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Preparing Your Resumé

Guidelines | Contents of a Legal Resumé | Find an Editor | Appearance | Electronic Resumés | Things To Think About | Links


A resumé is a brief, organized statement of your education, skills, abilities, and accomplishments as they relate to the job you are seeking. It is not an exhaustive listing of everything that you have done. Rather, it should give the employer a concise, honest, and positive impression and should be aesthetically pleasing. It should make the employer want to meet you.

The resumé should be brief because no recruiter will spend more that one minute initially reviewing it. If you do not capture the reader’s attention in seconds, you will be rejected before you are interviewed. The rule of thumb is no more than one page of resumé for each ten years of relevant and substantive work experience.

Action Words for Powerful Resumés (.pdf)

Contents of a Legal Resumé

Name, Full Current Address, Telephone Number, and E-mail

  • Always put these at the top for easy reference.
  • Include your Home/Permanent Address in another state if, for example, you want to return to that state after graduation.

Educational Background

  • The school's official title is The University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law (note the e on Clarke). If you are going to include further reference to the school, such as clinic experience, follow the title of the school in the Education section of your resumé with the abbreviation UDC-DCSL. Once you have explained the abbreviation, you can use it throughout the rest of your resumé, so that you do not have to spell it out each time.
  • List the name, city and state, dates of attendance and degree conferred/to be conferred in reverse chronological order.
  • List all academic honors received and significant activities in which you participated.
  • Honors such as cum laude should appear in lower case letters and be italicized (underline them if your word processor cannot italicize).
  • Include your GPA if you have a 3.0 or over (this is a general rule; there are exceptions in both directions). Employers not intimately familiar with UDC-DCSL’s tough grading will not be impressed by a 2.9.
  • Consider listing relevant courses taken if you are focusing on a specialized area of law, such as labor law, civil rights, etc.
  • If you have been out of law school for more than five years, then the experience section should precede education. Otherwise, the education section should come first.
  • List your high school only if you are seeking employment in that area and you want to convey strong ties to the community, if the school has a regional or national reputation, or if you are writing to an alumnus/a of the school.

Work Experience or Experience

  • If non-paid work is to be included, title the section "Experience."
  • List name of employer, city and state, job title and dates of employment (it is okay to say "Summer 1995" rather than list specific months).
  • Usually list in reverse chronological order, but exceptions can occasionally be made if an earlier job was significantly more impressive, professional, or relevant.
  • A job does not need to be paid to qualify as relevant experience. Include internships, etc.
  • List significant activities/duties which demonstrate research, writing, analytical, managerial, communication, leadership, regulatory, etc., skills. Be specific.
  • Use active verbs to describe duties (i.e., say, "Researched and wrote memoranda concerning ..." rather than "My duties included researching and writing memoranda ...")
  • Do not just say, "Researched and wrote memoranda." Everyone has that on their resumé. Instead, write, "Researched and wrote a memorandum in support of a motion for summary judgment involving CERCLA."
  • If possible, list your job description as a series of bulleted phrases or a very short paragraph (full sentences are not necessary). It is much simpler for an employer to digest information in a short amount of time in these formats than if the description is written in a large paragraph of full sentences. Remember, if reading your resumé is too much work -- (if you do not capture the employer's attention in less than a minute) -- then the employer will not read all of the nifty things you have done and you will not be invited for an interview.
  • It is not necessary to list every duty performed. Give employers a snapshot of your most significant tasks and make them want to ask for more.
  • It is not always necessary to include a description of every work experience, although you generally should not leave large blocks of time unaccounted for.
  • You may want to label this section "Relevant Work Experience" to indicate that you have omitted some work experiences.
  • It is okay to label the section "Employment," "Experience," "Relevant Experience," etc.

If You Are Changing Careers

  • If you are still in law school and changing careers, place the education section first, followed by your legal experience, and then your prior non-legal work experience.
  • If you are changing careers, focus on transferable skills related to current career objectives.

Transferable skills are skills you have acquired from past experiences that are transferable to a different type of job, industry, or environment. For example, if you wanted to transfer "writing lesson plans for a secondary Biology class" to another environment - say out of education altogether - "writing" is the most transferable portion of the skill. In this case writing may be transferable to writing reports, presentations, or proposals in a legal environment. When transferring this skill to a legal environment, it would usually be better to say, "wrote presentations for classroom training." You kept the "wrote" but described the rest of the skill with terms familiar to those in the new environment. Moreover, if the new legal environment is technology-related, you might add a degree of specificity by saying "wrote presentations for classroom training on technical [or scientific] subjects."

Other transferable skills are supervision of personnel, budget management, public speaking, computer skills, project management and any prior job that required the mastery of complex material.

What Transferable Skills Do You Have? (.pdf)

Awards and Honors

Although these can be included under a separate heading, it is generally clearer and more concise to put those awards that are directly related to a particular school or employer directly underneath that school/employer rather than in a separate section.


Because the practice of law requires good written communication skills, evidence that you write well is invaluable. Nearly any publication, including those outside the legal profession, should be considered for inclusion in your resumé.

Military Service

Military service can be a positive addition to your resumé, particularly if it occurred within the last 4 or 5 years and if you had a position of leadership or authority or received special awards or commendations.

Special Abilities and Skills/Community Involvement/Personal Interests/Hobbies

  • Being a good lawyer requires more than a thorough grounding in legal principles. If you have special skills that enhance your marketability as a lawyer, then list them. For example, you may want to include proficiency in a foreign language, professional certifications or licenses, etc.
  • List significant community involvement/volunteer activities.
  • List personal interests/activities that are important to you, especially if they are slightly unusual and may spark an employer's interest (e.g., private pilot's license, adobe mason, etc.). This gives the employer a sense of who you are as a person.
  • If you decide to list your computer skills, keep in mind that Word, Excel, Access, Frontpage, and Powerpoint are all components of Microsoft Office Suite; if you are familiar with all of these programs, use this shorter description. Similarly, WordPerfect, QuatroPro, Corel Draw and Photo-Paint are all part of Corel Office Suite.

Do Not Include

  • "Objective" or "Goal" statements. These are unnecessary and are not used in legal resumés.
  • Earnings. Do not include salary history or demands unless the employer specifically requests it.
  • "References Available on Request." Including this line on a resumé is a waste of space and is unnecessary (obviously you will provide references if they request them!)
  • "Resumé." There is no need to put this label at the top of the page.



Find an Editor (Like OCPD!)

  • A single mistake on a resumé is often fatal in a profession that requires mastery of the written word.
  • Have a trusted friend or an OCPD staffer look your resumé over after every change. You would be surprised how often a minor change can cause a problem in syntax, punctuation, etc.


  • Your resumé should look clean and not cluttered.
  • The format- bold, headings, commas, abbreviations- should be the same throughout (it does not matter if it is Washington, D.C. or Washington DC, but it should be one or the other throughout).
  • Do not use weird fonts to try to stand out- it distracts from your qualifications and makes the resumé more difficult to read quickly.
  • Avoid capitalizing entire words unless they form a very brief section heading.
  • Consider placing all of the dates along the far right edge of the page.
  • Use good quality white or off-white paper.

Electronic Resumés

An electronic resumé is simply your resumé in a format that can be sent over e-mail or the Internet. The advantage to having an electronic resumé is simple--you can respond via e-mail or the Web to job openings posted all over the world. No faxing or mailing necessary. If your resumé is on a computer or disc, you already have it in electronic format; that is not to say, however, that it is in the most useful format. While it is true that most e-mail systems can accommodate document attachments--be they in Word, WordPerfect, Quark or otherwise—it will not be true that every person or organization to whom you would like to send such a document is willing or able to receive it in that format. Plain text (also called ASCII Text or MS-DOS Text and recognized by its three letter file extension: .txt) is universally accessible and, in many cases, required. Rich Text Format (.rtf) is increasingly compatible and will preserve some of your formatting.

To make your electronic resumé universally accessible, follow these steps:

  • Using a standard word processing program, compose a resumé as you normally would. Note that plain text format is very basic--it does not recognize formatting such as bullets, bold face or italicized text. Consider using asterisks (*), plus symbols (+) and capital letters to achieve similar effects. In any case, make sure your resumé is legible in the absence of these formatting features.
  • If you are sending your resumé in the body of the e-mail, try to set your margins at 0 and 65 characters (This means that your longest line, including spaces, exceeds 65 characters before wrapping to a new line.) This makes your resumé easier to read and, just as importantly, safe to print.
  • If you are sending the resumé as an attachment, use the "Save" command (or, if you are converting a document from another format, the "Save As..." command) and save your document as a Rich Text document (.rtf) (or use ASCII format if you cannot use Rich Text).

When sending an electronic resumé, remember to:

  • Include a cover letter and be sure to note where you found the ad.
  • Send the resumé and cover letter in one file. You can do this by writing or pasting your cover letter in the space before your resumé. You can also send your cover letter as an e-mail message with your electronic resumé as a file attachment.
  • Use the job title and/or job reference number as the subject of your message. Cite any relevant job numbers noted in the ad.
  • Follow up with an e-mail or phone call a week or so after you submit it.

Things To Think About

Sharing your race, religion, sexual orientation, or political affiliation

While it is valuable to show that you take an interest in the world around you and to give the employer a glimpse into the things that are personally important to you, your goal in submitting a resumé is to survive the initial selection process. Therefore, involvement with political or religious organizations or other groups can be a double-edged sword since it may have an effect on your "fit" with the potential employer. You may very well want to include these organizations on your resumé, but think about your audience and make sure that inclusion on or exclusion from the resumé is your conscious decision.

Stretching the truth on your resumé

It may be tempting to embellish your resumé with skills or experience that you "sorta" have. While it is important to sell yourself to an employer, keep in mind that you are looking for a job that is a good fit for you. You want to feel comfortable and competent at your job, not uncertain and insecure about your abilities. Listing skills that you do not possess can backfire on you; you never know when the employer may single out that "sorta" skill as an important criteria or if you will be asked to demonstrate it. If you are uncertain about including an item, think about what your reaction would be to a skills test in that area during your interview. Also keep in mind that your skills will be discussed when the employer contacts your references.

Links to Sites with Resumé Tips

Many OCPD offices of other law schools, such as George Washington, the University of Virginia, and Yale have developed many handouts that are posted to the public. You should take full advantage of these valuable sources of information. Harvard Law School is another example of a school that offers its handouts free of charge.

  • sample resumés in a variety of formats: chronological, functional, paragraph, public interest, changing careers, and more.
  • Resumé Tutor Homepage: free interactive resumé workbook; great resource for someone who is just getting started.
  • Resumés from Career Perfect: not focused on legal jobs, but provides some useful information about creating resumés in electronic formats and gives a good overview of different applications for government jobs.
  • Career Builder: articles, tips, and links to further resources.
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