Eight Tips for A Top Notch Legal Resume

Consider these tips to help your resume make it to the YES pile.

Tip 1.  The Five Second Test

Legal resume professionals review hundreds, sometimes thousands, of resumes per year.  They take a five second look at your resume to decide whether to read more.

The top of your resume, therefore, needs to capture the reader’s attention.   

  • Education, Honors & Activities Together.  Always place your education and all associated honors and activities together.  Law students and newer lawyers – education first.  More senior lawyers – experience first.
  • GPA Rule of Thumb.  List law school and undergraduate GPAs if they are a 3.0 or better.  If your law school GPA is below a 3.0 and your undergraduate GPA is better, list your undergraduate GPA only.  If you do not list either, the recruiter will infer your undergraduate and law school GPAs are below 3.0.
  • Include Diversity.  Include membership and leadership in a minority organization (e.g., BLSA, LLSA, APALSA, LGBT organizations, and women’s groups) at the top of your resume with law school and undergraduate activities.  Recruiters are looking for diversity, leadership, and team activities.
Tip 2.  Formatting Matters

An esthetically pleasing, organized, reader-friendly resume may help you pass the five second test.

Follow these four formatting tips:

  • Recruiters prefer to read down, not across and back, because the latter tires their eyes and can be distracting.  Help the reader enjoy reading your resume by placing all information, including dates, beginning at the left margin.   In short, make sure one can quickly scan your resume.
  • The Font should be no smaller than 11 pt. in Times New Roman or Garamond. If you need to fill up space, use 12 pt. font size.  If you just do not like these fonts, then use either Arial or Calibri 9 or 10 pt. font.  Headings should be in larger font, bolded, and underlined where appropriate.
  • Bulletize and Italicize. Use bullet points and italics to add visual interest and help guide your reader.
  • Attach a PDF format of your resume to email or online applications where possible to maintain the resume’s integrity.  If you are a student applying through the OCI process, ensure that your resume is compatible with the computer program your law school uses for OCI (ask career services).
Tip 3.  The One Page Rule

You may have been told that your resume MUST fit on ONE PAGE.  Although shorter is typically better, more experienced lawyers may require more than one page.

  • Most law students and junior lawyers should have a one page resume.
  • More senior lawyers with 5+ years of experience, multiple roles, or multiple jobs may need more than one page.
Tip 4.  Employment History – Substance Matters

Where possible, describe your employment in terms of substantive work and/or successes, keeping descriptions short to use as talking points in your interview.


  • Drafted successful motions to dismiss in contract dispute and products liability matter.
  • Prevailed in Ninth Circuit as court-appointed lawyer handling appeal of death penalty conviction that raised complex DNA-related innocence issues.
Tip 5.   Use Action Words

Use action words to add power to your resume.


  • Use these words:  prepared; analyzed; collaborated; managed; led; devised; researched; and drafted.
  • Where possible, replace the words, “Responsible for” with an action verb.                                    (e.g.:  Responsible for drafting and negotiating Draft and negotiate commercial real estate loan documents.)
Tip 6.   Proofread

Always proofread your resume several times to ensure there are no typographical or grammatical errors.

  • Typos suggest you are careless.
  •  Poor grammar diminishes your intelligence and suggests you are not a strong writer.
Tip 7.  Different Resumes for Different Audiences

One size does not always fit all.  Consider different resumes for different employers.

  • Law students typically will use one resume for all employers. (But add your permanent address for jobs in your home state.)
  • Lawyers with diverse experience may have more than one resume emphasizing certain practice areas for different employers such as law firms and businesses.
Tip 8.   Things NOT to Include in Your Resume
  • Do not use the first person or the third person.
  • Do not add personal information like your marital status or religious affiliation.
  • Do not include an objective, a photo, or an unprofessional email account.  Create a new one.
  • Do not exaggerate or falsify your credentials.
  • Do not include references.  Prepare a separate document listing references.

By Randi Lewis.  © 2012 Resume Boutique LLC. All Rights Reserved.

The opinions expressed are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Miles & Stockbridge P.C., its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice. 


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Randi Lewis

Randi Lewis

Founder at Resume Boutique
Randi Lewis, a professional resume writer and Certified Employment Interview Professional (CEIP), is the founder of Resume Boutique, www.resumeboutique.com, which provides resume and interview consultation to professionals and students. A former practicing lawyer and the current Director of Diversity & Professional Development at Miles & Stockbridge, a mid-Atlantic law firm, Randi helps lawyers and law students refine their resumes, prepare for interviews, and chart their career paths.   For more information on resume tips, cover letters, interview preparation, or strategic career advice, contact Randi at info@resumeboutique.com | 410.340.3511 (mobile) | 410.602.2500 (office).
Randi Lewis

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