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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

April 27, 2016

What are the current trends for resume details and length?

Julie Q. Brush

After all the transformations, twists and turns that have taken place in the legal profession, one thing that has stood the test of time and has remained relevant is…the resume. To employers, recruiters and other professionals, the resume is still regarded as the truest and most accurate representation of a person’s professional life. While the LinkedIn profile is gaining popularity as a source of scoop, it is not held to the same level of accountability for truth and accuracy. So given the resume’s importance, time and effort must be invested to make sure it’s right. But knowing what’s “right” isn’t always easy for the busy lawyer. Have the resume rules changed? Must it only be one page? What details are recommended? Below are the trends that answer these questions:

Resume Length:

Many-a-year ago, one common “rule” for resumes was that it could never exceed one page. And those that did were considered to have breached legal profession protocol…regardless of a lawyer’s seniority. But today, The One Page Rule is no longer the norm and lawyers are taking greater license with resume length.

Seniority is a key factor when determining resume length. For newbies and junior lawyers, the resume leans towards one page. For lawyers who are more seasoned (with longer work history and more experience), resumes tend to be longer – i.e. 1 ½ – 2 ½ pages. But there is an increasing number that venture into 3, 4, 5 pages…and beyond.

Despite the market acceptance of lengthier resumes, I have yet to see a resume three or more pages that legitimately needs to be that long. And there are risks: An excessively long resume will often lose the reader, diminish marketability and could signal a lack of judgment or conciseness. A result no lawyer wishes to achieve. On the flip side, there are lawyers who believe The One Page Rule is still in effect and attempt to squeeze too much information onto one page. This is a mistake as well – and isn’t effective, or pretty. It’s like trying to squeeze into pants two sizes too small. Technically you might be able to do it, but at the end of the day…it just doesn’t work. Resumes need breathing room – so it’s ok to extend to an additional page if appropriate.

Resume Details:

Because of the high stakes, today’s lawyers are opting to provide more detail in their resumes than less. But it’s a fine line between enough and too much. Those who have trouble making that determination often create resumes that look like novellas. So what to include? The tried and true content to include is the following:

  • Education. The school from which you received your law degree, undergraduate degree and any other degrees/certificates you have earned. Summer programs are often included. Continuing education classes are not required. List all degrees earned. Including minors are ok, but not required. Do not include specific classes taken.
  • Education Honors: Law Review, published works, scholarships, cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa and all other honors societies and honors earned. Do not list GPA unless you were in the tippy top of your class.
  • Employers and Employment history. All employment after your JD grad year must be listed with accompanying dates. This includes “short stint” employers and temporary/contract employment. Including clerkships and employment during law school is fine if you are a more junior lawyer, but is unnecessary as you become more senior. If you had a “life before law”, include the relevant business employment and dates. Paper routes don’t count.
  • Employment Description. Describe your role and responsibilities. Avoid the weeds (save those for your separate transaction/deal/accomplishments sheet [see below]), but be thorough enough to provide a clear snapshot of your position. One or two “big” accomplishments are ok to include, but don’t exceed. If in house, no need to include the company’s stock symbol or a lengthy description of what the company does or how it came to be. Law firm lawyers do not need to include number of lawyers or that the firm is an international or in the AmLaw 100. Listing clients is ok if impressive and not too many. Organize and format the text so it’s easy to read. A sentence at the end of a description that explains the reason for a departure is effective but not required.
  • Awards. It’s always good to highlight professional recognition. You can do so in a separate section or within a specific employer’s description.
  • Professional Activities and Published Works. Leadership positions, memberships, speaking activities, authorship etc. Including professional activities and your published works demonstrates that you’re an engaged and involved lawyer.
  • Bar memberships. A bar membership in good standing is a requirement for most, if not all employers. Don’t assume employers know that you check this box if it isn’t on your resume. Depending on the reviewer, it could end up in the trash.
  • Interests. Not required, but if you have a conversation worthy inclusion, go ahead and include it.

It can be difficult to determine what information to include and what to leave out. After all, this is your first impression so it’s got to be good. But one must be mindful of length and excessive detail. So if you simply can’t resist including all of your accomplishments, deals, matters, specialties or other kitchen sink items, I advise creating a document separate from the resume that can be read independently. These Transaction Sheets, Representative Transactions, List of Accomplishments, Deal Sheets etc. can be quite effective. Not only in allowing your resume to be more concise, but by providing more detailed information about your background in an acceptable format.

The importance of the legal resume has stood the test of time. And while the emergence of social media profiles have elbowed their way into the legal landscape, employers still hold the resume as the most relied upon document to convey a professional story. Today’s trends indicate that using more real estate is ok…as long as it’s not “too long”. And details that market a candidate’s background, uniqueness and specialty are often utilized. The information above can help guide you as you craft your own CV. By using it wisely, you will create a resume that reflects the standout legal professional that you are.

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