How to Update Your Legal Resume for Today's Job Market

After nearly a decade working for the same firm, I am ready for a change. I plan to apply for other legal jobs with the goal of moving on to a more challenging and rewarding role. My legal resume, however, is sorely outdated. What advice can you offer on how to freshen it up?

First off, congratulations on your decision to explore your options! It’s not easy to get out of one’s comfort zone, but taking that first step can lead to professional growth, developing new skills and relationships, and even a higher salary.

It’s exciting to get back in the mix of the job hunt — studying different companies’ websites, networking at professional conferences, weighing the pros and cons of various job postings. Granted, some things have changed since you were last in the legal job market, but your task is very manageable.

Here are nine tips for making your legal resume relevant and appealing.

  1. Peruse your peers’ resumes. Go on your favorite search engine or legal job search website and sift through some of the resume tips offered. You will find best practices, but don’t make your legal resume a carbon copy of something you saw on LinkedIn. Make it your own. Let your unique career trajectory and professional narrative shine through.
  2. Nix the objective statement and lead with a summary instead. Objective statements are no longer necessary, and often seen as self-serving. Instead, go with a career “summary,” which should succinctly (in two, at most three sentences) address the skills and experience you bring to the company. Try a summary, in a bullet or sentence format, that brands yourself and lists the ways you are the best candidate for the position. Think of it as a mini-cover letter. Here are a couple of examples: “Trial lawyer with notable first chair trial experience,” or “IP lawyer with six number of years of industry experience.”
  3. List your professional experience, in chronological order. Lead with your accomplishments and special skills for each position. You can use a bulleted list or short sentences. Keep each job to one paragraph, if possible, unless you were with the firm for more than eight or 10 years, then only go to two short paragraphs. Remember: Recruiters and hiring managers are reviewing dozens of resumes at a time, so keep yours short and to the point. Law firms and corporate legal departments want professionals with in-demand hard skills and expertise, so highlight those, such as e-Discovery, project management, as well as soft skills such as teamwork and client relations. Put these abilities front and center of your revamped legal resume.
  4. Tailor your legal resume for each job. Create a different resume for each role you, reapplying for. Why? The popularity of applicant tracking systems (ATS) means software, not a hiring manager, will be taking the first pass at your application. As such, you need to incorporate keywords found in that particular job posting. Do this as naturally as possibly, and use action-oriented language. The latest ATS can spot keyword stuffing.
  5. Set up a LinkedIn profile. If you don’t yet have a profile on this popular business-oriented networking site, you should. Some online application systems will ask for your LinkedIn URL. Even if they don’t, hiring managers will very likely look you up online as part of the vetting process. You can take much of what you’ve written on your new resume and use it for your LinkedIn profile. Go a step further and ask past supervisors or professional mentors to write recommendations on your behalf on your LinkedIn profile.
  6. Continually update your legal resume. Once you’ve overhauled the document, keep it fresh, both on your computer and on LinkedIn and the job search websites you’ve chosen. Add every accomplishment as it occurs and every new skill after you master it. For example, under the education section of your legal resume, keep a running list of continuing legal education (CLE) credits in popular practice areas.
  7. Don’t embellish. Don’t exaggerate or use ambiguous phrases on your resume. Focus on actual experience. Seasoned recruiters and hiring managers will see through your ambiguities and charade. They are going to ask specific questions and for examples of the work you’ve done in the screening process. Ask an objective mentor to review your resume for appropriate context and content. At all times, lead with integrity and honesty.
  8. Keep the design clear. Use formatting that minimizes clutter. Keep it to one or two pages (max). Use bold type, italics, and capitalization in a consistent manner. Keep font style simple and at a readable size (Times New Roman, Trebuchet, Garamond, Arial, Calibri, Helvetica, 10 to 12 point is acceptable). All text should be the same font style and size with the exception of your name, which can be a couple font sizes larger. If printing, use high-quality bond resume paper in white or off-white.
  9. Proofread it. No grammatical error or typo is acceptable on your legal resume. Print it out. Check and re-check all spelling, grammar, dates, your phone number and email address, titles, certifications listed, etc. Ask a friend to proofread it as they may catch errors you missed.

It takes effort to bring your legal resume up to date, especially if it has sat untouched for almost 10 years. But since a solid application is your key to getting job interviews, invest the time to make your resume stand out from the rest.