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Top 6 Things Attorneys and Law Students Need to Remove from Their Resumes ASAP

published June 30, 2021

By Author - LawCrossing
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( 11 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)
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When it comes to applying for a job in a law firm and getting it, your resume is one of the most important resources you have. Knowing what to include or omit on your resume is crucial to winning that job. Most recruiters can determine after just a few glances if your resume is worth looking into.

This article will give you six tips on what NOT to include in your resume based on hundreds upon hundreds of successful and unsuccessful resumes sent to some of the biggest law firms in our country I have reviewed in the past two decades as a founder and recruiter in BCG Attorney Search. These tips will help you secure the job and legal career you want.


Why Stripping Down Is Essential in Law Firms?

If you are applying to a large law firm, keep in mind that everyone knows what going to schools like Stanford Law School or Columbia Law School means. Your record should be able to speak for itself; there is no need to put any more fluff on your resume because it will do more harm than good most of the time. The best thing you can do is strip down your experience, so recruiters do not have many reasons not to hire you! Limiting the information on your resume gives you fewer opportunities to make typos or show that you are not a good fit for the job or the company. If you only take away one thing from this article today, less is sometimes more if you want to get the job.

Most prestigious law firms are looking for soldiers and not attorneys who are trying to stick out. Having a lot of additional information on your resume might give the law firms the idea that your interests and perspective will be more important than the company's interests. You might give them the idea that you need to prove something and leave if you do not get enough praise and credit. Or that you will leave because the firm did something that goes against your strong social beliefs. But working in a large law firm requires a lot of selflessness, not ego.

Especially in your beginnings as a junior associate, but even as a partner, your legal employer expects you to let other people take credit for your hard work. Many of the best partners in the most prestigious law firms become very powerful because they were willing to share credit, and you need to learn how to do that. As part of a team, you need to be seen as ready to work hard with no immediate benefit, not just an individual who will leave at the first sign of trouble. And these are all things that the firm wants to believe you will be when hiring you. So, your resume should reflect that.

Here are six mistakes that can end up creating the most problems for attorneys and law students:

Giving Too Much Personal Information

Many attorneys and law students' first big mistake is putting too much personal information on their resumes. Even if they mean it well, it can often make their resumes polarizing. Such a resume presents a risk to recruiters and often closes the doors for them before they have the chance to present themselves.

The following are just a few real-world examples of putting too much personal information you might find in resumes and why it is not appropriate to include such information.

I love the outdoors, and I am an avid hunter!

At first glance, there is nothing wrong with that. But saying that you consider killing animals a fun pastime might put many people off. Maybe someone on the recruiting team is an animal rights activist. Perhaps they equate hunting to belonging to one political stream they do not personally agree with. Whatever the reasoning might be, it is better to leave out information that might divide people.

I am an active member of ____ church.

Religion is an integral part of many people's lives, so they often put information about it in their resumes. But religion is also a very polarizing topic. Whether consciously or unconsciously, people often have prejudices against people with a different religion than theirs or even against people of any religion. It is always better to leave this information out.

I am a member of the gay/black/Muslim law students association.

Being a minority and fighting for your cause is noble and looked at as a plus in most situations. Most large law firms are happy to cultivate a culture of diversity. But at the same time, when you put information like this on your resume, you potentially alienate yourself from conservative people.

You never know who the person on the other end reading the applications is, so you need to be careful with everything you put on your resume that might put you in an unfavorable position. You have to remember that you are trying to appeal to all audiences.

I am a married mom of three.

Some people, especially the older generation, like to include their family status on their resume. There is nothing wrong with loving your family and being proud of it. But some people might have preconceptions that if you are married or have kids, you may not work the same amount as other people. They might want to hire someone single that will be willing to sit in the office from dawn till dusk.

Be careful about the email address you use!

There are three main mistakes you can make. (1) Using a weird, inappropriate, or unprofessional email address. Do you really think that a major law firm would hire someone with or as their contact email address? (2) Using your work email address from your current job, and (3) using your school email address. Both sound professional, but it is not appropriate to use them to apply for a job at large law firms. If your current employer is paying you, you should not sit at work looking for other law firm jobs and getting information from them on the said work email address. The same goes for using email addresses from the prestigious university you have attended. When you write from or, people at the firm might feel intimidated or might think that you have peaked with getting into this university. You have the university you have attended stated in your resume anyway.

I went to such and such private school.

Mentioning that you went to a private high school like St. Paul's, Exeter, or Andover on your resume comes with the same issues as using your email address from a prestigious university. While those are excellent schools and attending them might help you in a high-level achievement environment like a large competitive firm, not everyone has had the same opportunity. Being an attorney is a very middle-class profession for the most part. So, advertising something like a private school might alienate people and show that you come from money and do not rely solely on your job.

I run a personal blog you can find on ______.

If you have been writing your personal blog for years, you are understandably proud of it and want everyone to read it and learn more about you. But the recruiters from the most prestigious law firms review personal blogs from a different perspective. How can this attorney be diligent in their work when they spend hours every day of the week developing, cooking, and documenting recipes for their blog? Or you might have written something negative about being an attorney. Some real people lost their legal jobs because of things like this, so be careful about what you share.

Address revealing that you live far away from the office.

If you are applying to an employer whose office is far away from where you live, having your personal home address on your resume can be a disadvantage. The employer can already see all the days you will be late or not in the office because of traffic or a car that broke down.

Job Experience Not Related or Relevant to Law Firm Setting

The second thing that people tend to put on their resumes is irrelevant to work experience or education. You should not put anything not related to practicing law on your resume. Below you can find some examples of what not to do.

Leaving a law firm to start a business or any business started before becoming an attorney.

Many people like to include a description of the businesses they have started before becoming an attorney in their resumes. Or even better, they mention that they have left a law firm to start a business, and now they want back in. But it isn't easy to get back into a firm because a resume full of started businesses, whether successful or failed, between law firms shows that you are not interested in practicing law. And that you are probably going to leave the firm again when an opportunity for a new business appears.

Mentioning business courses/certificates earned while in a law firm.

Sometimes, applicants will list that they took a business course while working in a firm and got a certificate. It shows that you are not fully committed to being an attorney. Do not mention anything unless it is directly related to what you are applying for. If you are a tax attorney and took a ton of tax law classes, include it relevant. But if it is not directly connected, you are only implying that you have your back door open if your job as an attorney does not pan out.

Undergraduate activities.

Some people like to emphasize what they did in their undergraduate. They might mention that they were in a fraternity or a club. However, people in the firm might despise fraternities or the very club you were in. If you played a varsity sport or were a leader of the debate club, you can put it down. Still, it is better to leave out any polarizing clubs and activities.

Irrelevant job experience before law school is not painting you in good light.

You should really think before mentioning any irrelevant job experience on your resume. Some non-legal jobs you could put on there, such as working in a top accounting firm or investment bank, might help you. But if you had some regular not-that-high-achieving job or part-time job, like being a waiter, nanny, or something similar, it will not impress employers, and it is better to leave it out.

The bar exam in a different state.

Some people have passed the bar exam from other states. It might be because they attended school in a different state than they are from or they are currently working in. However, unless you have experienced working in that jurisdiction, having a different bar exam on your resume is not advised. It is just going to show that there is a possibility that you would potentially want to move to that area and not be a long-term employee.

Years off between jobs for having a child.

Having a child is a wonderful and enriching experience for all parents, but having long periods off for parental leave as an attorney will tell a lot to law firms. Employers will see it as a red flag if a woman takes a year or longer off as a new mother. They might see a lack of commitment and a further possibility of extended leave for a second or third child.

Mentioning class rank or GPA.

If you had a great GPA, you are definitely proud of it and want to show it off. However, law firms get hundreds of resumes for every position, and most of the applicants have great class rank and GPA. So, unless yours is extraordinary, there is no need to mention it. There is a huge possibility that there will be applicants with similar or even much better results.

Mentioning skills and tasks that are standard for the position.

People will often list skills that everyone should have in that position on their resume. It really is not that impressive that you know how to work with Microsoft Word.

The same goes for mentioning tasks in your previous positions that everyone in that role does. Law is often a very rigid field with a robust set of rules, so listing out jobs you did as a litigator is not something you should waste your time with.

Grades earned and classes taken in law school.

These are really unnecessary, and no one cares. When you mention that you got an A in three classes, people will assume that you were not that good in other ones. And getting an A or attending a class does not say anything about your ability to work in a position you are applying to.

Crazy/Bad Formatting and Content Blocks

Although special formatting and the use of content blocks seem like a great, eye-catching route, it will almost certainly get you immediately disqualified as a potential candidate. Law firms are very conforming for the most part, so having your resume stick out or seem odd in any way might put some employers off. For instance, avoid using crazy fonts and colors. Your resume should look professional and not like a high school PowerPoint presentation. The same goes for including photos in your resume. You have your LinkedIn profile link in your resume; they can find your picture there. So, skip the image in your resume. Some people, especially if they are using bought resume templates from companies, include keywords at the top of their resumes. Why? You do not need these things for law firms; they know what certain law schools and law firms mean.

Something you should also be careful about is not having a resume longer than one page.

Regardless of how much experience you have, your resume does not need to be much longer than a page. You can have your experience and your education on one page, and then you can certainly have a deals and transactions sheet. If you are an experienced attorney, you should appropriately describe the work you have done so far. So, if you are a patent attorney, you might write out a list of patents you have worked on; if you work as a real estate attorney, you will have a list of deals and transactions; litigators have their cases, and so forth. But these are supplementary pages. They come after your resume.

Using Big Words, Inappropriate Tone, and Having Errors

Large law firms and recruiters can get a pretty good idea of what type of attorney you are based on your resume alone. Some attorneys like to use big words to describe themselves and their experiences. However, big firm attorneys should communicate ideas very clearly, with very few words, and directly without using big words. They have to be able to bond and communicate with a lot of different types of people. Judges nor any other people are interested in your big words. Do not use big words; use exact words that everyone knows.

Often, people will just write a lot about themselves or use many unnecessary words, even when they could be much more concise. You need to learn how to edit and say a lot with very few words on your resume. By using fewer words, it is going to show that you can edit your work.

You should also have confidence in yourself. You do not need to overdo it. Sometimes people put testimonials on their resumes from superiors and others—this just not a good idea; the most confident attorneys do not need to do that. You do not need to have validation from others. Not even from clients.

One of the biggest mistakes many people will make is that they have typos and errors on their resumes. People make these mistakes all the time. But you need to read your resume very closely. You need to use spellchecking tools and edit the resume because people can tell a lot about what kind of attorney you will be based on how your resume looks. Spelling errors can prevent you from getting hired. You also have to be careful when it comes to dates because attorneys are trained to see mistakes.

Lies or Exaggerations on Your Resume

You might think this is universally understood, and everybody knows it. Still, some people do lie or exaggerate on their resumes. Some people lie about the schools they have attended. I have no idea why when there are simple ways of finding the truth.

Once something like this is discovered about you, it can have fatal consequences. They not only can fire you immediately but report you to the bar.

Some attorneys also exaggerate about the hours they have worked in a firm when they are moving firms. This might not be as easy to uncover as lying about the school you attended, but people always talk. The same goes for lying about the reason for leaving/changing a company. If you made an error and were fired for it, you better come clean before your current firm finds out from someone else.

You should just never lie for any reason. If you have an issue, you need to work harder or reflect on why you are lying by visiting a therapist. Or do both. And always be honest because even that can get you some points.

Slandering Your Previous Employer

You should never say anything negative about your previous employer. No matter what happened in your previous job and how you left it, it is never a good idea to mention the negatives about them in your resume. There is really no reason for that. If you say something negative about your employer, either on your resume or your interview, the law firm will believe that you will eventually say something negative about them as well. There is nothing wrong if the firm is going out of business or having significant problems with just saying there were issues there. However, you never want to make your resume or interview about your previous job.


These were the most common mistakes many attorneys and law students make when applying for jobs. However, this is not an exhaustive list. Take it as an inspiration. And when you are editing your resume to get your dream job as an attorney, ask yourself the following questions:

Is all the information included relevant to the position?

Could any of the information alienate or discriminate against someone?

Could I be discriminated against if I include this?

Is the information correct, concise, and easy to follow?

And if you want tips on what to include in your resume to get the job, discover our related articles:

published June 30, 2021

By Author - LawCrossing
( 11 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.