Getting a Job as a Lawyer – Part 3 – Write a Résumé that Works!


Crafting an effective résumé to get yourself noticed is a challenging task.  You want to ensure your strengths are apparent, cover off on perceived weaknesses, stand out from the crowd, and ultimately have a document that gets you to the next step of an interview.  We’re privileged in this article to have Rob Davidson from Davidson Recruitment set out his thoughts on how job hunting young graduates or lawyers can put together an effective résumé that will ensure you tick all the right boxes (from Chris – Tips for Lawyers Admin)

This is part 3 of our series on job hunting for lawyers.  If you haven’t seen them yet or wanted to add your thoughts, here are links to our Series Overview, Part 1 (telling a unique story) and Part 2 (adding depth and breadth).  Now over to Rob….

Résumés that Work

Creating a résumé (CV) that distinguishes you as a lawyer or graduate from everyone else can be a frustrating task.  Approached the right way, however, it is an opportunity to demonstrate your quality to a prospective employer before the first conversation even takes place.

There are tens of thousands of books and articles written on this subject so I will make my comments as brief and practical as possible. Hopefully, I can provide some tips others might not have covered.  Simplistic tips like “proof read your document” won’t be found here – I’m assuming you’ve got that covered.

By using these tips you can develop a résumé that will put your best achievements front and centre with the right understanding of what a law firm is going to be looking for.

The Right Mindset for Writing a Résumé

Preparing a great résumé takes time and effort, which many people for some reason do not put in.  Twenty plus years of experience tells me that a well drafted résumé will make you money.

Say the salary range for your level is $80,000 to $90,000. A carefully crafted résumé which paints you in the best possible light will be far more likely to elicit an offer at the upper end of this range.

It creates a great first impression which, in turn, sets the platform for a good interview and ultimately a good offer. If your résumé  could potentially assist you to earn an extra $10,000 how much effort would you put into preparing it? No less than ten hours and often more than 20 hours for more senior practitioners is a good rule of thumb. This sounds a lot, but if you adopt the mindset that “I could effectively make $1,000 per hour for drafting a great résumé”, it might help you to find the time.

Your Résumé is A Marketing Document

Rule one, your résumé  is first and foremost a marketing document; you are the product and this is the sales pitch. A little crass, I know, but that’s the truth of it. Lawyers in particular are not great at selling themselves as they are often reserved and modest by nature. Your résumé  needs to clearly set out both your experience AND your achievements. Provide practical examples with evidence to show the extent of your achievement.

As an extreme example, I recall a first year lawyer I was interviewing many years ago. His résumé  listed ‘Magistrates Court debt recovery matters’ as an example of his litigation experience. When I probed as to what this meant, it turned out that he had, in fact, inherited a couple of debt recovery files from a debt collection agency at the start of his articles. He had impressed the client immensely with his efficient handling of these matters to the point where the volume of files increased significantly. He then developed the internal systems and processes required to handle the increased flow of work. Ultimately, this client grew to be a major client of the firm, purely as a result of his efforts. The reality was more impressive than his initial description suggested.

So, when you are listing the nature of your experience, don’t be modest, list not only what you have done but also exactly how well you have done it.

Law is a Business

If you are applying for roles in private practice, remember that law firms are businesses and that means their priorities are:

  • clients;
  • productivity; and
  • profits.

It is often helpful if you can include a section detailing your experience in winning and/or providing exceptional service to clients. Evidence that you are a productive fee earner is important, eg. ‘Currently 120% of budget YTD’.

Value Add in your Résumé

The cynical cliché is that most employees do just enough work to avoid being fired and most employers pay their people just enough money to stop them resigning. In a tough economic climate, it is important that you can show how you add value above and beyond simply doing your ‘job’. What additional value do you offer? Examples might include:

  •  CLE programs;
  • social club involvement
  • philanthropy etc.

Transferable Skills

Perhaps you are seeking to transfer to a new area of practice or you might be applying for your first role in the law. In this case, it is all about your transferable skills. Ask yourself what are the core skills required for the role I am applying for. If you are not sure, do your research – reach out to friends and colleagues or perhaps ring recruiters who specialise in this area.

Make sure your résumé provides a list of your transferable skills and evidence of how you have successfully applied those skills in previous roles.

Objections to Purchase

Back to the ‘product’ analogy. Lawyers are trained to look for the negatives in every situation. What are the negatives surrounding you? Does your résumé  provide the reader with sufficient evidence to answer any objections which might arise ? This can come up often with the question of age. If you are a mature age applicant try listing to yourself the possible perceived negative implications of age – lack of drive/ambition, health/energy levels, scared of new technology etc. It won’t always be possible, but if you can, provide material in your résumé  to counter these biased perceptions, but without mentioning them specifically. Perhaps you are training for a half marathon, have you completed any courses on new technology recently, are you one of the top billers in your firm?

Google is Great

Finally, if you are stuck for ideas on how to get started with your résumé , Google is your friend. Simply search under résumé’s for lawyers at your level and you will find hundreds, if not thousands, of examples which might provide some good ideas which you can adapt and adopt.

Get cracking on your New Résumé

So let’s put it all together.  You’re sitting down to right your new résumé.  Here’s what you’re going to do:

  • First, you’re going to set aside enough time without distraction.  This doesn’t mean a 10 hour block, but it does mean you’re not going to try and rush through it.  You’re going to ensure you put thought into the document, its content and its appearance to make sure that the impression it leaves is a positive one;
  • Next you’re going to consider the document as a marketing tool – what will somebody who has never met you think of you after reading this document?  What images will they create of your personality, your achievements and your manner?  Everything you write will be with that context;
  • Your content is going to focus on how you will be a valuable addition to a law firm, having specific regard to their priorities rather than your own;
  • If you haven’t got legal experience you’re going to set out the skills and demonstrate the character traits which you believe will be valuable in the position you are applying for;
  • You’re going to ensure you think about any perceptions of your own flaws, and try and pro-actively deal with them in the document if you can.

Those are my tips for creating a great resume for your next law job.  Best of luck with your job hunt and with your future careers!

Chris says:  Any other tips for job seekers?  What is your experience with an effective (or ineffective) resume? What do you think graduates and lawyers ought to be putting in their résumé to get themselves noticed?   Why not let us know in the comments below.