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Legal Career Advice From a Professional

Legal Career Advice From a Professional


New Year: New Resume

For attorneys, the new year brings resolutions to get and keep one’s career on track. If that means changing jobs or careers in the coming year, it’s important to have a resume that represents you well.

Legal Ink Magazine again invited Kathy Morris, a longtime legal job search and career development advisor to answer some common questions about writing the right kind of resume that attorneys frequently ask her on her website – www.underadvisement.com.

Q: I revised my resume recently and have shown it to some lawyers for feedback. Some like it, some don’t. Now what?

Kathy: If you ask ten people for opinions on your resume, you may well get at least eight differing suggestions. That’s because some people still have in their heads the image of the resume we all had in law school. Others like quantification more than descriptions (e.g., had four bench trials in eight months); showcased accomplishments more than just task lists; lots of bullets; education at the bottom rather than at the top, and so on.

The key thing is that you like your resume, that you are comfortable with its layout and content, that you think it presents you well. If you’re not comfortable with it, or you make changes others suggest that seem a little iffy to you, you won’t be able to use it to advocate for yourself in the search as effectively as possible.

So take the resume advice, sift, weigh, and decide whether it’s good advice for you. Crafting a resume is an art, not a science. Ask only a few people who you think know something about legal resumes (e.g., a legal resume specialist, a legal career counselor, a lawyer who does a lot of hiring) and whose judgment you trust. Polling too many people will only result in confusion and, ultimately, a lack of confidence in your document. A good search can’t afford either.

Q: I send out resumes in response to ads, and hear nothing back from the employer. What do I have to do to get noticed in my job search?

Kathy: Resorting to gimmickry won’t work, either. The person who had his resume delivered in a pizza box is still waiting for a response, as is the woman who put a picture of herself on her resume holding a sign that said Almost Homeless.

Desperate measures may seem called for in your search, but they are not. Send a cogent cover letter that focuses on what you can do for the potential employer and a resume that focuses on accomplishments, not just tasks. When the fit is right, you’ll get a response and, to increase the odds, it’s smart to warm up the approach by networking to find a common colleague whom you can mention in your cover note.

Distinguish yourself in a professional way. If you’re not advancing the search, make small changes in your approach. They can make a big difference.

Q: Do I need to include my college GPA on my resume if it wasn’t as good as my law school GPA?

Kathy: If you include one, you should include the other; the omission would be noticeable and likely prompt a question at an interview. If you are five or more years beyond law school, however, you can leave both GPAs off the resume, and lead with your experience rather than your education. Be prepared, in any case, to discuss grades and, for that matter, any topics, without being defensive. Your improvement from college to law school can be presented as something positive, showing your maturation and focus, rather than an embarrassment to you. Remember, truth plus advocacy is the order of the day at an interview.

Q: If I’m thinking of creating a resume to look for an alternative career, where do I start?

Kathy: Identify your transferable skills…and which you enjoy using most, such as writing, asking questions, public visibility, and the like. Then try to put the pieces of the puzzle together; for instance, if you like details and deadlines, questioning witnesses and writing and are thus thinking about getting into legal journalism, you may want to use a subheading entitled Communication Experience rather than the standard heading of Legal Experience. Structure the resume information to avoid overemphasizing your law degree and legal tasks. But never apologize for being a lawyer. It’s good training for many paths.

Q: For a lawyer, how does a LinkedIn profile differ from a résumé?

Kathy: A LinkedIn profile can be shorter…for example in the employment section, you needn’t list every job you’ve had…just your current role (or what you’re looking for, if between jobs) and a couple of your most relevant prior jobs. The profile should include a picture, though your résumé wouldn’t. And people can “endorse” you on LinkedIn, in connection with your profile, although you wouldn’t include “testimonials” on your résumé.

LinkedIn is a good tool for lawyers. Browse other lawyers’ profiles (or have a friend already on LinkedIn show you some). You’ll get the idea and can also decide if you want to infuse a “mood” in your profile, e.g., about your zeal for/pride in your client service. Again, that’s not the kind of thing you’d do in a résumé.

If it might help, compare my résumé–accessible via www.underadvisement.com in the About Kathy Morris drop box–with my LinkedIn profile. It illustrates these points.

 Q: I am applying for an in-house position, and don’t know if my resume should be all law-related or should also include my prior business experience. That would make it two pages, and I’ve heard you should omit prior career information, and focus squarely on law. What do you suggest?

Kathy: Prior business experience is relevant to transitioning to a legal role in a company, so I say include it. Prior careers, such as corporate work, journalism, and teaching develop skills including sound judgment, respect for detail and deadlines, and effective communication. I am an advocate for keeping the foundation for your legal career on the resume, and am fine with a two-page resume. Include highlight accomplishments and outcomes, in addition to tasks, on your resume; refer in your cover letter to the traits gained from your dual careers that combine to lead you, as a natural progress, to seek an in-house role.

Don’t hide the ball. Instead, differentiate and distinguish yourself in every aspect of your job search, including on your resume.

About the Author






Kathy Morris is the founder of Under Advisement, Ltd. Kathy answers career advice questions on her website every Monday. Kathy can be reached directly at (312)-321-9448 or by email at kathy@underadvisement.com.

Kathy Morris
Kathy Morris


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