Editor’s Note: This post is the first of a three-part series that focuses on resume writing and job searching for attorneys.

As a practicing attorney, it is vital that you always have an updated résumé in hand, which will help you to think more globally about your career and the important work that you are doing. It can also provide a useful opportunity to review your progress and create an occasion to think about your career and the way you work. Writing a résumé is intimidating work for everyone, so don’t worry about how frustrated you may be feeling, because you have plenty of good company. The résumé is a critical tool in the job search process, particularly for the more experienced associate or non-capital partner. It is also an important opportunity for the practicing attorney to step back and assess where she or he may be in their career and think about how satisfying their work is currently.

It is therefore important that a résumé present a strong, clear impression at first glance. It has been estimated that each résumé receives only 20 to 30 seconds of scrutiny when received, so, your value proposition must be very clear, even from a cursory glance. The résumé represents your “sales pitch” to the partner in charge of lateral hiring, so you must put your best foot forward.

There are two common types of résumés: the chronological and the functional. We strongly recommend that the chronological format be used, as it offers attorneys the clearest opportunity to present their experience and accomplishments in proper context with their past employment. Quite frankly, the functional format may be viewed somewhat suspiciously by human resources and hiring partners, as it is often used to bridge prior gaps in employment. Human resource professionals and those responsible for hiring laterals at most law firms like to see experience, accomplishments and education presented in the traditional chronological format, to better (and more quickly) judge whether your skill set and experience are appropriate to other lawyers in “your class” and whether you fit their hiring criteria. In fact, we recently had an extensive discussion with a well-known national legal recruiter, who said very clearly that they would only present chronological résumés.

Remember that the résumé merely represents your sales pitch, and the purpose of the document is to move you beyond the initial screening and get you to the face-to-face level. Will your 30 seconds of cursory review put you in the For Consideration pile or in the waste basket?

A well-conceived and well-written résumé represents a truthful setting forth of your accomplishments and your professional value proposition. The key word here is truthful. No fiction, just the verifiable facts. So, given the 30-second rule, we strongly suggest that every legal résumé contain a brief (three to five sentences) Overview, Qualification or Career Summary paragraph at the top of the résumé – think of this as your branding statement. Call it whatever you wish, but it really serves as a thumbnail positioning statement for the remainder of your marketing document. Some career coaches and search professionals advocate that an Objective or Summary not be included at the top of an attorney’s résumé, suggesting that it is assumed that you are applying for a job as a lawyer. But we feel that this Qualification Statement will quickly position your accomplishments and expertise, which will enhance your chances of surviving the 30-second scan. Your Qualifying Statement will always get read or scanned, so it is critical to get it right and make it abundantly clear exactly where you might fit in.
Over the years, our conversations with hiring partners, firm administrators and human resource professionals tell us that the initial résumé scan of the first page is meant to quickly evaluate the following items:

• Name/Contact information;
• Career Summary or Qualifications;
• Current Job Title – firm information.

The reader’s eye will also catch accomplishment statements that contain statistics ($ values, % estimates, and precise outcomes) as they read through your Professional Experience. They will then turn to a quick scan of the second page, to glance at prior employment history, education, and evaluate your honors and miscellanea (Publications, Memberships, Hobbies, Awards and similar).

At this point, it is worth noting something that seems obvious but is almost always ignored when an attorney initially drafts a résumé: accomplishments are much more important than your responsibilities. For example, which sounds more impressive: noting that one “…was responsible for drafting a discovery motion…” or that you “…successfully argued a discovery motion… that convinced the DOJ to abandon…” In general, then, responsibilities tend to be vocalized in the passive voice. We believe that using action verbs will vitalize the active voice and give more energy to one’s accomplishments. Using action verbs will help define your core value as an attorney.

There are some other points worth mentioning as well. Remember that the résumé is not a brief or an essay. We strongly urge that articles (a, an, the…) and speaking in the first-person (I, me, my…) be avoided. For example, “I drafted a Wells Submission that convinced the SEC …” would be better phrased as “Organized the drafting and presentation of successful Wells Submission that…” Eliminating articles and surplus pronouns sharpens the focus of the document and argues more powerfully on your behalf as an accomplished attorney. We also suggest that excess verbiage be culled out. Trite phrases and excessive wordiness have a way of creeping into a lawyer’s résumé and cover letters. Avoid setting forth details about day-to-day responsibilities and focus instead on “…supervising, managing, negotiating, maintaining…” or similar action words that emphasize your ability to create value.


Robert S. Wilson is the Founder & Chairman of High Potential, Inc. a talent management and leadership development firm, with offices in Chicago, Illinois. Bob is a former practicing trial lawyer, and HPi provides a range of Career Coaching, Outplacement, Leadership Assessment and Executive Coaching services to a number of law firms and corporations in the Upper Midwest. Bob and his colleagues can be reached at 312-252-8200; bwilson@oiglobalpartners.com; www.hpi-inc.com and via LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bobhpi

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