Resumes and Cover Letters for Lawyers – 2010

Resumes for Lawyers
Presented by the Lawyers
Assistance Program
Facilitated by Robert Bircher
Purpose of a Resume
• The main purpose of a resume is
to get yourself on the short list
of candidates to be interviewed
• Do not obsess about getting your
resume in the “perfect format”
there are no hard and fast rulesjust ideas that usually work-if you
are getting short listed whatever
you are doing is working
• A resume is part of your job
search effort and is usually the
first thing people focus on in a job
Job Searching and
• The two most important factors in job
hunting for lawyers are 1.How you look
for a job and 2.How much time you spend
on it
• Five least effective ways:
• (% refers to number of people getting a
job this way)
• 1.Using the internet-4-10%
• 2.Mailing resumes at random-7%
• 3.Responding to published ads in legal
journals -7%
• 4.Responding to published ads in non
legal publications-5-24%
• 5.Headhunters i.e. ZSA or Counsel
Effective use of Resumes
• Locally my experience is that
about 80% of jobs are found by
informational interviews and
networking, about 5% by
headhunters and 15% by
published ads.
• For small and mid-sized firms be
aware-jobs are rarely advertised
• Five best ways:
• 1.Networking in legal community33%
• 2. “Drag and Drop”-47%
Effective use of Resumes
• Direct calling of employers by phone-69%
• Job clubs-84%
• Life changing job hunt-86% this involves
a career assessment and usually a career
coach-we provide this service to lawyers
in B.C.
• What works is personal contact!
• Warm contact principle: The more
personal the contact the better the
• Best use of a resume is in conjunction
with a warm contact method
Resumes that get Results
• Employers hire from the inside
out-first they look at existing
employees, then ask colleagues if
they know anyone looking, then
look at drop in resumes, then
advertise or hire a headhunter.
• A resume is a secondary tool to
your personal contact
• A resume answers the employers
question: What can you do for
me and why should I interview
Chronological or
Functional Resume?
• Choose a chronological resume if
you are basically looking for a job
which is substantially the same as
you are doing now-most law firms
still use this traditional type of
• Choose a functional resume if you
are making more of a career shift(ie applying for a quasi-legal job)
• Functional resumes are common
outside of law and seem to be
increasing in popularity
Chronological or
• Most law firms still use
chronological resumes but there
are several situations where a
functional resume should be usedeg-if you have an employment
gap, have been self employed
,have had a varied career, want to
include volunteer work, are
worried about age discrimination
• Functional resumes focus on skills
that you have-no matter where
you got them
Chronological or
• Chronological resumes focus on
where and when you worked
• Functional resumes are very
descriptive and use a lot of action
verbs that end in “ed”
• Chronological resumes can
showcase firms and datesfunctional resumes showcase your
• Functional resumes use few if any
dates-useful if you don’t want to
reveal your age
Articling Students and
New Calls
• In most cases for articling
students and new calls- a standard
chronological resume will do the
trick-you have to emphasize your
school performance and summer
law job skills
• We have an excellent handout for
articling students and new calls
from California Western
Problematic Situations
• You have to tell the truth in a
resume or it will backfire –but
what you choose to include or
chose to not include is important
• Remember this is a sales
document –not a confessional
• The fact you were top of the class
in pole dancing or have been in
N.A. for 5 years, or just got
divorced may be true but should
they be in your resume?
Problematic Situations
• “Gaps” for a sabbatical or to raise
children can be handled by
including them rather than trying
to cover them up ie –Sabbatical to
raise children 2000-2006
• Frequent changes-there are
advantages to being familiar with
multiple cultures and systemsemphasize that
• Fired or let go from last job-this
can be handled in the interview
and was usually just a poor fit in
culture-don’t overemphasize it!
Resume Rules for all
• Most legal resumes are 2 or more
pages, more senior lawyers need
more, new lawyers could even use
1 page
• It is an advertisement for you- to
get a face to face interview
• Professional profile (career goal)
may be included (functional)or
can be put in cover
• Personal profile and highlights
Resume Rules
• What should I put in it?-depends on who
the employer is-find out as much as
possible about the employer before you
apply-website - talk to somebody who
works there- talk to person who placed the
ad, if possible, all such “intell” is very
• Most lawyers write their own resume-you
will need a basic model which you will
then customize for each job-Resume
preparers usually do a good job, especially
if you are not computer savvy or have a
poor sense of document style
Resume Rules
• Set up resume to give greatest visibility to
your strongest points
• Be selective about what you choose to
include or exclude-a resume is a
marketing document –we hear “Things
go better with Coke” not “Coke causes
cavities, obesity, and has no nutritional
value” even though both may be true
• From top to bottom: tips and pointers
• Name and address - make sure the
phone/fax numbers or email put callers in
direct contact with you-make sure the
greeting is professional
Resume Tips and Pointers
• If you are employed do not send
anything from that address, i.e. an
emailed job application that could
bounce back and haunt you
• If you don’t want people to
contact your present employer
mark directly on the resume that
this is a confidential application
• Education section: More
important for articling students
and recently called lawyers to
emphasize this section
Resume Tips and Pointers
• LSAT scores are irrelevant after
articling but a high class standing or
awards and scholarships remain
important for a few years after call
and should be emphasized
• Remember everyone applying for
the job has a B.A. and LL.B and
after about 3-5 years what you have
done is more important than what
you did at school
• For more senior lawyers it is at the
end of your resume or even omitted
Resume Tips and Pointers
• Some extracurricular activities
may be useful to include-editor of
school paper or class president
• Emphasizing your particular
school is usually not advisable
(for Canadian Law Schools)
unless it has a unique program in
some area
• Advanced degrees like an M.A.,
LL.M or PhD are useful to
emphasize especially if they relate
to the firm or to the job
Resume Tips and Pointers
• Employment Experience: Most common
(for private practice) is chronological but
functional is also valuable in some
situations i.e. quasi-legal or Gov’t jobs
• Chronological:
• 2000-2006-Smith&Co.-Practised in the
area of family law-Where and when I did
• Functional : Conducted trials and
chambers applications, drafted pleadings
for court of appeal matters etc.-What
exactly I did-use action verbs
• Trend (2010)seems to be toward
functional resumes
Resume Tips and Pointers
• More detail here is usually better since
employers can tell what you have done
and at what level
• Non legal work may be useful to include
here if appropriate: i.e. 1994-1997-Royal
Canadian Air Force Physical Education
Instructor- rank of lieutenant implies
leadership ability and ability to deal with
• If you have had a previous career you can
put it in a separate section-i.e.. if you
worked in a bank for a few years before
law school
Resume Tips and Pointers
• Memberships, Certifications,
Affiliations and Activities
• Can be put into education section or
employment section
• Include all relevant memberships
and details i.e. CBA family law
subsection, Some non legal
memberships may be relevant i.e.
chair of Sierra Legal Defense
fundraising committee (but be wary
of politics) the firm you are applying
at may act for logging interests
• References are usually not included in a
Resume Tips and Pointers
• Community activities may be useful
and can show social responsibility
and good social contacts i.e. Chair of
Catholic Church summer camp society.
• Leisure activities and personal
information are not usually included
i.e. kayaking, dancing
• Do not include a photograph or
anything about your marital status or
• Different languages are an asset that
should be included, show your level
of proficiency i.e. speak and write
mandarin fluently
Visual Effect
• Presentation is ultra important!!
• The document should be
beautiful to look at-neatly
organized, good font choices,
highlights where appropriate,
clean and easy to read
• You have an average of 8
seconds to make an impression!
• What stands out in your 8 seconds
of fame in your resume? Is it what
they want?
Visual Effect
• Use high quality paper (but not a
busy background) and a high
quality printer or photocopier
• Layout-choose a layout that
assists the employer to find your
key qualifications and/or to draw
attention to certain parts of the
resume : margins, tabs, fonts,
bolding, italicization, highlights,
etc. should all be used for this
• The resume should be almost a
work of art to look at
Visual Effect
• If you are no good at this (many of us are not) find
someone who is to help you- a bad resume is a
death wish for jobs!!,
• About 40% of the lawyers I see come in with a very
poor resume-it conveys lack of attention and a slapdash approach-employers will assume this is the
way you practice!!
• Organization:Studies show your resume gets only 8
seconds of attention on the first cull!!
• In your 8 seconds of fame what do want them to
see?-for junior lawyers it is your academic track
record, for senior lawyers employment experience is
most important-expressed in action verbsconducted, directed, supervised etc.
Standard Formats of
Functional Resumes
• Top of page: name, address,
email, phone, website etc. then
separate it by a solid line-use
multiple fonts-make it look
• Profile: This a paragraph about
who you are and what you wantyou can add bullets emphasizing
your key strengths-this can take
about 1/3 to ½ a page- This may
well be the only thing read in
your resume-make sure it
Formats of Functional and
Chronological resumes
• Functional-Name and contact
information-Professional profileHighlights-Career experienceMemberships and affiliationsEducation-Languages
• Chronological-Name and contact
Experience-Memberships and
• The main difference other than
format is that a functional resume
is very descriptive and uses a lot
of action verbs-see sample
Functional and
Chronological Resumes
• Functional resumes may contain
few ,if any dates(great if age is an
• Functional resumes are about
skills and abilities-chronological
resumes are about when and
where you have worked
• You can use a combination if you
like-this means a chronological
resume that is very descriptive
using action verbs
Standard Formats
• Professional Experience; this is where
you list the firms and dates, followed by a
1 paragraph of your general job
description. followed by bullets of
precisely what you did i.e. Prepared
affidavits, interviewed witness, conducted
trials, attended court of appeal etc.
• This tells the employers exactly what you
can do or have done-assume nothing-the
fact you worked at x firm famous for
litigation, tells them nothing-all firms are
legends in their own minds!!
Standard Formats
• Education: this goes here if you have
more than a few years of practice: if you
are articling or very junior this can go
right below your name-the longer you are
practicing the less important schools,
degrees, or grades are. At that point
people want to know what you have
accomplished. For senior lawyers it is at
the end or even omitted-if you have a Q.C.
we know you are qualified.
• If you have advanced degrees or
scholarships make sure they get noticedkeep in mind everyone applying for the
job has a B.A. and LL.B and is a member
of the law society-it ain’t special (except
to your mom)
Standard Formats
• Next you can put: Memberships
and Affiliations that relate to the
job i.e.. Chair of wills and estates
• Next you can put Other
Interests: this can include other
languages, clubs (i.e. toastmasters
etc.) and can include non relevant
hobbies etc.-these are great
conversation starters-i.e. ran
• Some resume writers would
advise to skip this completely
Visual Effect
• If the employer is looking for
experience in well known firms
make that stand out - if they are
looking for 3 years in family law
make that stand out etc.
• Sample - Dale S.Technical -see
draft – then look at final which
emphasizes specific job positions,
levels of increasing responsibility
,and technical knowledge-also see
how fonts and layout make a
Resume Samples
• Note increase in space devoted to
current position in final-note
addition of summer job-note prior
non legal experience is included
because she is applying for a
patent lawyer job
• John Q. Corporate - in final he
emphasizes employer name, and
more description of what he does
rather than a mere recital, also he
has moved education to a less
noticeable place and included a
summer job at his firm
Resume Samples
• He has added language skills
• The addendum specifically points
out what he has done using action
verbs (this could also be built into
the resume)
• Corporate version of the same
resume-note emphasis on
interpersonal & managerial skills,
business knowledge, ability to
interact with the public, ability to
identify with corporate goals
Resume Samples
• “Various jobs” was included to
show that he is a hard worker and
well rounded
• “Personal” was included as a
tactical move-single implies
flexibility and other activities
implies well roundedness-having
a spouse and children implies
maturity and stability. Be tactical
about this-it could lead to tough
questions like “ do you plan to
have children soon?”
Resume Samples
• Sarah M. Litigator- senior lawyer
• Note first draft makes it difficult to see a
picture of her value
• Senior Lawyers have the problem of more
than enough material, junior Lawyers are
short of material- both require smart
• Law Firm resume -note focus on law firm
employers, opening profile, chronological
employment history with full details,
breaks experience into 2 sectionsSubstantive and Management, summer
clerkship is included, languages and pro
bono work
Resume Samples
• Note that she asks to have all
contact confidential - even the
leakage of the fact that she is
applying elsewhere could be
• Addendum shows participation in
big cases
• Corporate Resume -note change
of profile, emphasis on corporate
matters, bullet style.
Final Check Out
• Is it neat crisp and clean?
• What stands out in a 10 second
• Does it emphasize what you want
it to?
• Can the employer tell you are a
problem solver? Can they see
what kind of an asset you have
been to others? Can they detect
your personal style? Can they see
how your experience relates to
• Proof read for errors
How do I deliver it?
• Best way is hard copy in personthe personal contact even for a
few seconds is more important
than the entire content of your
• Email can be dangerous since
fonts and margins can be
scrambled-fax is better
• Do not use your employers
phones, fax machines or internet
server or mail service, even if you
have permission to do so
Cover Letters
• Should be viewed as important as
the resume - a poor cover letter
can sink your application before
the resume is even seen
• A good cover letter tells what is
unique and special about youwhat sets you apart from everyone
else who is applying
• Basically you want to do 3 things
• 1. Why are you writing to this
Cover Letters
• 2. Why should we hire you in
• 3. A statement of interest in this
• Put your best qualification
forward in the cover letter-it may
be all that gets read-so if it is a
small general practice the first
words they want to hear are “I
have X years general practice
experience” if it is a tax firm they
want to hear “I just finished
articling with X firm specializing
4 in tax law”
Cover Letters
• State why you are interested in
them in your first paragraph
• Second paragraph will be about
why they should be interested in
you-what sets you apart from the
crowd and how that could be of
use to them
• Third paragraph-statement of
interest in the firm and what
action you plan to take or what
action you want them to take
Cover Letters
• Employers will see the cover
letter as a sample of your writing
skills and an example of your
attention to detail
• A cover letter is a sales tool to
promote yourself-not a place for
damaging self confession or to
explain real or perceived problems
like poor grades, being laid off at
your last job, your recent divorce
or rehab experience etc.
Thank You Letters
• See sample cover letters and
interview thank you letter
• After an interview it is a good
idea to send a thank you letter or
card it reveals class and character
• If you want help with your job
hunt contact the LAP