Preparing your Résumé

No matter what your résumé says right now, it will need revising. Law schools don't need to know the same things as an employer does.  Begin reviewing your résumé now.  Make sure to save it on more than one computer disk or drive. Then if you add a job or an award before you apply, you can easily amend the résumé whether you're at home, work, or school.

A significant number of law schools require a résumé .  So even if you feel you don't need one to present yourself, you DO need one in order to follow the rules. 

Can I use my work Résumé ?

No. A law school résumé is not a job résumé . It should be only one page in most instances, and should include schools, honors and extracurricular activities, both paid and volunteer work experiences. The number of hours you worked during the school year should be included if it is more than fifteen hours per week. Class rank could be included if it's higher than average for the schools for which you're applying.

"But What Should it Look Like?"

Apparently, résumé production is a bigger, uh, production, than I thought.  Go read "Sample Resumes" to learn more.  

Should I Always Submit a résumé ?

Some applicants to law school are currently full-time students who have worked only one or two summer jobs, have not worked during the school year, and have participated in one or two extracurricular activities with no positions of leadership. They have received no major awards for academics, athletic or other skills. These people do not need a résumé unless the law school to which they are applying requires one.  Everyone else can and should send a résumé to every law school, whether or not it requests one.

I Need More than One Page!

I know you think so, but you'd be amazed at how often I disagree.  Your résumé is not a CV.  Law schools don't care about the things an employer needs to know.  You can do things like this:

  • Ten articles published in various science journals, 1994-1999; three completed works to be submitted, and three works in progress.
  • Co-founded and developed 7 companies with total revenues in excess of $200 million; conceived and implemented 8 major business joint ventures with Fortune 500 companies
  • Other full and part-time work during undergraduate years.

A good rule is to remember that the person reading this résumé is not going to offer you a job.  The level of detail needed is only slightly more than you would use at a cocktail party.

Having said all that, I should admit that for people with more than a half-dozen jobs and awards and extracurricular activities, I have permitted resumes of two or even three pages.

Aren't these questions on the application?

Most of this information may already be requested on the application, but your answers there are not necessarily identical to the information on the résumé . Your résumé can highlight elements not requested on every application, but which may be important to many schools. For instance, an athlete might include trophies or rankings on a résumé. "Member, U.S. Olympic Fencing Team" might make the difference between acceptance and rejection.

Just as you want to highlight experiences consistent with your goals and interests, you can also abbreviate less relevant experiences. Several unglamorous jobs that paid the rent can be summarized in a line or two: "Summer jobs included lifeguard, waiter, delivery person."

A law school résumé is another opportunity to unify the components of your file. If you worked for gay and lesbian civil rights and had an internship with a legislator, you might highlight in your description skills developed during the internship which helped your later work. Course work in marine biology might be mentioned to support your desire to work as an environmentalist. This is a great opportunity to control the image that you project, instead of being controlled by the law school's application; take every advantage of it.

Adding "Spin"   

All resumes include approximately the same things, but placement and description can be important.  Let's look at some examples.  

Person # 1 has 8 years of full-time work experience and a 2.3 undergraduate gpa.  She didn't participate in extracurricular activities much because she worked full time during college.  She might put work experience first, and education last.  She might further highlight her story by breaking work experience into two sections:

Work after Graduation


Work During College 

Person #2 has one activity -- track.  He's participated nationally and internationally for 15 years.   Instead of heading this section "Activities," we called it "Track and Field Career." We also included a Career Highlights section, thus:  


Career Highlights

  • Three-time Olympian; 3-time U.S. Olympic Trials Champion (1996, 2000 & 2004)

  • 29-time National Champion & 13 American Records

  • Bronze Medallist 1999 World Championships

  • 2001 & 2002 CA State Games Opening Ceremony Official

We placed this section above Work, but after Education.  Since all his community outreach activities involve athletics, we included them in the track & field career section.  

Person # 3 had a very unusual career before law school.   All of his work experience involved heavy physical labor, and we wanted to highlight this "un-yuppified" (yes, I made that word up for this special occasion) background.  Here's what we wrote:  


Driller's Helper August year -present
-assisted the driller in maintenance and repair of the drill

Tree planting Foreman,  Lumber Co. Ltd. Prince George, B.C. May-August  (years)
-responsible for crew discipline, morale, tree care, and quality of planted trees
- located cut blocks using chart maps and GPS coordinates

Forno Cook, Restaurants Ltd. Vancouver, B.C. January -August year
-cooked food in a wood fired oven, assisted bartender in serving customers at the bar

Deckhand and Dockyard Worker, Fishing Industries, Alaska, and Seattle, WA,   [dates]
-responsible for cleaning vessel and assisting with its maintenance
-operated and navigated vessel using GPS and chart maps  

These jobs highlight the diversity he brought to his law school, which was glad to have his experience in their environmental law program.  

The more detailed and specialized your skills,
the less you want to say about them.

For instance, one of my clients presented me with a résumé that said:

Languages: Fluent in Russian, Ukrainian and English. Have a good reading knowledge of French, Classical Greek, Classical Hebrew, Classical Syriac, and Old Church Slavonic.

I might have amended that to:  

Languages: Eight languages, including Russian, Ukrainian, English, and French.

Why the change? The four languages I left are useful for a lawyer. The four I deleted are not.  But eight languages is always impressive, so mention the number.

Of course, if you're having trouble filling the page, go ahead and use the longer list.

"But What Should it Look Like?"

Apparently, résumé production is a bigger, uh, production, than I thought.  Having filled over a hundred requests for a sample résumé this year, I've decided to add a section on résumé format.  Click here to learn more.


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