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    « Legal Resumes 101.3 – The Order of “Battle” »

    How you present the substantive material about yourself in a resume is a critical threshold decision that is not going to be the same for every attorney.  You need to decide both the placement of your key information and what you will include in addition to the “Big Two” resume components, education and experience.  Both the order in which your information appears, and your decisions about what else to include and what to omit are ones that can make or break your job campaign. 

    What Comes First: Education or Experience?

    The New Grad

    You cannot arrive at the best decision for yourself about what comes first without considering what the prospective employer wants to see first.  The decision is an easy one if you are a third-year law student or recent graduate applying for your first job.  For most of you, education needs to come first.  Your legal work experience is, at this stage of your career, probably limited to summer positions and part-time legal positions that you held during the school year.  Neither is likely to be determinative of a hiring decision.  Consequently, your education is the most important factor in how you are likely to be judged.

    An exception might be someone who has had extensive, strong, or very interesting work experience prior to or coterminous with going to law school, or has worked in a field or for an employer related to the kind of position you are currently seeking.  In this situation, you have to balance the significance of your work experience against that of your education.  If you had great work experience, but you also performed exceptionally well in law school, this may not be a close question.  You would likely want to put your education first because you want the employer to be immediately impressed with your stellar academic credentials.  If you were a less-than-outstanding law student, you may want to put your prior work experience at the top of the resume.

    Similarly, if you have great prior work experience and you attended elite schools but did not shine academically, you still may have more to gain by leading with your education.

    When weighing your prior work experience against the job(s) you are seeking, do not discount the “intangibles” that you developed at work, the soft skills such as teaming, multi-tasking, interpersonal communications skills, organizational skills, etc.  While not related to the substance of your potential jobs, these are skills that any employer would value.

    The Experienced Attorney

    The decision about what to place first – education or experience – is somewhat more complicated if you are an experienced attorney.  The reason is that many more variables must be considered.

    For most experienced candidates, experience should come first.  Once you have been out of law school for several years, you are likely to be judged much more on your work experience than on your academic background.  The longer you have been out of school, the more compelling the need to lead with your experience.

    There are, however, a number of exceptions.  If you have been out of school but largely unemployed, then an employer will not have much to go on by examining your work experience.  Similarly, if you have only worked as a contract lawyer (a.k.a. attorney temp) since law school, your experience usually would not give an employer enough information  on which to judge you.

    If you have been underemployed (say that you were unable to find a job out of law school and have spent some time as a paralegal), education may prevail over work experience.  If your work experience has not been on a par with your strong educational background (e.g., Harvard undergrad, Yale Law School, followed by working as a legal services intake attorney), your academic background should probably come first. 

    This question can be a very difficult one, especially in the uncertain and increasingly volatile legal employment environment that prevails today.  You have to assess very carefully which selection advantages you best.

    What Else Should I Include?

    Your bar status always needs to be included in your resume.  If you are not yet a bar member, indicate when you (hope you) will be.  A good place to put this information is in your Profile or Summary of Qualifications.

    Any community or volunteer activities are also valuable additions, for two reasons:  First, they demonstrate that you have a life outside the law and are not just a grinder.  The implications of this can be interesting for an employer keen on evaluating your client development potential, and more and more legal employers are giving this increasing attention.  Second, your outside activities and the knowledge and experience that you derived from them may compensate for thin paid work experience.

    Any legitimate honors and awards that you have won need to be included.  “Legitimate” precludes items such as Who’s Who in…., since many such compilations are open to anyone at all who meets very minimal criteria, and the National Defense Service Medal, which is conferred on every member of the armed forces who has a pulse at the conclusion of boot camp.  Do not leave out work-related honors and awards, since they indicate third-party vetting of your capabilities.


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