How To Write A Compelling Legal Resume That Lands Interviews

resume job search applicant application lateral move lawyer associate partnerAs the end of Q1 approaches, you might be feeling uneasy about the unsteady economic climate, including the layoffs in Biglaw and across the tech industry. With the recent collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, you might also feel nervous about the unknown shifts in the startup world. It’s important to know hiring has been ongoing in the legal market throughout the entirety of Q1. Yes, legal hiring is still going strong.

If you’re considering exploring what’s out there, your first step is to update your legal resume. Writing your legal resume is a daunting task, particularly since you’re looking inwardly from a subjective perspective, as opposed to the 30,000-foot view a reader is objectively seeing it from.

As someone who is trained and specializes in legal resume writing, I want to provide clear guidance and actionable steps you can take to help draw out your best-selling assets, major transactions, and differentiating value. If you’re applying for roles but hearing crickets, your legal resume might not contain enough insights and examples of your skill sets. It may also need some major reshaping from both a strategy and formatting perspective to help increase its readability and digestibility.

Pick Your Most Prominent Competency Areas To Discuss In Your Legal Resume 

First, in order for your legal resume to effectively market you and distinguish your unique value, distill your legal experience based on competency areas. Think about the major areas of focus or specialties you’ve concentrated on throughout your legal career and what you consider yourself an expert in — are you more focused on M&A transactions, contract negotiations, or litigation?

For example, if you’ve been primarily focused on litigation, what types of cases do you typically handle? Are there specific areas of concentration or repeat issues that your litigation experience touches on? What has been your largest case (valuation) to date versus your smallest? Are you taking these cases to trial or strategically negotiating them at mediation? What role do you play in litigation? Are you overseeing an internal or outside litigation team? What types of clients in what industries are you typically representing?

Are you a specialist in labor and employment, data privacy, or intellectual property? Or are you more of a corporate generalist with broad exposure to many different practice areas?

As you can see, it’s important to get granular because your legal resume has one purpose: getting your foot in the door for the job interview. While a resume is a snapshot of your career, you want to build enough context in order for a legal recruiter, hiring partner, or senior executive team member to easily understand the breadth of your experience and what you bring to the table at first glance.

Review Job Postings Before You Begin Writing Your Legal Resume

As I have mentioned previously within my columns, it’s imperative that you know the target role you’re seeking before you begin writing your legal resume. Your legal resume should be narrowly tailored and focused on the specific competencies of that role and how you’ve excelled at those competencies. Analyzing job postings is extremely helpful because you’ll notice patterns of skill sets for specific roles. You’ll be able to better identify which skills matter most, and draw a connection between your experience and the company’s needs. Be prepared to explain what outcomes and results you’ve effectuated for companies and what the future company can expect from you. Alignment is key.

It might be helpful to create a spreadsheet and match up target skills with examples from your background of key transactions and other accomplishments that you will use as factual support and evidence of those skills. This is also very good interview preparation for your upcoming job search.

Facts And Proof Matter In Your Legal Resume

There are specific hard and soft skills you’ll want to consider including in your legal resume. But also think beyond responsibilities and job functions. What points do you want to drive home to a reader about your experience? What facts and proof do you have to support that you’re the right fit for the role? Remember, without the proof, it’s just fluff and hyperbole.

If you’ve had a mix of law firm and in-house experience, state so from the very outset of your legal resume. If you’re applying to a public company and you worked for the SEC for a number of years in the earlier part of your legal career, that’s really lucrative experience that should be called out in your professional summary.

Your Legal Resume Should Be Easy And Simple To Digest

Lastly, your legal resume is not a chance to put a spin on a flair for the creative look. Legal resumes favor a simple, modern design sans the graphs, tables, and charts. Drop the Times New Roman font and opt for a font such as Calibri which is modern and easy on the eyes. If you’re causing a reader to shift eye movements too much between columns or using those templates sold on Etsy, your resume is an eyesore, not something easy to scan. When in doubt, consider what my research and writing professor always chanted: “Simplicity, clarity, and brevity.”

At the end of the day, it’s important keep your legal resume clean, concise, and succinct.

Wendi Weiner is an attorney, career expert, and founder of The Writing Guru, an award-winning executive resume writing services company. Wendi creates powerful career and personal brands for attorneys, executives, and C-suite/Board leaders for their job search and digital footprint. She also writes for major publications about alternative careers for lawyers, personal branding, LinkedIn storytelling, career strategy, and the job search process. You can reach her by email at [email protected], connect with her on LinkedIn, and follow her on Twitter @thewritingguru.

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