CV in need of an update? Applying for a clerkship? Thomas Hobbs discusses our guide to making sure you are presenting yourself to prospective employers in the best way possible.
With applications for both seasonal clerkships and traineeships open, now is the time to update your CV and make sure you are presenting yourself to prospective employers in the best way possible. Even if you are not preparing an application now, having a well presented, succinct and up to date CV will save you time when you are considering new opportunities.
The purpose of the CV is to get you an interview and form the basis of discussion during interviews. It is essentially a personal marketing tool designed to get you noticed in the field of applicants, and entice the employer to want know more about you.
Legal CVs tend to follow a formula, commonly including the following information.
Full name, address, mobile and personal email address
Take extra care to ensure that every detail here is correct. Avoid using a personal email address that is silly or generally inappropriate, such as [email protected] – you do not want to divert attention from the rest of your CV. Also, don’t include your work email or work number for obvious reasons. If necessary, create a new, professional sounding personal email account.
Secondary education details
Include details of your secondary education if you are a law student or graduate, along with your impressive ATAR (or equivalent) if you have one. Once you are a junior lawyer, you can leave this information out of your CV.
Tertiary education (include any degrees held or study in progress and details of the institution)
Achieving Honours in your law degree is a distinguishing feature, putting you ahead of other applicants, so include this information if applicable. Also, highlight any particularly high grades or prizes won for a subject. Don’t list the subjects you’ve completed, as opposed to having excelled in, as this won’t gain traction with employers. Include a reference to Masters level study if applicable.
Relevant awards and achievements
List any awards and achievements that are relevant to the role you are applying for, or that demonstrate qualities such as initiative, leadership potential, strong teamwork skills or even a strong work ethic.
Employment history and positions of responsibility held at school, university and in the community
This is an area of the CV that employers really focus on and where you can positively differentiate yourself from others.
If you are a student or graduate, you’ll need to highlight any legal experience you have as a paralegal or even legal assistant, and list your experience with particular legislation or government institutions. For example, an immigration law paralegal might highlight their contact with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and familiarity with the Migration Act 1958. Make sure you list transferable skills you have gained and use examples – excellent organisational skills are always highly sought after. Even a few days of experience as an administrative assistant at a law firm should be mentioned as this will show that you’ve had some exposure to a law firm environment.
For junior lawyers, use headings for areas of law and tailor your CV according to the employer. So, when applying for a commercial lawyer role, don’t emphasise your family law experience and be skilful in emphasising your experience in the relevant area of law. Use a bullet point sub-section to describe your specific experience and a brief narrative to give de-identified examples of your particular work. Be clear about explaining your role in the matters you’ve worked on.
Always be accurate as you will be held to account, and list your roles in chronological order beginning with the most recent.
Language skills (if applicable)
Being able to converse in another language can be attractive to an employer. For example, Mandarin is in currently in demand for property lawyers, particularly in firms that want to develop their Chinese client base.
Interests, activities and hobbies
Your interests give an insight into your personality, and good examples can demonstrate sought-after qualities such as commitment, social skills, desire to learn and teamwork. Be brief – list no more than five items, with two lines at most for each one. Examples such as reading and travelling are too generic, so where possible provide a focus or an example, such as reading biographies or hiking in mountainous regions.
Details of referees
For law students and graduates, some online applications request these details so you may not need to also include them on your CV. For junior lawyers, it’s best to state that referees are available upon request.
Always check with your referees beforehand to confirm their willingness to provide accurate, positive comments on your behalf, and whether or not they are available. Where possible, choose referees who have supervised you.
To wrap up, use a confident tone supported by examples, use a clear font and sensible font size, and keep clear of anything that would breach client confidentiality. Cover pages are best avoided and images are only useful if there may be a Skype interview. Have a trusted friend read over your finished CV to check for consistency in tone and to identify grammar and spelling errors.
Law student and graduate level CVs are quite different from junior lawyer CVs so start afresh when you do become a junior lawyer. A good place to start is to use the template provided here – just remember to remove the header and footer.
Good luck … and be aware of any closing dates!
Thomas Hobbs, a former lawyer, is a consultant at Burgess Paluch Legal Recruitment and is on the Professional Development Committee within the LIV’s Young Lawyer Section.