This article was published to guide professional career consultants/resume writers, but as a lawyer, you will find the tips and strategies contained in this article equally useful.
Writing a résumé for a lawyer is like any other career marketing document. It is vital to create an employer-focussed résumé that looks at the process from the employer’s point of view, with a focus on accomplishments, a large splattering of key industry words, combined with relevant formatting for the sector.
This article is not a definitive essay on how to write a résumé for lawyers, but is more just a general guideline for those professionals writing a Curriculum Vitae, or résumé for the legal profession (solicitors and barristers) in Australia, United Kingdom and New Zealand.
One-size-fits-all doesn’t cut it
Talk to most non-lawyers and visions of Boston Legal or slick Attorney’s on Law & Order come to mind. The reality is very different, and I cannot stress strongly enough, how diverse the legal sector is in reality, from global multi billion dollar limited liability partnerships, in-house commercial specialists, independent barristers, through to small suburban law offices.
It is therefore vital not to generalise and to research various employer requirements in order to understand the target audience. Employer requirements will vary from the need for your client to demonstrate flexibility and the ability to work autonomously in a small law office, through to the ability to work in large teams in complex environments with big business and government, where the emphasis is on technical specialist skills and client service management.
Lawyers are Specialists
Law firms and in turn lawyers are specialists – hence it is vital to establish the particular practice area/areas that your client has expertise in, or would like to specialise in and highlight this within their résumé. For example a practice area might include finance and under the umbrella of finance is project finance (limited recourse financing and project bonds), which in turn is narrowed down into further specialist areas, including but not limited to energy, transportation, telecommunications, PPP (Private Public Partnerships) and BOO (Build, Own, Operate).
What this means to a résumé writer is that it is imperative that you have a general understanding of your client’s speciality, as each technical skill set is significantly different and this skill set and the relevant years of experience within the area is what the employer is looking for.
If researching practice areas, large law firms and law faculties at major universities are a good general source of information.
Ways to highlight practice area expertise within the resume include:
Use of a profile
Listing practice area specialities within the profile, combined with the number of years of post graduate experience.
Listing relevant case work/files
Listing all major relevant case work / files your client has been involved in:
For matters that are already public knowledge these can be listed using the name of the file and a brief description of involvement, including knowledge applied and what was accomplished for the client. For example:
Mergers & Acquisitions
Senior member of the team acting for Punch Taverns plc on its acquisition of Spirit Group – one of the largest pub M & A deals ever done in the region (GBP 2.7bn). Took a leading role in due diligence processes and disclosure requirements and successfully overcame barriers for the client relating to s.21 of the Corporations Act 2000.
If the file matter is confidential, just simply put the work into context for the reader. For example:
Mergers & Acquisitions
Senior Member of the team acting for a leading hospitality corporation on the largest M & A deal ever done in the region (GPO 2.7bn).
For those clients involved in litigation, you can really leverage experience, by highlighting cases where the decision was published, as this indicates that it was at a higher level court, or was of general interest including setting new precedent. Citation rules vary depending on what jurisdiction/court/tribunal, but your client will be able to provide you with the correct citation rule and details of their involvement in the relevant case.
At the more junior levels within larger law firms, highlight the degree of involvement in a particular file/case matter. Avoid generalisations such as undertook a range of research on a range of file matters, in regards to mergers & acquisitons. Instead provide greater focus by relating the experience to particular files/cases. For example:
Mergers & Acquisitions
Undertook complex research and wrote opinion approved by Partner on new CO Code relating to disclosure and approval requirements for Punch Taverns plc on its acquisition of Spirit Group – one of the largest M & A deals ever done in the region (GBP 2.7bn).
If your client’s experience is focussed on more general client files that you find at smaller practices, such as property law, criminal law and family law, outline their competencies, by providing an overview of their knowledge: For example:
Successfully managed a large portfolio of residential and commercial conveyancing transactions through the introduction of standardised templates and procedures. Experience encompassed property transactions from $100,000 – to $900,000, covering finance arrangements stamp duties, easements, covenants, title transfer settlement, examination of contract of sales and dispute resolution.
Articles and Publications
List all articles and publications written by the client and presentations made on a practice area or areas.
I have talked generally about the diversity of the legal sector and how specialised law is, but what about the general non-technical skills that employers are looking for. My advice is that as with all résumés, steer clear from generalisations and clichés and avoid statements such as “win-win outcomes”, “solutions-driven”, or “proactive negotiator” within profiles as these could be said about almost any lawyer. Instead focus on the experience and incorporate general skills within the context of the experience.
General transferable skills of most lawyers include research and analysis, logical reasoning, interpretative skills, administration/management and billing, negotiation, commercial astuteness, industry knowledge, networking and client relationship building.
When unearthing general accomplishments, apart from details as to files/cases, other areas to focus on are billable hours compared with targets provided, what your client accomplished for the firm’s clients, and specific projects including mentoring programs and business development and marketing initiatives. When focussing on billable hours, the amount contributed is often not as relevant as to whether targets were met or exceeded. The profitability of each partnership is dependent on the number of billable hours, so meeting or exceeding these targets is a very sound accomplishment.
Education ranks very highly for the first few years and then becomes almost completely irrelevant by 4 years post graduate experience, when experience and where that experience was obtained is the dominant consideration, (unless an academic record is specifically requested by the employer.) Mandatory information also includes current admissions to Bars/Associations and professional memberships.
Competition amongst law graduates is fierce and the reality is that the hugest majority of law graduates will never receive an offer from a law firm. Whilst there is a huge emphasis on academic results (it is literally a way for law firms to “cull” candidates), a good way to strengthen your client’s application is to highlight relevant experience. This experience will include voluntary and paid work as well as a portfolio of experience/knowledge obtained during University, and/or bar admission courses. A portfolio should include details on research papers, community law work, pleas of mitigation, negotiation exercises, mooting presentations, appeals and submissions and any statement of claims prepared.
In summary, résumés for lawyers are not unique, but it is vital to understand lawyers are specialists, and employer needs vary depending on the sector and size of the firm or company. The key focus of these documents should be on providing a portfolio of experience that demonstrates their expertise in relevant practice areas, combined with any key achievements and accomplishments.