This guide contains some basic suggestions about preparing resumes, and includes samples for you to consult. If you would like to have a Career Development Office attorney-counselor review your draft resume, send it to the career email box, firstname.lastname@example.org. The resume process, from start to finish, can take much longer than you anticipate. Start early, and give yourself plenty of time.
- A. What is a Resume?
- B. Effective Resumes
- C. Writing Your Resume
- D. Resume Suggestions
- E. Finalizing Your Resume
- Sample Resumes – Students (These are included as a pdf to preserve formatting, an essential element of effective resume-drafting.)
- Sample Resumes – Alumni (A few samples are included as a pdf. More samples will be added over time.)
- Action Words
- NEW! Webcast: Creating Public Interest & Public Sector Resumes (4:41) (Windows Media Player) Mac users: download PowerPoint version (Firefox: Command+click to “Save Link As” to start download), or download Flip4Mac, a free file converter that will allow you to view .wmv files in Quicktime
- NEW! Webcast: Creating Private Sector Resumes (7:57) (Windows Media Player) Mac users: download the PowerPoint version.
A. What is a Resume?
A resume is a marketing device whereby you present the most attractive, true picture of yourself with the goal of convincing an employer to meet with you.
B. Effective Resumes
Your resume is usually your first contact with a potential employer and will probably determine whether your qualifications and background warrant an interview or serious consideration for a job. While employers do not usually hire on the basis of a resume alone, they may decide not to interview an applicant on the basis of a poorly prepared or presented resume. Therefore, excellent content and presentation are vital. Employers assume that your resume represents your best work and is indicative of your general work product in terms of clarity, organization, accuracy and appearance. As a general rule, anything that does not contribute to getting you an interview should be eliminated from your resume.
Most decisions about what to include and how best to present information in your resume are based on your personal assessment of your strengths, the kind(s) of position you are seeking, your own taste and style, and your knowledge of how resumes in the legal profession traditionally look and read. Consider having more than one resume to emphasize different things for different types of prospective employers.
Resumes for public interest organizations. For these employers, a demonstrated commitment to public interest work will be a key factor. Evidence of your commitment can take the form of extracurricular activities, journals, internships, clinics and volunteer work, all of which should be included on your resume. Consider including substantive clinical work or student organization activities (e.g., CARC) in your “Experience” section, where you can elaborate on your tasks and responsibilities. If your experience justifies it, you may consider creating an additional section entitled “Community Service” or “Volunteer Activities” to list your volunteer or community activities that will emphasize the extent of your dedication to public interest issues. In addition, languages can be very important to public interest/public sector employers, depending on the communities they serve or the work you can do for them. Unlike resumes aimed at private sector employers, public interest resumes can go over one page if your experience requires it; however, it is still critical to use concise language and efficient formatting.
Resume Rules. There are a few absolute rules for writing resumes. Your resume must be:
- scrupulously honest;
- conservative (graphically and linguistically, not necessarily politically);
- selective (because your resume is not your whole life history, perhaps not even your entire employment history);
- visually appealing so it will be easy to read rapidly;
- absolutely free of typos, grammatical errors and inconsistencies.
Difficult Issues. Some items you might include in your resume may reveal political leanings, religious beliefs, ethnicity, disability and/or sexual orientation, which, depending on the prospective employer, could work against you or in your favor. (This is true regardless of the legality of taking such factors into account.) The decision whether to include such information is a personal one. First consider how important the inclusion of such information is to you, and whether you would want to work for an employer who would use it in making a decision whether to hire you. If you choose not to include this information, you still have the option of bringing it up in an interview, or later in the hiring process. If you are unsure about whether to include items of this kind in your resume, contact a CDO attorney-counselor.
Accuracy of Resume Information and Verification of Resumes. It is imperative that all information presented on your resume be scrupulously honest and free of embellishment. The potential for misrepresentation of academic performance is of great concern to employers; they typically verify this information. Boalt Hall has established practices to ensure the fair and accurate presentation of students in the placement process, including procedures for the verification of statements concerning grades, journal membership, or other law school achievements that a student has made in a resume or other document. By making such statements to an employer in writing, a student consents to the Law School verifying the substance of these statements at the employer’s request. (Boalt’s Registrar will inform the employer whether written grade information is accurate, but will not provide the correct grade information to the employer without the student’s prior consent.) Any falsification or misrepresentation of law school grades or other records, recommendations or other qualifications is a violation of the Academic Honor Code.
C. Writing Your Resume
First, brainstorm. Inventory your background and accomplishments and list everything which helps to distinguish you individually, professionally and as a student. You might ask for input from family or friends because you may overlook some basic but important areas. Remember to focus on what you bring to the table based on your experience. What will make the employer interested in you?
Name and Contact Information. This information should go in large bold face type at the top of your resume. (If your first name does not easily identify gender, consider including a middle name for gender identification.) If you choose to include both your school address and your permanent address you should indicate which is which. (Students often include an out-of-area address in order to show that they have a connection to an area outside of Northern California.) Always include your phone number and email address, but only one of each. (Your email address, as well as your voicemail greeting, should be professional.)
Education. List your education in reverse chronological order (law school first). Do not include your high school. Include basic information on schools attended, degrees received and dates (or anticipated dates) of graduation, and major field(s) of study. Under your undergraduate school heading, include major and minor areas of study and thesis topics, if applicable. If you desire, include your GPA if impressive (usually a 3.6 or higher). Be consistent. If you use the term “J.D,” then use “B.A.” If you write out “Juris Doctor” then write out “Bachelor of Arts.” Other than law schools, you need not include schools from which you transferred and did not graduate. If you acquired a degree which employers might not recognize by its abbreviation, spell out the degree name.
Transfer Students: If you transferred here from another law school, put Boalt Hall first, followed by the other law school, for at least your first year at Boalt; thereafter, including your first law school is discretionary. If you received honors at the other school, put them under that law school’s section. If you were invited to join law review at your former school and didn’t because you were coming to Boalt, indicate that you were invited to join and explain why, e.g., “Invited to join University of San Diego Law Review on the basis of high academic achievement.”
Joint Degree Students: If you are pursuing a joint degree program, be sure to list both schools under your education section.
Honors and Activities. Honors attached to your degree should appear in lowercase after the degree awarded, e.g., B.A., summa cum laude, June 2006. (If the honors are in Latin, they should be italicized.) Other academic honors are listed separately below your degree, along with school activities. If you have extensive undergraduate honors and activities, you might consider listing only a representative number of them. Make sure it is clear which activities are at which institutions. If you were involved during school with an activity not related to the school, it should go under a different section of your resume. For law school, list all honors and activities of importance such as law review, participation on other journals, moot court, trial advocacy, clinics, fellowships, scholarships, committees, student organization membership, and academic awards. If an activity in college or law school was or is especially involved or relevant, consider putting it under the Experience section. For example, if you are a public interest student, your participation in CARC could go under Experience, with a description of the work you did on your asylum case.
Grades, Rank and LSAT Scores. Because Boalt does not use a traditional grading system, students do not have GPA’s. Your resume will often be accompanied by your transcript when you are applying for jobs, but you may choose to include High Honors and Honors grades on your resume. If you decide to list your grades, include the name of the course (e.g., HH – Evidence; H – Contracts).
Boalt Hall does not rank its students (except for the sole purpose of clerkship applications), and Boalt Hall faculty policy provides that students must not include any representation or estimate of class rank on a resume or in a cover letter.
LSAT scores should not be listed on your resume, as they are designed to predict law school performance only, and are not an indicator of professional performance.
Experience/Employment. Use reverse chronology. You can list a brief summary of your most important duties, or a better approach is to list the skills you have developed at the job so that the employer can see what you can bring to the table. Your experience is worth including not for what you did, but for what it says about you and what you can do in the future. Anything that makes you stand out should be included.
List the name and location of the employer, your title, the dates of employment, and a brief summary of your most important duties. Emphasize law-related work in any area, but do not struggle to make your experience appear more law-related than it really is; many students come to law school with no legal experience whatsoever, and employers know this. Three or four phrases are usually all you need, but elaborate further if you have the space and believe that your duties were especially interesting, responsible, and/or relevant to your legal career. If the name of the employer is inadequate to convey the nature of the business, try to incorporate a description of the employer in your job duties, e.g., “prepared marketing materials and sales analysis for start-up company selling pet products via the internet.” Avoid insider jargon. Use present tense verbs to describe your current job and past tense verbs with all former positions. Provide specific information about actions and responsibilities (e.g., budget, percentage of increase in revenues or sales, number of staff supervised, direct work with clients, etc.) Many skills obtained in non-law jobs are transferable to law practice (e.g., attention to detail, meeting deadlines, writing, research and analytical skills, working under pressure, working with individuals from diverse backgrounds, etc.). Try to highlight such skills.
If you were at one job for a long time, show promotions and increased responsibility, if applicable. If you had many part-time or temporary jobs while in school, consider summarizing them, e.g., “Held various part-time and temporary positions, 2005-06, to finance education.” (Employers will value the fact that you have worked while going to school, particularly if you were still able to do well academically.) For certain jobs, such as in retail or restaurants, or as a ski instructor, it can be appropriate to omit the description altogether, as most people know roughly what this work entails. Include summer jobs to avoid time gaps on your resume. Also, if a prior job is your only link to a prospective employer’s city, include it.
Any experience can be relevant, regardless of whether or not it was paid, so if your volunteer or community service is substantial, include it in the main body of your resume, especially if you are applying for public interest positions. (If you do include volunteer work, the heading should be “Experience” rather than “Employment,” which implies compensated work.) Volunteer work can also be presented in a separate Community Service section, or at the end or your resume under a heading such as “Other Information.” Jobs are usually assumed to be full-time and paid unless you indicate otherwise; be sure not to appear to overstate your experience.
Other Categories. If space allows, you may choose to elaborate on one or more of the following categories, under a heading such as “Other Information” or “Interests and Activities”:
- Languages: If you include languages on your resume, state your level of fluency (e.g., “fluent,” “proficient,” “reading knowledge only” (where your fluency is very limited, it is probably not worth listing the language)). Do not overstate your level of proficiency.
- Publications: You may include a short list of publications on law-related topics, particularly if the area of research is relevant to an employer’s practice. A more extensive list of publications should be compiled as a separate document, and the resume can state at the foot, “List of publications available on request.” Be prepared to discuss in interviews any publications you list.
- Professional Licensing and Affiliations: Include any relevant licenses or certifications (such as a CPA license). Include past and present memberships with your title, if any, and dates. Give the full name of the organization.
- Bar Admission: Bar membership, only applicable to graduates, should appear at the top of your resume, above the Education section. If you have a substantial amount of experience as an attorney, the Experience section of your resume should precede the Education section. If you are registered to take the bar exam or awaiting the results of a bar exam you have written, you can include that information in a cover letter.
- Other Activities; Hobbies and Interests: Many attorneys like to see hobbies and interests on resumes. It gives them a more complete picture of the applicant as well as something to talk about during the interview. Include activities that reflect positive characteristics such as self-discipline or leadership, as well as ones that show you to be really smart or unusual. Two or three items of this kind are usually sufficient. Broad categories such as reading, music, food and travel do not distinguish you enough from other candidates, and should not be included (but “19 th century Russian literature” and “playing the banjo” are fine).
D. Resume Suggestions
- Do not use abbreviations, with these exceptions: the two-letter state abbreviations; GPA (for your undergraduate institution), and academic degrees.
- Put your references on a separate document, and don’t include “references available on request” on your resume. Employers know to ask for them.
- List each item only once. If you list Debate Team Captain as a college activity, don’t repeat it under Other Activities at the bottom.
- Keep your resume to one page, unless you have substantial working experience prior to coming to law school, or for public interest resumes.
- Make your resume easy to read. The reader should be able to locate your graduation date, duties of employment, etc., by scanning (not reading) your resume.
- Use short descriptive sentence fragments separated by semicolons with strong action verbs to relate your job responsibilities, not sentences. (A list of “action words” can be found at the end of this guide.).
- Be specific about what you did at your jobs; avoid vague expressions such as “gained exposure to,” “participated in” or “assisted with.”
- List your job responsibilities in descending order of responsibility and challenge (start with the most impressive and work down to a “catch-all” item, if appropriate).
- Avoid extraneous information and try not to convey too many ideas at once.
- Do not include computer abilities, except as part of a job description where you used highly specialized skills.
- Do not include such personal information as age, marital status, etc.
- Do not include anything in your resume you would not want to discuss in an interview.
E. Finalizing Your Resume
Resume Style. Resume styles vary, as presented by the samples found at the end of this guide. In addition to using physical layout, take advantage of the various ways to highlight important information, such as bold face, capitalization, italicizing, and underlining. Be completely consistent with the choices you make (e.g., all educational institutions in boldface, all job titles in italics), all the way down to the way you use commas, periods and spaces. Your heading can be in a different font from the body of the resume if the mix is attractive and both fonts are conservative, and your name can be in a larger font from the rest of the text, for emphasis. Look for a pleasant balance of text and white space on the page. While margins can be smaller than the standard for a term paper, you should allow at least a half-inch all around.
Proofreading. Once you have your resume set up as you want it with content and layout, proofread it carefully. Look for inconsistencies in style as well as actual typos. Do not trust yourself as the only proofreader; enlist the aid of at least one other person. If you discover a typo, you must redo your resume, even if it has been already been printed; no typo is insignificant.
A few technical notes. If you send your resume electronically, it is preferable to convert it to a PDF file first; this way your formatting and any document history are invisible, and you can control exactly the way your resume appears and prints. Email addresses in your contact information should be text, like your phone number, not a hyperlink. Remember that potential employers may see the document’s name; keep it clear and professional and include identifying information, e.g., jane_doe_resume2008.doc.
Sample Resumes (These are included as a pdf to preserve formatting, an essential element of effective resume-drafting.)
© 2008, Regents of the University of California
Updated June 2008