Resumes are terribly important. Although it is possible to become paranoid about them and to spend too much time developing them, it is essential that every prospective associate spend an appropriate amount of time on his or her resume.
First, your resume should be scrupulously honest. There are certain ways to show information in a manner that is more flattering to you, but in no event should any effort be made to show results beyond those actually achieved or to portray results in any way that the strictest judge could consider misleading. Obviously, any resume should be neat and readable. Most interviewers believe the short resume is better although in some instances it is not only appropriate but also necessary to have a detailed resume. That is particularly true in the case of lawyers who are (i) attempting to relocate or (ii) applying for positions for which past business experience would be relevant; in those instances prospective legal employers are interested in actual practice and professional experience, and it is difficult to describe what you have done over the course of one, two or three years in a few words given in outline form. Frequently applicants ask whether or not a resume should be printed or typed. Although it is doubtful that formal, commercial printing is ever justified, there are several relatively inexpensive commercial printing processes that ought to be considered. Resumes produced on offset printers look substantially better, on the average, than those copied on standard commercial copiers. Cost is, of course, a consideration, but after three years of law school one relatively small additional expense which could help you achieve the purpose for which you went to school is at least worth considering.
A key consideration with respect to developing your resume is what to do about grades. From the point of view of an interviewer, grades should always be disclosed. Those who conduct interviews never fail to ask about grades if they were not disclosed on the resume. The elimination of grades on a resume has two primary effects. It tells the interviewer your grades are just awful (or you would have disclosed them) and results in a series of questions and answers that detracts from the otherwise available interview time-precious time in which you have got to convince the interviewer you are worth considering further regardless (or in some instances solely as the result) of your grades. Grades need not be presented as a single number or letter. For example, if you had a slow start and performed better after your first semester or year, you would be well advised to break out your grades on the resume to show the improvement visually. All interviewers recognize that law school can be intimidating at the outset; trends showing significant improvement are important.
In addition, if you have excelled in a specific area that should be noted as well. Some law students have a special interest in certain subjects, e.g., tax. Such a student might have average grades overall and very high grades in his or her area of particular interest. If a student has decided to seek employment in an area in which he or she has performed exceptionally well, it is to the student's advantage to show his or her grades on a class-by-class basis. In such instances, it might help to attach a copy of your transcript.
In addition, never assume any interviewer knows your law school's grading system. There are many firms who send the same interviewers to the same law schools year after year, thereby providing not only continuity but also a familiarity with the way a particular law school operates. Nevertheless, there are a great many law firms who send different people each year, and you should be prepared for the latter eventuality. In addition, and for the same reasons, you should be prepared to discuss what the various honor programs at your law school mean.
Perhaps the basic rule with respect to handling grades is to disclose them on your resume and be prepared to discuss them honestly and without embarrassment during the interview. Do not be ashamed of your grades. They are what they are. Be prepared to use your resume to emphasize your best attributes-grades or otherwise.
Another question is whether or not you should show your Law School Aptitude Test Score (LSAT). If your LSAT was particularly high, but your grades do not reflect that level of achievement for some particular reason, you should consider adding your LSAT score. For example, if you had above a 90% score and were performing in the middle of your law school class as a result of illness, family problems, the need to work part time, or some similar dilemma, it will be helpful to an interviewer to know that at least your aptitude for law school (and perhaps law practice) was exceptionally high.
As noted, students should always list all significant honors they have received. Interviewers truly do look for all evidences of performance in an effort to distinguish between law students. Of course, no one is suggesting that you clutter your resume with the fact that you were your high school letterman's club president or junior high cheer leader, but significant college and all law school honors and awards should be noted.
An increasing number of students seem to be attaching writing samples to the resumes. That is a practice which should not be done indiscriminately. Writing samples may prove quite helpful to a lawyer in a firm not interviewing at your school, to the General Counsel of the corporation, or to the general counsel of a particular governmental agency.
If you are applying for a job without the help of a law school placement office, writing samples are probably quite appropriate, but remember human nature: watch the length and quality of any piece submitted. A poorly done or verbose sample can be a disaster. Rarely will an interviewer visiting your school have an opportunity to read your writing sample prior to the time he or she decides whether or not to invite you to the firm for further interviews. Most law schools work very hard to get resumes to prospective legal employers as soon as possible. Nevertheless, the law school placement officers are over whelmed with resumes and need to orchestrate hundreds, perhaps thousands, of on-campus interviews. Consequently, it is very common for an interviewer to receive the resume of the students he or she is scheduled to see on the evening before the interviews begin at the earliest; sometimes the interviewer is given the resumes the morning the interviews begin. That does not leave much time for a thorough analysis of a writing sample. Noting on your resume that writing samples or extracts from publications are available upon request is always a good approach.
People often wonder about the importance of references. Good references are helpful. Many interviewers call professional colleagues, business acquaintances, and professors who have appeared from time to time as references on various resumes and find that their remarks are quite helpful. Obviously, if you are going to list someone as a reference, be sure that you have received his or her prior approval. As you may suspect, it is not generally to your benefit to have an interviewer call a reference and find that the person has never been asked to serve in that capacity. One final point on listing references is that most people worth listing as references will be candid in their appraisals. If you are inclined to list as a reference prominent professor, for example, who knows and likes you but who gave you a D in Contracts, you ought to reconsider that approach. There is no way that person when contacted by a prospective employer is going to forget that, although you are a wonderful, charming and engaging personality, you performed very badly in Contracts.
Your resume should also include any special talents or language skills and such personal information as you deem relevant. Generally, however, keep personal information to a minimum. Disclosing such things as hobbies, interests, and employment availability are about as much as one need do unless, of course, the hobbies or interests are truly significant from the point of view of a prospective employer. Do they, for example, show a pattern of continued success? Nevertheless, it is helpful to an interviewer to know of prospective clerkships and, in the case of those applying other than directly from law school, experience, including military service, which provides another basis for analysis and distinction.
The real lesson in is to develop a resume that sets you apart. Give the interviewer an opportunity to find something that marks you as a law student with a demonstrated intellectual capacity and a commitment to success as demonstrated by your achievements and interests over a broad range of disciplines and subject matters.
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