact that you have only ever worked in one state. Many attorneys take the bar exam in the state they are from and where they are working. Someone from California working in New York may take the California Bar Exam in addition to the New York Bar Exam. Someone in Chicago may take the bar exam in Florida. This does not help you. Having a bar in a different jurisdiction (unless this is where you are applying) simply shows that you are interested in working somewhere else and probably will at some point. Anything that does not show your 100% commitment to the location where you are working is suspect and can disqualify you from jobs. Take this off your resume.
- Parenting time between jobs. Women sometimes take years off between jobs. In the experience of 95% of legal employers, if a woman takes more than a year off, she is (1) unlikely to come back to the workforce for long or (2) is likely to jump around to jobs seeking less and less accountability when she does come back. Law firms want people who are 100% committed and willing to work hard. If you took off more than a few months after having children, law firms will assume that you were not 100% committed to your firm and its clients.
- Your class rank and grade point average (unless it is extraordinary). Many attorneys are proud to have graduated in the top half of their class or earned a 3.0 grade point average. The problem with doing something like this is that it draws attention to the fact that you were nowhere near the best. Why on earth would a large law firm hire you if you are not the best?
- Top 10 law school: If you were in the top 20%, this is fine. I still do not recommend this, though. If you were in the top 10%, I recommend this.
- Top 11-25 law school: Top 10% and above is OK. I recommend this, though, in the top 5% only.
- Second-tier law school: Top 5%.
- Third-tier law school: Top 5%.
- Fourth-tier: Only list if you were #1 through #5 in your class.
- Skills that everyone should have as an attorney. You are being paid to analyze complex legal matters as an attorney. Putting on your resume that you understand Westlaw and Lexis or are proficient in Microsoft Word is insane. I see this every day, however. Please get this off your resume. You make yourself look really stupid when you list this on your resume. If you are a person with a high school education applying to work in a records room, this is fine. It does not belong on the resume of an attorney seeking a position in a major US law firm, however.
- Grades in law school classes (or worse yet, college classes). This is something I see all the time too. No one cares. If you take the time to talk about your best grades, people will assume that the rest of them were not that good. Leave this off. It makes you look like you are not big firm material.
- Classes you took in law school. No one cares about this either. If you list this, you look weak as well. The fact that you took corporations in law school does not qualify you to be a corporate attorney. Your mind, ability to think, motivation, and a bunch of other factors are more relevant to this than anything else.
- Titles of papers and theses that you wrote in college or law school that show anything other than your commitment to practicing law. For whatever reason, people constantly put this stuff on their resume, and it is not helpful. If you are a patent attorney and wrote about something science-related that's great; however, for the most part, looking like an intellectual is not the smartest thing you can do. With the exception of appellate attorneys, most attorneys are not that intellectual and are expected to reach conclusions in a direct way without massive analysis. I have seen attorneys list such topics as:
- Why Corporations are Cheating Americans Out of a Middle-Class Life
- An Analysis of Female Genital Mutilation Ceremonies in the African Subcontinent
- Why Gays and Lesbians Need Separate Proms: A Case for Separate But Equal in Public Education
- Why Black Reparations Should be Priority #1 of the Obama Administration
- Plato v. Socrates and the Foundations of Western Empiricism
Listen: I've been there. Most professors push their agendas (mainly quite liberal) on their students who parrot this stuff back for good grades. But your resume is not a place for this. You are trying to get a job with people who are working for huge corporations and want to keep the money rolling in. Anything that suggests you will not cooperate will harm you.
- A ridiculous regurgitation of stuff everyone in your position does. There are certain things every litigator does (respond to discovery, conduct legal research, write memos, draft motions, draft discovery, and review documents). Putting this on your resume makes you look like a moron. Get it off there! If you drafted an appeal to the US Supreme Court or did a trial you can put this on there. Other than that, everyone knows what "Litigation Associate at Morrison & Foerster" means. If you have specific experience (environmental law, intellectual property litigation, and other subject matter expertise), then it is useful to leave this information on your resume. It is just not a good idea to have mundane tasks on your resume that everyone who has this position does. This is no different than a waiter writing "Waited on tables" on his resume.
|Submit Your Resume to BCG Attorney Search and Get Feedback|
3. Ridiculous Formatting and Content Blocks
Nothing can get you disqualified from getting hired more easily than stupid formatting errors. I see these all the time. I have no idea where people pick this up, but I will lay out the most egregious formatting issues I see:
- Use of colors and fancy/unusual fonts. For some people, their resume becomes an art project. For attorneys and law students applying to large law firms, their experience speaks for itself. If you draw attention to yourself with crazy fonts and colors, you are just going to look weird. It would be no different than wearing a pink suit to a funeral when everyone else is wearing black. You are applying to work in a giant law firm and be part of a group of people who are (1) conforming, (2) working together, and (3) basically pretty dry. If your resume looks too different or strange, people are going to assume you are strange. You do not want to look strange. Your objective is to get a job.
- Listing words for HR software on the top of the resume. Someone out there is telling attorneys to do this. I have literally seen resumes with these words at the top right under the person's name: "attorney, lawyer, counselor, litigation, law firm attorney, Westlaw, Lexis, AV Rated". Huh!!? If you are the one doing this to legal resumes, PLEASE STOP! You are doing incredible amounts of damage to good people.
- Putting your objective on the resume. This one confuses me so much. Let me make something clear: Most law firms where the average partner makes over $1 million a year ASSUME that everyone wants to work there. You do not need to put something like some of these statements I have seen on your resume:
- Objective: To get a job with a major US law firm.
- Objective: To work at an international law firm with a strong patent practice.
- Objective: To find a law firm that affords me the opportunity to have a work-life balance while working on sophisticated matters.
- Shut up! No one cares what your objective is. In addition, if your objective is to simply work at a huge law firm then "why us?" Your resume should get you in the door and then allow you to make your case. No giant law firm is going to hire you with this crap on your resume. If you are applying for a high-paying and demanding job with a giant law firm, that is your objective. Do not waste space on your resume with this.
- Putting "References Available upon Request" on the resume. Are you kidding? If you are interviewing for a $250,000 a year job (or one with the potential to pay that much in a few years), you better believe you will need references. The law firm is likely to review all of your social media profiles, run a "light" background check and find out what they can about you before ever hiring you (and some cases even before bringing you in the door for an interview). You better believe you will need references. Do not waste any law firm's time putting this on your resume. In addition, it sounds presumptuous.
- Putting a summary of yourself on your resume. Here are some that come to mind I've seen recently:
- Ivy league-educated corporate attorney currently practicing at the law firm ranked as the 32nd largest in the world.
- Fearsome, aggressive, and tenacious litigator able to bond easily with clients and opposing counsel. (This was a first-year attorney.)
Great! Again, no one cares. Is that how you see yourself: Ivy League-educated? "Most of our attorneys went to the University of Minnesota. You sound like a pompous asshole! Our law firm is not even in the top 200 largest law firms. Is that all that matters to you? Why are you applying here?"
The point is that describing yourself one way could turn off some people. Let your potential employer reach its own conclusions about you. You will look like someone with a lot of time to think about yourself if you put this on there.
- Having a resume that exceeds one page. Your resume should never be longer than one page if you are applying to work for a major law firm (even as a partner). For associates, you can prepare a second page that describes the work you have done (which can be more than one page) but that is it.
- Patent Attorneys. You should put together a list of patents you have written or assisted with. You should always have this second page attached. Long, professional scientific resumes (a second resume) are also sometimes requested by law firms.
- Corporate and Real Estate Attorneys. Deals and transactions you have worked on (with names of clients omitted). You can send this regardless of whether it is asked for (and should do so).
- Litigators. Many law firms will ask for writing samples. Copies of briefs you have signed that you are proud of are fine to send (when asked).
See: Sending a Transaction Sheet With Your Attorney Resume.
- Your picture. I am not sure why people do this. It is very common in resumes from the former Soviet Union, India and the Middle East. There are some Americans who do this here, and the ones who do this are generally good looking. You should not include your picture on your resume. It is just too far-fetched. If you are a good-looking man or woman, I have some good news: This tends to make it much easier for you to get a job (this is just how it works in big firms). However, most people will find your picture online anyway before bringing you in. Your picture belongs on your LinkedIn or Law.net profile, for example. Not on your resume.
- Putting your interests on your resume if they can be polarizing. You are being hired to be an attorney and sit behind a desk and make lots of money for the law firm and yourself. The law firm does not care the least if you are interested in:
- Reading historical Judaic literature
- Spending time with your family
- Volunteering at church
- Horseback riding
I had a candidate once who listed his interests as "polo and golf." This came up in interviews, and when this came up, he would talk about how he was a member of a certain hunt club and golfed at another club where the initiation fee was $250,000 a year. (He had very wealthy parents.) Unfortunately, most attorneys at large law firms got there by working very hard and not playing polo and golf. While golf has increasingly become a middle-class game, polo certainly has not.
Advertising you are from lots of money or have something to fall back on if your job with a large law firm does not work out is a huge mistake. In most law firms' experience, independently wealthy people are likely to leave when the job becomes difficult.
4. Inappropriate Word Usage, Tone, and Mistakes With Dates
When someone reads your resume, he can tell a lot about the type of attorney you would be by the words that you use. Here are some crazy things I have seen that you should not be doing:
- Using giant words that not everyone knows. Attorneys are paid to communicate clearly and concisely. Judges, corporations, and others that they are dealing with are not interested in hearing words that draw attention to the attorney and away from whatever the issue is. Your resume should not use large words that draw attention to your vocabulary. No one cares. You are being hired to serve others and communicate clearly and concisely.
- Using adjectives to describe yourself. Attorneys like to call themselves "detail-oriented" and "hard workers," for example. You need to keep in mind that when you are applying for jobs where the upper-income bracket could be over $1 million, and you have an outside shot at this, any positive adjective you could possibly use ("outside the box thinker"… blah, blah, blah …) is already assumed. You are competing with the best. Do you think a professional boxer would have a resume that describes himself as "aggressive, motivated, and hard-hitting"? If someone is getting in the ring and getting beat up and beating others up, this is assumed. Don't weaken your profile with the use of a bunch of adjectives.
- Too many words. Many attorneys love to write and talk. No one wants to read a long diatribe of a resume that goes into unnecessary detail about you in a ton of words. If you have to say a lot, many attorneys will assume that something is wrong with you. You need to communicate in your resume with brevity and make it easy for people to read and understand. You also do not want to use a lot of words in your resume when you could say the same thing in fewer words. Saying less is saying more because it shows (1) you can edit your work and (2) you have enough confidence in yourself to not overdo it.
- Including testimonials in the body of your resume. Quotes from superiors and others should not go in your resume. Quotes from reviews often go in peoples' resumes as well. Not a good idea. This makes you look desperate for attention. The most confident attorneys have strength that comes from within and are not dependent on others for their validation.
- Using words the wrong way (or misspelling them). Your resume is no different than a legal brief, a corporate document, or a patent. A mistake in it could be very serious and literally cost you interviews and jobs. Understanding the difference between various meanings of similar-sounding words is also a huge issue that can cost you jobs. Here are some of the biggest screw-ups I see that have hurt attorneys that are never caught by spell-checkers and make you look dumb:
- Learn the difference between "Principal and Principle"
- Learn the difference between "Discreet and Discrete"
- Learn the difference between "Precede and Proceed"
- Learn the difference between "Insure and Ensure"
- Learn the difference between "Adverse and Averse"
- Learn the difference between "Eager and Anxious"
- Learn the difference between "Affect and Effect"
- Learn the difference between "Criteria and Criterion"
- Spelling errors. Even more serious are spelling errors. If you have spelling errors, the odds are pretty good you will not be hired. Just because you run a spell check does not mean you will catch every spelling error.
- Omitting exact dates. You need the month and year, not just the year. Attorneys who were at a job a few months or lost a job for one reason or another like to put in years for employment dates rather than months and the year. Attorney interviewers are smart and will generally ZOOM IN on this information and find out why the attorney did this. They will always assume the worst! If you worked at some company for a short time, that is fine. You do not need to cover it up. Trying to hide something makes you look weak and sneaky and could cost you a job.
- Inappropriate dates. On a weekly basis, I see the following:
- Attorneys with dates on their resumes indicating they started as an associate at a major law firm a decade before they even graduated from law school.
- Attorneys who have the same date for two different jobs.
- Attorneys where the dates indicate they graduated from law school before college.
You get the idea. This needs to stop! Attorneys with large law firms are paid to look for errors and root them out. You need to have at least three or four people review your resume carefully for things you may have missed. Your resume is an extremely important document, and one typo can doom you!
|Submit Your Resume to BCG Attorney Search and Get Feedback|
5. Lying or Exaggerating on Your Resume
Attorneys (even partners) lie and exaggerate on their resumes all the time. I've seen attorneys go so far as to lie about the law school they went to. Why? I have no idea, but it happens regularly. I've seen several attorneys (and partners) even lie about the firms they have worked at. I would estimate that as much as 20 percent of partners looking for jobs lie (or exaggerate) the amount of business they have. Other attorneys lie about the number of hours they billed. Most attorneys who are fired (or leaving a firm under bad reviews) lie about why they are leaving (you should never put why you are leaving on your resume, but some do).
I do not understand the psychology that goes into this. If you have insecurity issues and want to be someone different, you have three choices: (1) work harder, (2) get a therapist, or (3) do both.
Here are some facts: If you get caught lying by a law firm and hired (for lying about your law school or past employment), it will immediately fire you if it finds out. No questions asked. About 50 percent of the time, it will also report you to the state bar. The firm rarely will report you to the police (because it is embarrassed). This happens quite often, and I have seen this happen numerous times in my career.
- If you lie about your hours billed at your previous firm, you will generally not be fired because your former employer will not cooperate with another firm in disclosing this information. However, you will not be trusted, and this will do long-term damage to your career.
- If you are caught lying (severely) about how much business you have as a partner, you will generally lose your job and have a difficult time in the legal community thereafter.
- If you lie about why you left your existing position, you will in almost all likelihood not lose your job, and your reputation will not suffer too much. In some cases, though, the firm may go ballistic. If a firm learns you were fired while it is interviewing you, it will generally not hire you.
|See: Resume Fraud Rampant in the Workforce.|
|Submit Your Resume to BCG Attorney Search and Get Feedback|
6. Saying Anything Negative About Any Former Employer
I've never understood this one. Many resumes of attorneys will, for reasons I cannot understand, contain negative statements or subtle hostility in the descriptions of former employers. The message this sends to the employers is simple: If you hire me you will be the next person criticized. Do not do it. Regardless of your need to justify your departure from a former employer, saying anything negative about a former employer on a resume is not a good idea.
See the following articles for more information:
- 21 Major Job Interview Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs
- How to Explain Job Hopping
- Interviewing Tips: The Five Musts of Interviewing
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do I Write A Resume For A Lawyer?
In this guide for new and experienced legal professionals, you will learn how to optimize your legal resume to ensure an interview. The tips below will help you create a great resume that will get you noticed and hired. Whether you need design tips, advice on showcasing your accomplishments, or ideas for tailoring your resume to engage multiple stakeholders, these tips will help you.
1. Make your lawyer resume stand out by using a good design
First impressions matter when writing a legal resume. In the same way that you would not show up to a job interview in sweatpants, you do not want to submit a resume that is disorganized, outdated, or not polished.
Obviously, the content of your resume is important, but your lawyer's resume must also look professional. A user-friendly design laid out with the user experience in mind goes a long way toward increasing the likelihood that the hiring manager will read your resume.
If you spend hours agonizing over how to layout your lawyer resume, you are wasting your time. Utilize a resume builder tool to help, no one expects you to be an expert. With free design software like Canva, you can easily create a polished legal resume that will grab the attention of potential employers. If you are looking for lawyer resume samples, Yale, Notre Dame, Harvard Law School, and Berkeley have some that you may find helpful.
2. Start with your lawyer profile or summary
You are trained as a lawyer to make a concise, persuasive argument-your lawyer resume should start in the same way. Imagine your lawyer profile (also known as a summary statement) as your opening statement. Your profile should summarize who you are as a lawyer, what you bring to the table, and what your accomplishments are.
This lawyer resume example for a litigation defense attorney includes the following profile statement:
“Persuasive litigator backed by dual-state licensure (NY, NJ) and practice-area expertise spanning antitrust, product liability, and catastrophic personal injury defense. Passionately represent client interests, working diligently to analyze case merits, minimize risk and propel positive resolutions to complex legal matters. Proven success achieving case dismissals, no-fault judgments, advantageous settlements, and favorable verdicts.”
In three sentences, this example statement effectively summarizes:
- Who the lawyer is
- What type of law do they practice and what they are passionate about
- Their areas of expertise and where they have been successful
You can summarize your resume and save your hiring manager's time by outlining your specialties and experience first.
3. Highlight your specialized skills
Consider this section as a way to describe your specialized skill set before you list the first few that come to mind. Be sure to highlight your strengths and be specific about what you do best.
When listing skills, keep in mind that employers want to see both your interpersonal skills and your legal-industry-specific skills—or ideally, a combination of both.
Listed below are some examples of relevant interpersonal skills worth mentioning:
- Problem-solving and critical thinking
- Conflict resolution and mediation
- Negotiation skills
- Adaptability and ability to manage pressure
You should highlight the skills listed in the job description in order to demonstrate your suitability for the position. Common examples include:
- Oral communication and arguments
- Persuasive writing
- Legal research
4. Strengthen employment history by using action words
Include as much detail in the employment history section as possible while ensuring you include information that is relevant to the position you are applying for. Be careful when you choose your words. A few suggestions:
Create an easy-to-follow employment map
Names of law firms, years of employment, and your job title should be included. If you can still fit your information on one page, consider using bullet points to organize your information.
Use action words
Use action words instead of just listing where you have worked and what you did. Using generic words like "participated," "worked," and "managed" wastes space on the page. Instead, use action words like "advocated," "negotiated," and "counseled."
Here are some action words that might fit into your employment history:
- Creation-related words: Formalized, conceptualized, orchestrated.
- Teamwork- or leadership-related words: Mentored, collaborated, directed.
- Achievement-related words: Spearheaded, accelerated, expedited.
- Problem-solving words: Overhauled, devised, rebuilt.
Highlight your accomplishments
Share your accomplishments without being shy. Describe your relevant accomplishments to let hiring managers know why you are the best candidate for the job.
5. Focus on relevant education qualifications
It depends on a number of factors on how much detail you should include in your lawyer resume about your educational background. Among these factors are how far along you are in your career, what type of law firm you are applying to, and how relevant your education is. If you are writing the educational background section of your resume, follow these tips:
Highlight the notable
You do not need to list everything you have ever learned. You should only include the relevant parts of your education section, including legal designations and honors, such as certificates, accolades, or memberships. You may include additional details in your law firm cover letters about your educational background if you think it would enhance your application.
Your GPA and class ranking should only be listed if they are stellar
You should not waste resume space listing this part of your educational experience if you were not top of the class at a prestigious law school. There is no need to worry about your GPA unless you are applying to a Big Law firm.
Consider your experience
It may not be necessary to include extensive details about your educational background if you have a few years of legal experience; instead, list the basics (e.g., where you attended law school) and focus on your relevant, recent experience and skills.
6. Demonstrate your technological expertise
Law firms today are looking for employees who can start working efficiently right away - when it comes to learning technology and using it. More and more law firms are using legal technology to streamline processes, facilitate effective remote work, and offer an improved client experience, from cloud-based practice management software like Clio Manage to client intake and CRM software like Clio Grow.
A technology background can help you stand out to potential employers, giving them the confidence that they will not have to spend time training you to use new software and systems. In an interview, you may be asked to explain or demonstrate your knowledge of the specific programs you listed on your resume.
7. What is your ideal legal practice area?
In your job search, what kinds of positions are you looking for? Are you looking for immigration law or corporate law jobs? Would you like to specialize in family law? Your attorney resume should incorporate the unique characteristics of the legal practice area you are interested in (or would like to change into) irrespective of your previous work history.
A generic legal resume is not appealing to anyone. Make sure your resume highlights the relevant work history, keywords, and work skills most relevant to the legal practice area you are targeting.
8. Create content and language specific to the role
You can more easily customize each resume after you create one that is specific to your practice area. Furthermore, you can match the language and tone of the employer or firm you are applying to more easily. Reading the content on a firm's website is a good way to learn the tone of their content.
Start by editing various sections of your legal resume to make them more relevant to the position for which you are applying. Your resume needs to be customized if you want to get past the software used to scan legal resumes.
9. Use keywords to your advantage
Throughout your legal job search, you will come across a lot of buzzwords. Knowing what to do with them could be the difference between success and failure. How do you determine which keywords to use? Rather than just copying and pasting words from the job description, you can use it as a guide for your writing.
By incorporating keywords and key phrases into your lawyer resume, you show you are cognizant of the specifics of the legal position for which you are applying, which may impress legal hiring managers. If you are applying for a job at a large corporation, this keyword integration is especially important to ensure you are not prematurely eliminated due to a screening algorithm. 75% of recruiters and hiring professionals use an applicant tracking system (ATS) to screen resumes based on keywords.
Moreover, legal hiring managers and other employers often scan resumes quite quickly, especially when there is a flood of applicants. When you include keywords and key phrases in your application, you keep their attention so your application does not get lost in the (digital) shuffle.
10. Always keep your audience in mind
All stakeholders who might read your resumes should be considered, and you should think about who you want to have the biggest impact on. A legal resume must be tailored to the needs and wants of the primary stakeholders who will be evaluating your application, just as you would tailor a legal argument to the audience you are speaking to.
According to the size of the law firm you are applying to, your audience may include:
- A resume screener
- A recruiter
- The firm’s hiring manager, or
- Your future manager
11. Demonstrate your knowledge of industry trends and recent regulatory developments
Employers want to know that you are keeping up with industry trends and evolving regulations in the legal field, such as:
- The digital transformation occurring across the legal industry
- The impact of remote working
- The growing focus on client experience
- Workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives
By demonstrating your knowledge of current trends within your field of study, your lawyer resume will convey the level of professionalism and real-world competence hiring managers look for.
Bonus: Take advantage of your professional and social networks
85% of jobs are filled with the help of networking, so when it comes to finding a job, it often really does come down to who you know.
An effective lawyer resume goes hand-in-hand with networking, which is a powerful tool in the legal job search. It is the perfect time to update your LinkedIn profile and other social media platforms while updating your resume. It can be valuable (and give you an edge) to connect with someone in that field if you are thinking about entering a new legal practice area; if you already know someone in that field, you may be able to leverage their experience.
How Do You Write A Law School Resume?
You can follow these steps to create a great law school resume. You should include only experiences and accomplishments that occurred during and after college on your resume.
1. Use the right structure
You should format your document professionally and include headings for each section. You should include dates and locations for each activity in bullet points for each section. The most recent activities should be listed first, in reverse chronological order.
2. Use the right format
Calibri or Helvetica are both easy-to-read fonts, as is a size that is easy to read. Generally, 10-12 point size is optimal. Page margins should be one-inch at the top, bottom, and sides.
3. Use an appropriate length
Although you can generally go into more detail and have a resume that is longer than a typical employment resume, you should limit it to one or two pages. However, some law schools allow students to submit longer resumes, so you will want to ask the law school to which you are applying if it has a preferred resume length.
4. Include your name and contact information
You should include your name, mailing address, phone number, and email address in the heading of your resume. You can bold your name or use the largest font on the page as long as it is no larger than 14 points.
5. Add your educational experience
Your college or colleges, as well as their location, should be listed. Indicate your major and the degree you earned. Indicate the dates you attended school there even if you did not earn a degree or certificate. Include your study abroad experiences as well. Indicate your overall undergraduate GPA.
6. List your honors, awards, and scholarships
List any scholarships, honors, academic achievements, and awards that you received during college, along with the years you earned them. Dean's list, academic distinctions such as Summa Cum Laude, and scholarships are examples of accomplishments you may want to list.
7. List employment and internship experiences
List any jobs you have held or internships you have completed. List your title, the name of your employer, the location, and the dates you worked there. Indicate in bullet points what your responsibilities were for each job. When you start each bullet point, use strong action words such as led, organized, or mentored. Include quantifiable results as much as possible, such as "Increased sales by 20% in my first year." Sort your experiences in reverse chronological resume format, with the most recent at the top.
8. List volunteer work and leadership organizations
List each time you served in a leadership position in an organization during college or volunteered, and list the name of the organization, dates you served, and duties you performed. The experiences should be listed in reverse chronological order.
Bonus Tips for creating a law school resume
Here are a few tips to help you create the best possible law school resume:
- Format consistently: Be sure your resume is formatted consistently and pay attention to the formatting. For example, if you add periods at the end of your descriptions, include them at the end of all your descriptions or omit them entirely.
- Use simple explanations: For job resumes, Jargon can be appropriate since it shows you have knowledge of your industry. Admissions committees may be confused by it. If you must use special acronyms or terminology, provide a short definition.
- Include details about your academic performance: You should include not just your GPA and awards such as the Dean's List, but also the title of your thesis and any significant research projects you have completed.
- Proofread thoroughly: You should reread your resume several days after you have completed it. Your writing will be more likely to be free of typos or grammatical errors if you do this. Also, ask a friend or family member to read your resume and check for typos as well as formatting errors.
What Skills Do You Need As A Lawyer?
To achieve success and positive outcomes for their clients, lawyers rely on a variety of skills, both hard and soft skills. As a lawyer, you will need several skills, including:
Analytical and research skills
The ability of lawyers to perform in-depth research into topics related to their cases is crucial. In addition, attorneys must be able to analyze details, ascertain information, infer context from clients and witnesses, and apply other analytical skills. Working in this field often involves documents, complex information, and other data that will require you to conduct research and think critically about what you are doing.
Attention to detail
No matter what field of law they practice, lawyers must pay close attention to detail. Attorneys work with clients from a wide range of law practices, which requires them to pay attention to detail in order to spot inconsistencies in clients' cases, obscure witness information, or other types of data related to the projects they work on.
A regular part of this legal profession is keeping records of clients, important documents, and other information. Lawyers often use computer applications to keep track of their schedules, appointments, hearings, and other job-related events and keep their important documents and information organized.
This career field also requires effective time management. In most cases, lawyers charge on an hourly basis, which means staying organized during client meetings, mediations, hearings, and other tasks during business hours. Aside from scheduling and keeping track of time spent with clients, it is also important to allocate time efficiently to other aspects of the job, such as research, paperwork, and gathering information.
In their jobs, attorneys frequently use persuasive techniques, especially court lawyers (attorneys who appear in court). Communication that is persuasive requires the ability to relate to others, identify their pain points, and apply techniques for solving problems. Lawyers always use persuasive techniques to achieve positive outcomes for their clients, even though persuasive communication is meant to persuade others to a common cause.
Written communication skills
A lawyer performs many writing tasks throughout the day, and good written communication skills are highly desirable in this profession. Several of the writing tasks you will perform in your career involve legal writing, documenting caseloads and casework, writing query letters, letters of demand, and other applications.
A lawyer interacts and works with a variety of clients and professionals. Strong interpersonal skills, including empathy and the ability to connect with others, are therefore highly advantageous. As well as interpreting emotions, providing support, and resolving conflict, lawyers commonly rely on these skills when working with their clients.
It is becoming more desirable for attorneys to have technical skills, including specialized skill sets specific to their fields. Computer applications such as spreadsheets, word processors, and online applications are examples of technical aspects of the job. For success in your career, you'll need knowledge of your law field, technical terms, laws, and protocols, as well as computer skills.
Legal professionals, especially those who are starting their own private practices, are becoming more financially literate. You should be able to balance an account, understand tax laws and principles, calculate profits, bill clients, and communicate some of this information to clients when collecting payments.
How Can A Law Student Make A Resume?
The following steps can help you write a law student or entry-level attorney resume:
1. Write a professional resume header
Put your contact information at the top of your legal resume. You should include your first and last name, professional email address, and phone number. You should state your full name in a professional email and present a trustworthy image to your potential employer. Before you send your resume, you can create one if you do not already have one.
2. Start with a resume career objective
Candidates with little experience can use this opening statement to gain recruiters' attention. Provide a one- or two-sentence career objective describing your short-term professional goals and why you are seeking employment. Since you are just starting your career, you should emphasize your motivation and skills.
3. Write about your education
You should list your most recent degree first. Here is how you should list your degrees:
- Name of the institution
- Graduation or prospective graduation date
- Majors and minors if applicable
Describe your key academic achievements and GPA if it is higher than 3.5.
4. Describe your professional experience
Starting with your most recent experience, list your experiences in reverse chronological order. Start your sentences with action verbs such as "coordinate," "manage," "perform," and "monitor."
You can use the following entries on your resume if you have not accumulated much work experience as a student:
- Internship experience
- Pro bono work
- Relevant freelance jobs
- Volunteering in courts
- Witnessing transactions and contracts
- Clerkship roles
5. List your publications
You can briefly mention any law articles you have written along with when and where they were published. Alternatively, you can state, "List of published articles available upon request," if you want to leave them off your resume.
6. Update your resume
You should tailor your resume for every application by looking up the skills the employer is looking for and highlighting only the relevant employment skills from your skillset.
7. Convert your document into a PDF
Convert your resume into a PDF unless otherwise instructed by the employer. Making sure your resume is formatted correctly can help you maintain its clarity. Additionally, it will prevent any changes to the document from being accidentally made by anyone who opens it.
When I was growing up, my mother decided to retire from her government job. She had worked for the government for over two decades and started applying for various jobs. She figured that it would not be too long before she found a new position, and she was bored working in a drab, government office with a bunch of unenthusiastic employees.
Unfortunately, we were living outside Detroit (in a horrible job market), she was older and did not have a lot of experience in anything else other than doing civil-rights investigations and teaching art history at a local university.
After months of not getting interviews, she decided it was time to rework her resume. She believed that the problem was not her. It had to be her resume! This became an obsession for the next year or so.
- She took a course on resume construction.
- She hired an expert to advise her on her resume.
- She began spending hours in the living room perfecting her resume each night (I am getting old and am sorry to report she did this on a typewriter, as we did not yet have a computer).
- Tons of bullets,
- large words,
- massive amounts of formatting,
- things she had done decades ago, and
- all sorts of irrelevant information.
When I was in law school and started applying for jobs, I took the example of what she had done and did the same type of resume for myself. When my law school roommate saw it, he picked it up and showed it to others. They were soon making fun of it. I was embarrassed and quickly realized what I was doing wrong: I was applying for entry-level jobs and my resume made me look like a complete asshole obsessed with everything I had ever done.
It might have been a bit cruel, but the resume was copied and passed around the campus, and the students all made fun of it. I had sections about increasing sales in my asphalt business, being the youngest instructor in the history of a department at the University of Chicago, being nominated by my school for a Rhodes Scholarship, being president of my fraternity, every varsity sport I had played in high school, my SAT scores and even the prestigious boarding school I attended.
No one cares! This information separates you from others and does not make you part of the team. I looked like an ass and had to learn that less is more.
That was one of my first lessons in the legal profession. This is fundamental to how we as attorneys need to behave when working with others: We are expected to fit in, get along, and try not to act better than our peers. A stripped-down and simple resume accomplishes these goals in the large law firm environment. Saying less is saying more in the big firm world.
See the following for more information about attorney cover letters:
- What is the Best Way to Get My Attorney Resume and Cover Letter Noticed by Law Firms?
- The Dos and Don'ts of Cover Letter Writing
- What Law Firms Want to See in Your Cover Letter
- How to Prepare Outstanding Cover Letters
Interested in Learning More About Attorney Resumes? See more articles from BCG Attorney Search here:
- Legal Resume Writing Tips
- How to Write a Legal Resume
- What Should I Put on My Legal Resume?
- Should I Submit My Resume through a Friend in the Law Firm?
- How Out Should I Be on My Resume?
- What is the Best Way to Get My Resume and Cover Letter Noticed?
- Legal Resume How To
Click Here to Get Your Resume Professionally Done by Attorney Resume
Really Interested in This Topic? Read the book Attorney Resume Secrets Revealed.
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About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is a prominent figure in the legal placement industry, known for his expertise in attorney placements and his extensive knowledge of the legal profession.
With over 25 years of experience, he has established himself as a leading voice in the field and has helped thousands of lawyers and law students find their ideal career paths.
Barnes is a former federal law clerk and associate at Quinn Emanuel and a graduate of the University of Chicago College and the University of Virginia Law School. He was a Rhodes Scholar Finalist at the University of Chicago and a member of the University of Virginia Law Review. Early in his legal career, he enrolled in Stanford Business School but dropped out because he missed legal recruiting too much.
Barnes' approach to the legal industry is rooted in his commitment to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. He believes that the key to success in the legal profession is to be proactive, persistent, and disciplined in one's approach to work and life. He encourages lawyers to take ownership of their careers and to focus on developing their skills and expertise in a way that aligns with their passions and interests.
One of how Barnes provides support to lawyers is through his writing. On his blog, HarrisonBarnes.com, and BCGSearch.com, he regularly shares his insights and advice on a range of topics related to the legal profession. Through his writing, he aims to empower lawyers to control their careers and make informed decisions about their professional development.
One of Barnes's fundamental philosophies in his writing is the importance of networking. He believes that networking is a critical component of career success and that it is essential for lawyers to establish relationships with others in their field. He encourages lawyers to attend events, join organizations, and connect with others in the legal community to build their professional networks.
Another central theme in Barnes' writing is the importance of personal and professional development. He believes that lawyers should continuously strive to improve themselves and develop their skills to succeed in their careers. He encourages lawyers to pursue ongoing education and training actively, read widely, and seek new opportunities for growth and development.
In addition to his work in the legal industry, Barnes is also a fitness and lifestyle enthusiast. He sees fitness and wellness as integral to his personal and professional development and encourages others to adopt a similar mindset. He starts his day at 4:00 am and dedicates several daily hours to running, weightlifting, and pursuing spiritual disciplines.
Finally, Barnes is a strong advocate for community service and giving back. He volunteers for the University of Chicago, where he is the former area chair of Los Angeles for the University of Chicago Admissions Office. He also serves as the President of the Young Presidents Organization's Century City Los Angeles Chapter, where he works to support and connect young business leaders.
In conclusion, Harrison Barnes is a visionary legal industry leader committed to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. Through his work at BCG Attorney Search, writing, and community involvement, he empowers lawyers to take control of their careers, develop their skills continuously, and lead fulfilling and successful lives. His philosophy of being proactive, persistent, and disciplined, combined with his focus on personal and professional development, makes him a valuable resource for anyone looking to succeed in the legal profession.
About BCG Attorney Search
BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit www.BCGSearch.com.
Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom
Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom
You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays
You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts
You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives
Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.
Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.
To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.