Social Icons

google plusfacebooklinkedintwitterinstagramrss feedemail

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Law Student's Guide to Creating a Strong Legal Resume

By Geoffrey J. Miller

Your resume should make you look awesome. That is its only job. It has two parts: education and experience.  Both can be added to and tweaked, without lying or exaggerating, and make you really stand out.


If you are a law student or recent graduate and have not clerked for the Supreme Court, your education section is the most important part and belongs at the top of the page.  Tip:  If you are on a merit scholarship, put that down.  For some reason, employers think really highly of those. One interview only highlighted two thinks on my resume - GPA and merit scholarship.  It should look something like this:

University of Connecticut School of Law, Hartford, CT
Juris Doctor Expected, May 2016, Class Rank: <#>*; GPA: <#>**
Server – February 2009 – September 2012
·          Awards: CALI Excellence Awards in Lawyering Process
·         Scholarships: Connecticut Scholar - full tuition merit scholarship
·          Memberships: Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association; ABA: Litigation Section; Connecticut Bar Association***
·         Activities: Mock Trial Competition; Public Interest Law Group

*If you are in the top 20, put the rank number; if you are at the bottom of the first quintile, put "1st quintile"; if you are in the bottom of the second quintile, put "2d Quintile"; otherwise omit entirely.
**Leave off entirely if it is below 2.8; include all three decimal places, do not round
***Tip: Joining these and similar organizations is free or really cheap and you should do it.

Making Your Existing Work History Shine:

There are certain things that all legal employers look for - like writing ability.  There are also desired qualities that specific to certain employers.  Once you've identified the skills an employer wants to see, you can use it to highlight desired abilities regardless of what the job was.  For example, a student applying to a small, tight-knit litigation firm might write:

Chili’s Bar and Grill, Charlotte, NC
ServerFebruary 2009 – September 2012
·         Trained new employees
·         Resolved customer disputes
·         Received the “Most Outgoing Server Award”
·         Functioned as a shift-supervisor on several occasions

If you have legal experience mixed in with your other work experience, make sure that it is listed first. You can do this and still remain chronological by having a category labeled "Legal Experience" immediately followed by an "Other Experience" category. This is especially for newer law students because it draws the reader's attention to the fact that you have some legal experience.

Adding Legal Experience:

You can quickly and easily add to your work history. One way is volunteering for a legal aid clinics and other legal programs that help the poor and underprivileged. Commitment is minimal, if you are not interning for credit, and most programs need volunteers. If you do one of these, then you can legitimately add legal experience replete with legal skills to the top of your resume. That’s better than Chili’s being the first thing an employer sees.  You also get to work closely with local attorneys.

Additionally, you can volunteer to help a professor with her research. This does not need to be for pay or class credit.  Even if it is only a few assignments here and there, that's fine.  You can put legal research on your resume and you will build a great relationship that will lead to a great recommendation.

Strengthening Your Education Section:

You might think that this section is hard to change, but you’d be wrong. While you cannot immediately change your GPA, there is a lot you can do to make this part of your resume impressive.  First, if your GPA is bad, leave it off; employers will have your transcript anyway. If you have a weak GPA, but have good grades in classes relevant to that employer, then put those specific grades on your resume.

The second way to improve your education section is to take CLE’s. Lawyers need to take CLE’s (Continuing Legal Education classes) to stay current with most state bar associations. They are usually only a couple of hours and as a law student, you can take them for very little cost (about $20 with dinner included). Put on your best suit and you will impress a lot of local lawyers with your initiative and interest in their field.  Take as many CLE’s as you can and put the 2-3 that are most relevant to the job you are applying for in the education section of your resume. It should look something like this:

                        X Law School…..

                        Blah Blah Undergrad…

How to Prepare Your Expert Witness for Deposition – Continuing Legal Education Offered by X Bar Association, January 10th, 2013
·         Learned how to give mock depositions to prepare an expert witness
·         Learned how to work effectively with doctors, engineers and other experts

This CLE would be ideal if you were applying for a litigation internship. It takes up as much space as your undergrad education and it will really impress anyone who reads it.

If you follow these tips, you can go from no experience, to an impressive legal resume in under than 60 days. For more great tips, I highly recommend Kimm Walton’s book, Guerrilla Tactics for Getting the Legal Job of Your Dreams.

This is an abridged and adapted version of the published article:
Geoffrey J. Miller, How to Create an Impressive Legal Resume, Pro Se, Feb. 2013, at 4.