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Legal CV/Resume Preparation

Create a professional legal resume with this guide from the team at Burgess Paluch. You can then use your new CV to apply for one of the many positions available through our online database.

In addition to providing this guide we invite you to give us a call to discuss what makes a good CV and how to go about setting it out. In this guide you will find a draft CV shell which you can download [Legal CV Template] and a link to an example CV to consider [example legal CV].

If you would like to have your resume prepared for you as part of a paid service please visit our sister company Kaleidoscope Legal Recruitment for information about this service.

We’ve tried to make this guide as straightforward and simple as possible. There’s no one correct way to do a CV, but a good CV will contain all the information a potential employer will need to know about you before deciding to interview you, in a format that is easy to read and demonstrates the applicant is professional and appropriately skilled. Beyond that, however, it is absolutely crucial that the CV puts your case for interview forward in the best possible light and that it is tailored to each different role.

Format and Content for a Junior or Mid-level Solicitor

 

The CV should be in a professional font on white background with no borders. It should look like it was produced by a law firm (although it should not contain any quirks of language particular to lawyers). If this is the first CV you’ve done as a professional, rather than a graduate, don’t start the CV by copying over the last file you did as an undergraduate – click on our link to a draft CV shell and start from there!

A lawyer’s CV has an entirely different feel from a graduate’s CV. For an experienced lawyer the focus is on demonstrating the skills and experience gained working as a lawyer, rather than demonstrating the ability and future potential that a graduate may have. The experience that you have had in the last one to three years as a lawyer is the most important part of the CV and should be given close attention.

Throughout the CV headings should follow standard formats and be in the same font as the rest of the CV. The layout should look plain and professional, with plenty of white space. The CV should follow a standard format and be listed chronologically from most recent to least recent, with headings as follows:

  • Forget the cover page – just start at the top with the following
  • Contact details (As many telephone numbers as possible and particularly a number to get hold of you during office hours. If your work line is given you may want to put “please be discreet” next to it if you are concerned.)
  • Education and Admission (include your admission date and years/institutions where you did your degrees, noting any honours or prizes)
  • Legal Experience

This is the key section of the CV. List the employer, title, and the months you were there. Set out each employer as follows:

  • A general introductory description of the employer, (if it is not likely to be known) setting out the type of clients, practice group etc. (one short paragraph)
  • A description on the type of matters worked on, the role undertaken, the autonomy and client contact and any significant facts, such as client base. (one short paragraph)
  • Group matters into headings by area and give examples of matters conducted, split into distinct, brief paragraphs. The paragraphs should explain the area of law, the type of matter/quantum, the level of autonomy you had and the actual tasks you performed and the end result.

If you are unable to mention specific clients then categorise the type of client they were. As a guide, if you were in a role for 2 years you would provide about ¾ of a page of information. A good way of setting it out for those who are involved in project work in the one main area, such as corporate lawyers, is to include a matter or transaction list at the end of this section. This enables an employer to easily get a feel for the type of matters you have been involved in and the autonomy you have had in each one.

  • Other Work Experience (only include this if you are within 4 years of admission and make it brief unless it is particularly relevant to the role.)
  • Achievements (this is your chance to pick out the best and most relevant of your current and past achievements, such as being a Prefect at school or representing the State in Debating. Avoid anything that makes you cringe when looking back on it! Focus on the achievements that really stand out and feel free to leave this section out.)
  • Memberships (include any professional associations etc.)
  • Interests (Include this as a list and keep it brief. Mention any sports, social interests and pursuits.) Although lawyers often ask us whether they need to put this section in, remember that law firms like their lawyers to be well-rounded and social as well as intelligent and studious.
  • Referees (2 or even 3 professional would be enough. Don’t bother including personal references. To protect privacy and your referees being hounded make a note next to their names that permission is to be sought prior to contacting them.)

What Not to Put In

 

There are also a few things the CV won’t have. These are absolutes and non-negotiable and all have been seen in lawyers’ CV’s on numerous occasions:

  • Spelling errors and appalling grammar
  • Mission statements, quotes etc
  • Anything in cursive
  • Photos of you (although these can be useful if you anticipate doing a telephone interview)
  • Coloured fonts, things that flash, and floral or other borders
  • Lists of spurious strengths (e. g. teamwork, leadership, empathy)
  • A summary of your academics missing out any subjects or fails
  • Lies or exaggerations (you will be caught out!)
  • Information that would be a breach of client confidentiality
  • Objectives (especially those that say “to go to the bar or overseas in 3 years”)

What then?

 

Before sending out the CV to anyone, spell check it, print it out and view it on paper. It should be 3 to 6 pages in length, although more senior lawyers may have longer CV’s. For most firms you will also email it to them, including a copy of your academics, so make sure that the email is appropriate and correctly addressed. A remarkable number of CV's received by law firms are addressed to the wrong firm.

CV’s for Senior Lawyers

 

There are really only a few differences between the CV of an experienced lawyer and a mid-level lawyer. Often a senior lawyer’s CV will be longer, but the level of detail will usually be the same. Issues such as client base, marketing, leadership etc will all have to be worked into the CV. For practitioners with more than say 12 to 15 years of experience and a number of past employers it is more appropriate to break down the Legal Experience section into 2 parts. Start with a chronological table as the first part, showing the dates, employer, title and area and then as the second part collate all experience into different areas, regardless of with which employers the experience was obtained. This makes the CV less voluminous and saves repetition. Listing clients as referees is also appropriate for senior lawyers.

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