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What Not To Do When Sending Your Resume To A Lawyer

As we all know, attorneys go to law school to learn how to think, read and write like an attorney. More specifically to learn how to think, speak, and write concisely, carefully, and accurately. A legal document that presents the same message concisely in 5 pages will be much more useful than one that rambles on for 10 pages. This should apply to you when you are writing your resume.

So if you are sending your resume directly to an attorney, as opposed to a recruiter or HR representative, you will need to tweak your resume to capture an attorney’s attention, which undoubtedly will be short. Here are some suggestions on what to do when sending your resume to an attorney for a job:

1. Do not send an overly long and detailed resume.

Keep it short and sweet.

Many people are tempted to list every single achievement and every single job they’ve had to make them appear more experienced. However, you only need to list the experience that is relevant to the specific position you are applying for.  And keep the resume document short and concise.

If you have more than 10 years of experience, you probably really do not need a 2-page resume.  Note to self: I probably should cut down my resume from 2 pages to 1 page now that I’ve been an attorney for 10 years.

And non-legal jobs from 10-20 years ago are not necessary and rather appear as “page filler”.

2. Try not to overstate or exaggerate your achievements.

This one is a tough one. Every resume probably inflates your experience, but keep it in check.

3. Tailor your resume to the specific job.

It goes without saying that you should always research the position you are applying for and the employer. Tailor your resume by highlighting only the skills that would be complementary to the skills that would be expected of you in the job. A resume for a litigation position should look very different from a resume for a transactional law position. Or a resume to work as an attorney in a non-profit organization would look very different from a resume to work as an attorney in a law firm. Similarly, if you are applying for a labor and employment law position, but have no background in the practice, but you have federal litigation experience, then just emphasize the skills that would be complementary.

4. If you have changed jobs frequently, be prepared to explain why.

When many attorneys look for in a resume is stability and competency.  They do not like seeing much movement in their careers and if there is movement, there has to be evidence showing that the moves were thought out and purposeful.  For example, it would make sense for someone to first clerk for a judge, then work for a government agency before going into private practice.  An applicant who changes several jobs over a short period of time without being able to explain his or her career trajectory will be viewed negatively.

5. Send your resume in PDF.  

When I graduated from law school, I sent my resume to quite a few attorneys I knew. A family friend who was also an attorney graciously responded with a PDF version of my resume and he kindly suggested I use that version instead when emailing my resume in Word version. I was a broke law school graduate who couldn’t afford to purchase and download Adobe Acrobat on my own laptop so I was very grateful to have a PDF version of my resume to continue sending on.

Attaching your resume in PDF format in an email looks much more professional and cleaner than, say, attaching a couple Word documents which creates a little more work for the attorney to open and then print. Yes, people still do that these days. Mostly it is because most people do not have Adobe Acrobat on their personal computers at home, but it is well worth the cost. I recently purchased it for myself and am amazed at all the cool things you can do with Adobe Acrobat and it wasn't that expensive.

6. Try to avoid connecting on social media.

Hiring attorneys are not necessarily looking to build a professional network of lawyers. They are not professional recruiters. If they want to connect with you on LinkedIn, they will. Maybe after you have already interviewed with the attorney, you can connect on LinkedIn, but that would be a judgment call.

7. Proofread. Proofread. And proofread again two days later.

Enough said. One time when I was a 1L in law school, a fellow 1L had an interview during On Campus Interviews and during his first interview, the first thing the interviewer did was point out to him a typo on the resume and circle it in red. He was mortified. Don’t put yourself in his shoes.

Proofread it a few times before you send it. Then close your laptop and proofread it again after a good night’s sleep or two. It’s very easy to miss typos when you’re in the middle of revising and redrafting your resume. Oftentimes, giving it a day or two will allow you to review it again with a refreshed mindset.   

8. Tread lightly when including information about your hobbies and volunteer work.

Many attorneys do not like to see political or controversial issues on resumes these days. They look for partisan activities, from all sides, such as volunteering at Planned Parenthood to clerking at the Federalist Society.

9. Be prepared to ask questions at the interview.

If a candidate does not have any thoughtful questions at the interview, it would appear they do not know much about the job they are applying for.

This post has been brought to you by the Ms. JD Journalists. If you have suggestions for any topics that you think should be covered on Ms. JD, feel free to email your suggestions to contentdirector@ms-jd.org, and the Ms. JD Journalists will get right on it.

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