Whether you call yourself an attorney or a lawyer, there are lots of jobs out there. But once you’ve identified the one that appeals to you, you’ll need to find a way to persuade the employers that you’re the legal person they need.
We have the answer, and it comes in the form of a resume. Chances are you will already have one, but the question is, will it get you the job? We are going to help you make sure that it does!
Resume objective for an attorney
Your resume is potentially a powerful marketing tool and you need to get it right.
The American Bar Association (ABA), which is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world, suggests self-evaluating your experiences and achievements before you prepare or revise your resume.
Once you have done this, you should use your most impressive achievements to shape your resume and tailor it to the position for which you believe you are best qualified.
They advise omitting any type of objective or summary section from your resume, stating that the information you would normally put in an objective should be included in your cover letter instead.
They state that a cover letter is the first opportunity you have to communicate your professional strengths and enthusiasm to prospective employers.
Nevertheless, many other sources recommend an objective. As the recruiting company, Indeed, points out, it is a useful method of getting the recruiter or office manager’s attention. But keep it short and emphasize your motivation and skills.
While some attorneys will be applying for new jobs, possibly after working in the profession for many years, others will be seeking entry-level positions.
The sample objective below is in response to a job posting for a staff attorney in a legal firm that specializes in labor law.
Responsible attorney with three years of experience and an excellent academic record seeks the opportunity to join a law firm committed to traditional labor law and other assignments. Committed to social justice.
Resume skills for an attorney
Many law schools have career centers that offer advice to law students entering the profession, including advice about resumes and how to write them to convince potential employers to interview you.
An important part of your resume will be the sections that identify your skills, abilities, and various or specific areas of knowledge.
The University of Baltimore Law School highlights skills that they refer to as lawyering effectiveness factors.
Most of the skills they discuss appear to be soft skills like analysis and reasoning, creativity and the ability to think out of the box, problem-solving, fact-finding, writing, listening, negotiating, and strategic planning.
Lawyers need to be able to provide advice, counsel, and build relationships with clients. They need to be able to question and interview clients. They must be able to organize and manage their work and develop positive relationships within the legal profession.
Integrity and honesty are vital, as is stress management and diligence.
Practical judgment will determine realistic and effective approaches to legal problems.
Generally, as the ABA states, computer skills should be omitted unless prospective employers ask for specifics.
Always tailor the skills you have to those required in the job description.
Analysis | Research | Public speaking | Problem-solving | Speaking and listening | Advocating | Organizing | Stress management | Practical judgment | Negotiation | Community involvement
Attorney work experience
The work experience you have to show on your resume will obviously depend on how long you have been in the profession. Even if you have only just qualified, if you took a gap year, you might have experience to show on your resume.
According to the Center for Pre-Law Advising at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, only about one-third of law students go straight from college to law school. The rest take a gap year.
There are many part-time jobs, summer and spring internships in law firms, corporate legal departments, and government agencies that provide valuable experience. Volunteering with a service organization is another option.
Smaller firms and public-interest organizations sometimes hire law students as summer associates once they have completed their first year at law school. Larger firms prefer students to have completed two years.
It’s an opportunity to get experience, earn money, and decide what kind of legal work you want to focus on once you have graduated.
It also looks good on a resume.
If you have a lot of experience, the ASA advises that you don’t go back more than 10-15 years or five jobs. Also, be sure to include your specific responsibilities and to mention any special accomplishments or achievements.
Sample Work Experience
Travis County, TX
Staff Attorney, 2019 – 2020
Handled cases and matters that were moderately complex and were deemed to have the potential to result in quite severe consequences if there was no supervision or legal assistance.
- Performed regular legal research by accessing resources and legal records and documents to obtain information that applied to cases.
- Analyzed substantive laws and evidentiary and procedural rules that applied to individual cases being handled by Texas County or the district government.
- Presented facts and relevant case law to the judge both in writing and verbally.
- Assisted the district judge during civil and family law hearings and trials.
- Supervised 12 law interns during 2020.
LG Electronics, AL
Staff Attorney, 2018 – 2019
Provided legal advice and coordinated the legal activities of the company in Alabama. Work involved contracts and agreements, customer complaints, compliance and risk management, property protection, and financial matters.
- Reviewed and negotiated all contracts and agreements between third party vendors, subcontractors, suppliers, and the company.
- Reviewed and provided legal advice on customer claims and other business-related claims and disputes.
- Coordinated with the human resources department on all employment-related disputes as well as visa and immigration matters relating to foreign employees.
- Reviewed and handled le
Freddie Mac, VA
Summer Associate, 2017
Worked in a company dedicated to making homeownership and rental housing more accessible and affordable. Focused on elements of the housing finance system and its legalities.
- Worked alongside the attorneys providing legal support, advice, and advocacy for single-family and multi-family real estate transactions.
- Involved with multiple real estate transactions, litigation, and corporate governance.
- Helped to generate mortgage-backed securities and was involved in record management and regulatory affairs.
- Experienced first-hand how a legal firm partners with business clients assisting and supporting meaningful projects and initiatives.
Becoming an attorney takes time and dedication. You’re going to need a bachelor’s degree with the right majors, followed by several years of law school. You’re already qualified, and we’re going to guess that it took you a good seven years to get where you got.
But let’s look at the scenario that gets people there, and what should be included on your resume.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), law schools want applicants with relevant majors and minors. These include anything from history, mathematics, economics, and government, to English, and public speaking.
Law school, which culminates in a Juris Doctor (JD) degree in the U.S., usually takes another three years, and subjects include things like constitutional law, property law, civil procedure, contracts, and legal writing.
Some universities offer an accelerated program that includes a bachelor’s and a JD degree that takes only six years and not seven.
Then there’s the Bar Admission exam that most U.S. states insist on.
According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) and the American Bar Association (ABA), if attorneys want to practice outside of their jurisdiction, they need to write the bar exam in that jurisdiction.
Additionally, they might have to write a Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination.
University at Buffalo
BA Philosophy/JD Law, 2015 – 2020
Probably the most important courses for attorneys are those that relate to continuing legal education (CLE) and specialty areas for certifications, see below.
Many law schools and state and bar associations provide CLE courses that keep lawyers informed and ensure they remain current with any developments in national and state laws.
Typical topics include legal ethics, healthcare, taxes, and tax fraud.
TexasBarCLE offers advanced courses in most areas of specialization, also providing educational and networking opportunities for lawyers, regardless of whether they are applying for certification or not.
The Florida Bar Board of Legal Specialization & Education offers a free two-hour CLE to voluntary bar associations. The Board encourages lawyers who aren’t certified to take advantage of the service and urges them to seek certification.
Some states allow lawyers to take CLE courses via online courses.
The ABA offers a wide range of CLE opportunities free for its members, many of which are online programs.
- Legal ethics
- Tax fraud
- Litigating Competency
The legal fraternity is closely regulated, and there are licenses and certifications that come into play.
Before lawyers can practice, they must take bar exams which are their ticket to becoming a legal professional.
Licensure is controlled by the state, and if you want to practice in more than one state, you’ll have to be licensed in all of them. Additionally, all states require attorneys to participate in continuing legal education programs to keep up with changes in the law and stay informed.
Certification of lawyers in the U.S. is voluntary but recognized as a good way to command higher fees.
According to the ABA, there is also considerable professional pride in lawyers achieving certification.
Generally, certification is for legal specialties, bankruptcy for example.
While the ABA accredits certifying programs via its Standing Committee on specialization, individual boards and associations handle certification including, The American Board of Certification, the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys (ABPLA), and the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils (NAEPC).
There are also certifications that are available in some states. The ABA lists these. They include the State Bar of California Office of Certification, the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, and the Florida Board of Legal Specialization and Education Certification Program – three of the largest state programs.
The State of Texas alone offers 20 areas of certification.
- Consumer Bankruptcy, The American Board of Certification
- Business Bankruptcy, The American Board of Certification
- Creditors’ Rights, The American Board of Certification
- Medical Plaintiff, ABPLA
- Legal Plaintiff, ABPLA
- Accredited Estate Planner, NAEPC
Complete attorney resume sample
We sampled dozens of job postings and compared the requirements of different positions. We selected the one below to illustrate how to write a resume based on very specific requirements. Our intention is to help you write your own compelling resume for the attorney position you are seeking.
The job is for a corporate attorney who will be responsible for providing effective legal advice on company registrations, contracts, and other items that are relevant to risk management from a legal perspective.
The company is looking for an attorney who has a law degree, at least six years of experience in a corporate environment, and experience working with a board of directors on corporate governance matters.
They would prefer someone who has experience working in the field of architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) but this is not essential.
The most important skills required are specified. Note that they ask for knowledge in the Microsoft Office Suite, so this should be included in your resume.
Dedicated corporate attorney with more than six years of experience that includes substantial work in contracts, and two years with an engineering firm. D/PHD graduate from Michigan University. Member of the Michigan Bar. Committed to becoming a partner in a law firm.
Verbal and written communication | Research and writing | Engineering and architecture | Time management | Stress management | Organizational | Practical judgment | Microsoft Office Suite
Attorney, 2016 – 2017
Negotiated domestic and international contracts reporting directly to the company’s Head of Compliance, Law and IP for the U.S. and Canada.
- Provided general commercial legal support and prepared and negotiated commercial contracts.
- Provided ongoing legal and business advice needed to support the company’s daily operations.
- Provided legal advice in employment law and labor relations.
- Counseled and trained more than 60 staff members in various departments on relevant legal issues.
- Managed disputes with customers and suppliers and attended to formal litigation matters.
Orbit Engineering, MI
Contract Management Legal Associate, 2018 – 2020
Drafted, reviewed, negotiated, and managed all the standard contracts and agreements, plus compliance, property protection, and risk management. Worked with internal business partners and external collaborators.
- Worked closely with the Contract Manager to resolve discrepancies in commercial and legal terms.
- Reviewed and negotiated all contracts and agreements between subcontractors, suppliers, and the company.
- Met with the staff attorneys regularly to review complex contracts and agreements.
- Drafted agreement templates for senior attorney review and approval.
- Assisted in training colleagues on contractual and other legal matters.
Rivian Automotive, MI
Junior Paralegal, 2015 – 2016
Supported and collaborated with business partners and worked as part of a diverse team implementing and managing a contact management database. Worked under attorney supervision and direction.
- Reviewed initial and revised drafts of third-party quotations, proposals, agreements, terms and conditions.
- Reviewed and revised non-disclosure agreements using the company specifications and other forms.
- Assisted in the development of corporate governance policies and procedures to help ensure the company complied with applicable laws, regulations, and other legal requirements.
- Assisted the public policy and real estate teams to obtain, track, and renew state dealership licenses, and office and site permits.
- Involved in dispute and litigation support.
- Certified Corporate Governance Professional, Society for Corporate Governance
University of Michigan
JD/PhD, Law and Economics, 2009 – 2014
Whether you’ve had five or six years working as an attorney or you are about to get your first job as a professional lawyer, a well-structured, carefully thought out resume will help you get where you want to go.
- An objective is optional, but the American Bar Association advises against it. If you do include one, keep it short and sweet and show how your talents and skills will add value to the law firm.
- There are skills that are regarded as essential for all attorneys, but there is no need to list all of them. See what the employer emphasizes and focus on these. Unless they specify computer skills, leave these out in keeping with the ASA advice.
- If you are applying for a job that involves a specialty of some sort, it will probably help to be certified in the field. If you aren’t, you could apply to be certified and mention on your resume that you are in the process of obtaining a specific certification.
Tips from Experts
“Your resume forms the foundation of your job search and is your most powerful self-marketing tool. A careless or poorly prepared resume will cost you an opportunity. To be successful, take the time to ensure that your resume is error-free, tailored to your targeted employer, is limited to one or two pages, and highlights your relevant skills and experience.” – American Bar Association.
“A resume career objective is an opening statement that gets the recruiter’s attention and is useful for candidates with little experience. Write a one- or two-sentence career objective explaining your short-term professional goals and why you’re seeking employment. Your intention should be to emphasize your motivation and skills since you are just starting your work history.” – Indeed.com
“Writing resumes can be tricky for lawyers or paralegals applying for a position at a law firm or corporate legal department. Be concise. Legal hiring managers scan resumes quickly, and if you write one that’s too wordy, you run the risk of burying the things that make you a good fit for the job. Think about your resume as a living document — you should continually update it, and customize it for each job you apply for. Find out as much as you can about the job and the kinds of cases you’d be working on, and modify your resume to highlight the relevant skills that would help you excel in that particular position.”- Robert Half International, specialized staffing services
Working as an attorney takes time and dedication, and often heavy pressure meeting deadlines. Your job might involve working extra hours, conducting research, and preparing and reviewing legal documents.
If you’re looking for a new job you want something that is meaningful to you. While lawyers held about 813,900 jobs in 2019, there is competition for the best jobs. This means you need a resume that will make you stand out and be chosen for the interview.
Use the tips we have provided, and pay attention to the job description.