How to Write a Resume that May Actually Get You a Job |

How to Write a Resume that May Actually Get You a Job


Print/Download PDF

Font Size

Rate this article

15 Reviews Average: 4 out of 5

Attorneys are thorough. While, in legal practice, thoroughness is surely an asset, on a resume, it can be disastrous. You have heard a hundred times that your resume should be on one page.
How to Write a Resume that May Actually Get You a Job

A bad resume puts you on the fast track to the “no” pile. Picture yourself as the person who reads dozens of long, poorly written resumes every day, and imagine how quickly your eyes glaze over at the sight of yet another jam-packed, multi-page colossus. Here are some tips to make your resume the concise, effective document it needs to be.

1. 1. Only List Information that is Relevant Now.

Attorneys are thorough. While, in legal practice, thoroughness is surely an asset, on a resume, it can be disastrous. You have heard a hundred times that your resume should be on one page, and this is almost always true. If you are a partner with a lot of portable business, you may justify two pages, but I can’t imagine another scenario in which one page won’t suffice. Here’s why.

Your career as an attorney has probably lasted several years at least, during which time you have worked on many interesting and noteworthy things. However, you must always remember that you are writing for an audience, and that audience is likely weary and pressed for time. Therefore, you need to be selective about the items you include on your resume. So, what to leave in, and what to leave out?

The answer is simple. Include what you can do NOW, and what you want to be doing in the job you are applying for. Everything else gets deleted. Please resist the temptation to include everything you have ever done. Including it will hurt you.

If you are now specialized within your practice area, and you are not looking to change specialties, only the experience within your specialty should be emphasized. For example, if you are a fifth-year M & A attorney, you can go ahead and leave off the experience at your last job where you dabbled in hedge fund work. (If, however, you are trying to get back into hedge fund work, you need to leave that work on the resume, and de-emphasize the M & A work you do in your present job). Similarly, if you were at one of those firms that allows its associates to “float” for the first year or two, you can go ahead and delete experience in practice areas that you did not ultimately choose.

Your resume only needs to reflect the experience that is appropriate to your seniority level. If you have remained in the same practice area your entire career, your class-year appropriate experience is probably enough. If you are a corporate attorney who runs her own deals, you don’t need to include the due diligence you performed two jobs ago.

Similarly, your job descriptions for each position should be very short, except for your current position. Obviously, you want to include that federal clerkship, and possibly even your summer positions during law school, but descriptions are probably not necessary.

1. 2. Draft a Template, and Then Make Specialized Resumes

I work with many attorneys who enjoy several areas of law, and want to submit resumes for a variety of different types of positions. Or, maybe the important thing to a particular attorney is moving cities, and she is less picky about the substance of the work. In this scenario, draft a skeleton resume showing your positions, and the experience you will probably want to emphasize in most job applications. Then, tweak the resume as necessary for each application. For some reason, many attorneys feel that this is somehow disingenuous, but I don’t agree. Obviously, you may not misrepresent the amount of experience you have. However, if you are a general corporate attorney who is applying for a securities-based position, there is nothing wrong with highlighting the fact that you have some solid experience in securities by listing it front and center.
1. 3. Make the Resume Easy to Read.

Do not, as so many attorneys do, make a resume filled with long blocks of paragraphs that the reader has to concentrate on in order to decipher. This will absolutely sink your application, I guarantee it. Instead, use as few words as possible and bullet point whenever possible. This is easy on the reader’s eyes, which go directly to the bullet points. Tell the reader, via bullet points, what you can do, now.

On a final note: I personally detest those “objective” paragraphs some people use at the beginning of resumes. No one reads them, and I suggest you delete it if you have one on your resume.

1. 4. Make Every Line Count

Attorneys are taught to be concise writers. However, they routinely fill their resumes with fluff. You are not going to impress anyone with your use of big words, so leave them out. Similarly, do not include long descriptions that say nothing. For example, I recently had a resume with the following line item: “Facilitate successful resolutions to conflicts resulting in savings to client of tens of millions of dollars.” Saving many dollars is great, but I cannot tell from this line what this attorney’s role actually was. Did she conduct the settlements herself? Or was she part of a team, and she had no decisionmaking power at all? What exactly does “facilitate” mean here? I see descriptions like this one constantly. Tell the reader what you did.

Here’s another one: “Practice encompassed broad range of legal services to business units across the enterprise.” This line is a waste of space. Delete it.

Another popular but confusing description is when attorneys write that they “represented,” say, a multinational client in a multimillion dollar litigation. Again, what did you actually do? Were you the contact person for this huge client? Did you argue the case? Depose witnesses? Or were you sitting in an office reviewing thousands of documents? “Represent” can mean a lot of different things, so be clear about your role.

The moral of the story is this: your resume should be short, with lots of empty spaces for ease of reading, and should state only what you can do right now. All else should be deleted.

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,, and, 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

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.

AGREE/DISAGREE? SHARE COMMENTS ANONYMOUSLY! We Want to Hear Your Thoughts! Tell Us What You Think!!

Related Articles

We've changed thousands of lives over the past 20 years, and yours could be next.

When you use BCG Attorney Search you will get an unfair advantage because you will use the best legal placement company in the world for finding permanent law firm positions.