Legal Resume Faux Pas: Don'ts and Definitely Don'ts

By Betty Wang, JD on June 12, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Don't be alarmed, but your legal resume will hold you back if it's not presented a certain way. Sure, there are other crucial musts, like always having a business card handy and wearing a flawless suit at networking events. But, your resume is ultimately going to be you on a piece of (most often digital) paper in your job search.

Let's face it: the legal job market sucks. This means nobody in this shark-eat-shark world is going to have the time to rationalize why your resume, despite all its glaring flaws, should remain in the pile -- even if your mom thinks you're great in person.

So let's see if you can make your resume an even better one with these don'ts:

1. Don't go over one page*. The general Holy Grail of legal resume rules. There are many reasons and the main one being that the majority of other legal resumes are one page. So, unless you've been working for decades more than other folks, why isn't yours? Because, everyone feels that they have a list of accolades that are well-deserving of being poured onto the next page. But, everyone then performs the fine art of margin-adjusting, font-reducing, and word-trimming to get it down to that tightly condensed page. You are special, yes, but you also don't want to appear entitled.

2. Don't be inconsistent. Especially on social media, where employers can easily find you. Is everything on your LinkedIn, for example, consistent with what's on your resume? This also will show up in a background check where your past employment might be verified -- make sure that all your dates and titles are accurate.

3. Don't make it non-legal. Unless you are applying for a job outside the legal field, your legal resume needs to not only be catered toward that particular legal job, (e.g., are they looking for more trial experience? More transactional work?) but include mostly legal experience. While your summer at Abercrombie & Fitch was valuable in that it did teach you the fine art of using a folding board and dealing with insufferable tourists on the daily, it's completely irrelevant for a legal job. Even if you are just starting out, a general rule of thumb is to also avoid including anything from your high school days.

4. Don't include redundant entries. This not only wastes your prospective employer's time, but it wastes valuable space on your resume. Take out all cliche resume lines, like an objective (your objective is to get this job, and your resume and cover letter should already be tailored to reflect that) and lines like "References available upon request." They already know all of that (hopefully).

5. Don't exaggerate. You especially want to be careful of padding your resume with descriptions that are not only annoyingly arrogant sounding, but, um, false altogether. Seriously, if you didn't go to Harvard Law, someone's going to find out (Mike Ross from Suits, anyone?).

*Note: The one page rule. Some say yes, some say no. What do you think? Tell us on Facebook.

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