General Resumes and Cover Letters
The resume and cover letter are among the most effective of the tools an attorney can market themselves with. Our goal is to ensure that the resume and cover letter are as effective as possible. In order to make our resumes and cover letters as good as they should be, we must be as consistent as possible in the methodology with which they are created.
Nevertheless, it is important to realize that the resume and cover letter are uniquely personal to the individual. In each interaction with a candidate, we should look for three strengths the candidate has and seek to bring these out in the cover letter (if possible). Everyone has selling points, and our most challenging job is to find these. I will speak more about this in future correspondence.
The most important components of the procedure are (1) KEEPING IT SIMPLE; and (2) REMEMBERING THE “GOLDEN RULE”--- GRAMMAR, SPELLING AND PUNCTUATION MUST BE PERFECT.
The only way we can be effective with the resumes and cover letters is to keep them simple. By looking for three strengths in each candidate, we can ensure that they are doing their best to sell themselves. We need to remember that the most important service we can provide is to ensure that our candidates use perfect punctuation, grammar, and language in their resume. We can (1) bring out their strengths, but (2) cannot do much to modify the pasts of our candidates. Accordingly, it is important to ensure that our candidates make a flawless resume.
1. IF IT IS NOT BROKE-DO NOT ATTEMPT TO FIX IT.
Some resumes are simply fine as they are. They do not always need to be fixed. Trying to fix resumes which do not need work simply slows down production and the candidate’s job search.
2. IF IT IS NOT BROKE-PRAISE IT.
Many people go through life without hearing much praise. This is especially true in the legal profession where the very nature of the work invites constant criticism from professors, employers and clients. If the resume is good—tell the candidate it is. Tell the candidate the advantages of having a good resume and how this will ensure they get their materials faster. People will like you.
3. IF IT NEEDS WORK, SIMPLIFY IT BY FINDING THREE STRENGTHS WITH THE RESUME AND URGING THE CANDIDATE USE THESE AS “SELLING POINTS”.
Because a resume is a summary of someone’s life accomplishments, people can become overly verbose and descriptive with their resumes. In the legal profession, in general, employers want to know:
A. Where you have worked;
B. What your academic qualifications are; and
C. What makes you unique:
i. Why the person is unique (Reason 1)
ii. Why the person is unique (Reason 2)
iii. Why the person is unique (Reason 3)
This list could be expanded upon; however, that is essentially all employers care about. People cannot do much to change either “A” or “B”. The only thing they really have control over when you speak with them is Reason “C”. Long and overly obtuse descriptions in Reasons “A” and “B” are not necessary unless they are furthering one of the three selling points in reason “C”.
4. STANDARD FORMAT FOR MOST RESUMES.
A. Contact Information-name, address, telephone, email.
B. Education (if the person has been out less than five years-if not, invert “B” and “C”)-law school, followed by college. If special honors were received in school, the resume should note this.
C. Experience-the most recent job first, followed by other positions. Only legal positions should be listed if person has been out of law school at least five years. Describe (1) name and location of employer, (2) title, and (3) two to three line description of experience.
D. Optional-Interests section, bar admissions. For attorneys with experience, an attachment describing significant transactions or cases worked on is a good idea.
- See 6 Things Attorneys and Law Students Need to Remove from Their Resumes ASAP If They Want to Get Jobs with the Most Prestigious Law Firms for more information.
COVER LETTER GUIDELINES
The main guidelines for writing cover letters is similar to the resume writing pattern
STANDARD FORMAT FOR COVER LETTERS
Law Student (numbers are paragraphs)
1. Contact Information-from whom and to whom.
Expression of Interest in an Interview (Optional-Reason 1,2 or 3).
(Optional) Education-description of educational qualifications (Optional-Reason 1, 2 or 3).
(Optional) Description of Experience-Legal related job experience (Optional-Reason 1, 2 or 3)
(Optional) Why have certain geographic preferences. (Optional-Reason 1, 2, or 3)
(Optional) Closing-rehash of elements used above.
B. Experienced Attorney
2. Expression of Interest in an Interview (Optional-Reason 1, 2 or 3)
3. Experience-one paragraph of most relevant recent and past experience (Optional-Reason 1, 2 or 3)
4. (Optional) Educational Experience (Optional-Reason 1, 2 or 3)
5. (Optional) Why Seeking New Position (Optional-Reason 1, 2 or 3)
6. Closing-rehash of elements used above, rehash of elements above
Harrison Barnes is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and a successful legal recruiter. He is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. His firm BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys. BCG Attorney Search works with attorneys to dramatically improve their careers by leaving no stone unturned in job searches and bringing out the very best in them. Harrison has placed the leaders of the nation’s top law firms, and countless associates who have gone on to lead the nation’s top law firms. There are very few firms Harrison has not made placements with. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placements attract millions of reads each year. He coaches and consults with law firms about how to dramatically improve their recruiting and retention efforts. His company LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.
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.
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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.