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Attorney Resume Example & Writing Guide

A proven job specific resume example + writing guide for landing your next job in 2022. You can edit this Attorney resume example to get a quick start and easily build a perfect resume in just a few minutes. Just fill in your details, download your new resume & start your job application today!
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Attorney Resume Example & Writing Guide
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Win the case with your attorney resume. With so many different fields of law, you need to tell the right story for each. As an attorney, you have the chance to practice in a field for which you have passion. Job opportunities vary among those fields, but with the right resume, you can be ahead of the crowd and grab the job of your dreams! Using Resume.io, its expert-tested layout templates and builder tool, and this guide, you will be in a great place to get that top-level job at a great law firm. Before you get started, you need a clear picture of where the market is headed and the psychology of recruiters, as well as focus your efforts to beat the software systems designed to eliminate candidates. 

Resume.io provides expert resume guides and resume examples for 250+ professions, and a powerful, easy-to-use resume builder. Let us help you present the evidence in the best light with an attorney resume that earns favorable judgments. 

The rest of this guide and the corresponding attorney resume example will:

  • Explain the market and what recruiters are looking for
  • Show how to write a professional, engaging resume and present resume samples to guide you
  • Give you the tools to present your skills in the best light
  • Help you design a clean resume to impress top law firms.

Get your resume more than the typical 6-second scan from overwhelmed recruiters. Using this attorney resume sample's tips, hacks, and stats will help you stand out from competitors and get hiring managers to schedule that all-important interview. The difference between a good resume and a great resume is the difference between a job and a great job. Let's get started now!

Expert tip

For more ideas on how to tell your career story and pinpoint your skills, take a look at our legal resume example category.

What does an attorney do?

Attorneys have options when it comes to legal work environments and types of practice. Understanding the big picture will help you write the best resume for each scene! Law is a wide and deep profession. Very broadly, attorneys can work in private firms, for individual clients, in government, or themselves. Even if you strike out on your own, you will need to attract clients with your accomplishments.

Looking for more inspiration? View our related legal resume samples here below:

Large, private firms

Working in a large, private firm requires long hours and hard work, but many opportunities and high salaries. Typically, these firms hire attorneys to work in one practice area or for one client. These may include employment law, general corporate law, litigation, employee benefits, tax or real estate. All require different expertise. These firms hire associates right out of law school, but may also have openings for experienced attorneys. Here are the questions big firms will consider when looking at an experienced attorney's candidacy, according to BCG Search, an attorney recruiting firm: 

  1. Will our clients like you?
  2. Can you follow our rules in doing the job?
  3. Do you truly want to work here?
  4. Do you fit in our culture?
  5. Will you follow our direction?
  6. Will you make a long-term commitment to the firm?

These are not just direct pointers on what to write, but an insight into the legal hiring psychology. If your resume answers these questions (even indirectly), you are much more likely to get that interview. As a bonus, try to show that you are a "rainmaker," or someone who can bring clients into the firm.

Statistical insight

Medical attorneys make an average of $150,881 annually. They are the highest-paid attorneys. In contrast, corporate attorneys average $98,822 annually and public interest attorneys earn an average of $62,157, according to Money Inc. and Payscale.com.  

Small, private firms

Smaller firms may specialize in one area, such as family law, or practice general law. Instead of large corporate clients, they work with individuals and small companies. At these firms, you may have more control over the hours you work and be able to develop stronger relationships with clients. You may also have more responsibility and opportunities to learn earlier in your career. On the downside, the pay may be lower and the resources fewer.

In-house counsel

Working at a corporation, or as an in-house counsel, means you have one client: your employer. These clients usually look for attorneys who have worked at large law firms for several years since those firms offer training programs to their employees. These roles are likely to focus on intellectual property rights or transactions, but the work may include labor and employment, real estate, tax, licensing, regulatory and administrative law. Your hours will be more predictable, and you will not have to worry about billable hours.

Government employment

Government employment is yet another career path. Most attorneys in this sector start as research assistants or law clerks for experienced attorneys or judges. Attorneys may work for a governmental body, such as a school board, or they may become an assistant district attorney, prosecuting defendants in court under the direction of a district attorney. These positions can also be lucrative, but require long hours and high-stress work. Now let's take the first step toward writing your resume.

Statistical insight

Growth in jobs for attorneys through 2029 is expected to be 4 percent, slightly lower than all fields, according to U.S. labor statistics, however, recent law graduates are being hired at a higher rate than they have been since 2009, the National Association of Law Placement found. 

Understanding recruiters

Law-firm recruiters are busy people who see thousands of resumes, especially if you are job-hunting at the same time as law school graduates are flooding the market. They are quickly scanning resumes to find great candidates. The more candidates they can scan through and sort easily, the better for them. If a resume has a confusing layout or imprecise wording, it is likely to go in the garbage. Your professional skills, achievements, and attributes must stand out from the start.

How to write an attorney resume

Just as your briefs follow a format, so, too, should your resume. Before you dig in, here are the components that all attorney resumes need:

  • The resume header
  • The resume summary (aka profile or personal statement)
  • The employment history section
  • The resume skills section
  • The education section

Whether you plan to argue cases or research arcane tax law, you need to be a great communicator who can code-switch depending on the situation. A standout attorney resume blends the right tone with a message for success. Just as you tell stories when you present arguments in the law, you are telling a story here – the tale of your success.

Tap into your network to research the firms you are interested in and find out what they value. Match your tone and linguistic style to the firm’s culture and environment whenever possible.

A compelling resume contains the argument for your employment and will get you in position for an interview. Follow this winning formula:

  • Know your audience and adapt your message to build the best case.
  • Create a memorable visual image by choosing a resume template that reflects your style and professionalism.
  • Optimize your language with targeted keywords and phrases to avoid having your resume filtered out by ATS screening software.

Getting past the Applicant Tracking System

Applicant Tracking Systems , or ATS, are software programs that use algorithms to rank resumes. While once they were used only by large companies, they are almost ubiquitous today. Because job listings garner as many as 250 applications each, recruiters want to limit the resumes they scan to only the top candidates. Recruiters and employers tell the ATS what is most important to them and the ATS uses those criteria to search for the best matches. You want to be among them. By strategically using keywords and phrases, placing your contact information well, and highlighting your skills , you will boost your chances of meeting the first challenge. Part of law training is analysis, so use your ability to break down job listings into the key skills the recruiter seeks.

Statistical insight

The ATS market is splintered—18 companies holding at least a 2 percent share. That means there is no single guaranteed approach to beating ATS software, but there are many hacks that can give you an advantage.  See stats.

Choosing the best resume format for an attorney

Nine times out of ten, a reverse chronological order resume format is your best bet when writing an attorney resume sample. Employers want to see your most recent experience first when they peruse your employment history section. There are cases, however, where you may want to use a different style.

If you have worked on complicated technical cases or have very detailed knowledge in a niche field, a functional resume may work better to showcase your skills. This style offers an expanded skills section where you can explain your deep proficiency or highlight your cases.

Congratulations if you have recently graduated or passed the bar! You may want to consider the resume formats we suggest as chronological alternatives or hybrids.

In most instances, the reverse chronological order resume format is your best choice.

Resume summary example: argue for yourself with the best brief

Your resume summary is your chance to let your personality shine. This short summary of your career can win over recruiters from the start. The profile (also known as the summary ) is a great opportunity to distinguish yourself. Attorneys are expected to use concise, convincing language to communicate, argue, and persuade. This is the main opportunity on your resume to show off these talents. As an attorney, you need many other soft, or interpersonal, skills as well. Writing two to four sentences about your professional personality and achievements allows you to show them off. Of course, your breadth and depth of knowledge of the law should also be on display.

Expert tip

Before you start writing, develop a Master List of your skills, professional achievements, and attributes. This will serve you well throughout your search because you can revise your resume for each firm by cherry-picking from the list.

A great summary can elevate your resume by giving recruiters an idea of who you are and what you will bring to the firm. This is not the time to be modest! Don't exaggerate, but be proud of who you are and the skills you have. Think about the ATS as you write. Strategic placement of keywords will help your ATS ranking and get your resume into the hands of a person.

Expert tip

Space on your resume is tight, so make the most of it. Describe your achievements with strong action verbs and consider the traits recruiters are looking for in attorneys. The top five attributes of great Attorneys, according to Attorneys at Work, are:

  • Compassion
  • Listening
  • Assertiveness
  • Creativity
  • Perseverance

Read more about soft skills here .

Here is attorney resume example text to use as a starting point for your summary.

Adaptable summary example

Accomplished and professional Attorney with several years of experience specializing in both the public and private sectors of litigation. Well known reputation for personal integrity, experience, and work ethic. Dedicated, honest, and constantly striving to uphold the highest standards of integrity in correspondence with the law. Bringing forth superior knowledge of substantive law and legal procedure, in combination with excellent analytical and logical reasoning skills.

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Employment history CV sample: showcase your experience

Add details to your CV that strengthen your argument for the job in the employment history section. Specifics will carry the day! Before you begin describing your work history, shift from thinking in terms of job duties to professional achievements. Did you win a big case? Save your client thousands of dollars in taxes? Arbitrate a huge deal? Write briefs for a judge? That is what recruiters want to see on your CV instead of just a list of your responsibilities.

Statistical insight

Firms that employed 1-1,500+ hired 48 percent of 2020 graduates, according to the American Bar Association. Another 10.2 percent went into government work. Business and industry accounted for 9.3 percent and 9.5 percent accepted clerkships. Public interest law, solo practice, and education rounded out the employment sectors. 

These foundational skills are necessary for attorneys, however, you may also have abilities and distinct knowledge in your field of law. Try to include a balance of general skills and achievements specific to your field. Use strong action verbs that showcase your accomplishments and your written communication skills. Demonstrate how you applied these skills in your jobs by using numbers, achievements, and the all-important keywords that will help you beat the ATS. Recruiters are also looking for professional growth, so highlight increased responsibility and how you rose to the challenge. 

Here is attorney resume example text to use as a starting point for your employment section.

Adaptable employment history example
  • Litigated hundreds of civil and state cases that centered on a variety of issues.
  • Successfully transitioned case projects from initiation through court trial.
  • Worked with respect to confidentiality requirements and acted in the best interest of clients at all times.
  • Thoroughly researched all cases in preparation for a successful trial.
  • Issued subpoenas and filed criminal charges when necessary.
  • Handled all aspects of civil litigation, spanning a broad range of areas, including but not limited to bankruptcy, employment discrimination and discrimination in the workplace, and civil rights.
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Skills example: your core competencies

Your skills section should target each position and put your abilities on display at a glance. Once you make it past the ATS, you have a little more than 7 seconds for your resume to make an impact and keep the recruiter reading , according to an eye-tracking survey by Ladders, Inc. A clear list of your skills lets them know quickly whether your abilities fulfill their needs. Analyze the job description to find the skills a firm desires. Then, go back to your Master List and choose the top five to ten. Remember that space is tight, so choose wisely. Try not to repeat the exact wording you used in your employment history. Changing the language gives the ATS one more chance to find your skills. As a general pointer, the Kent College of Law in Chicago lists these as fundamental to the profession:

  • Problem-solving
  • Analysis and reasoning
  • Research
  • Factual investigation
  • Communication
  • Counseling clients
  • Negotiation
  • Litigation or other dispute-resolution ability
  • Organization
  • Recognition and resolution of ethical dilemmas.
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Don't neglect to individualize your Master List list for every job. No two firms are exactly alike; therefore, none of your resumes should be either. You may eliminate yourself from the job of your dreams if you exclude an important skill because you did not personalize your list. Putting in the extra effort now can land you at the top firm of your choice.

Here is attorney resume example text to use as a starting point for your skills section.

Adaptable skills example section
  • Bankruptcy Law
  • Family Law
  • Contract Negotiation
  • Critical Thinking Skills
  • Interpersonal Communication Skills
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Education resume example: make your degree work for you

Earning a law degree is no easy feat, so use your alma mater to your advantage in your education resume section . If you are focused on getting a job at a large law firm, where you earned your law degree does matter. Top firms tend to look for graduates of "T14" or the top 14 law schools as ranked by U.S. News & World Report because it is an easy way to narrow the field of applicants. You also have a much better chance at a Supreme Court clerkship. If that is you, great! You may want to move this section up to get the attention of recruiters.

Statistical insight

Lateral hiring, or hiring established attorneys from a different firm, held steady from 2018 to 2019, according to the National Association for Law Placement. That means, you can start at one firm, build your resume, and move to another. 

If you are looking for a job in the region where you attended school, your university credentials will also be very helpful. Attending a regional school shows your allegiance to the area, so highlight your education in this case, too. Expert tip: If you are a recent law school graduate, include any externships, internships, summer associate's jobs, law review work, trainee, and temporary or casual work you have done. Consider calling this Experience Section if you don't have a strong employment history. Once your career gets started, you may drop these experiences from your employment history. Add any honors and activities that highlight your accomplishments, especially if they include leadership or demonstrate other sought-after skills. Don't bloat, but spotlight your talents. Since you have an advanced degree, you should not list your high school. Once you have secured your first job, your educational career becomes less important, so place it further down in your resume. 

Here is resume example text to use as a starting point for your education section.

Adaptable education section
  • 2004-2008 Boston College, B.S. In Economics Boston, MA
  • 2008-2011 NYU, Juris Doctor NY, NY
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Resume layout and design: keep it clear and professional

Make the first impression a great one with an elegant and easy-to-read design. These professional resume templates will make this part a breeze, but there are some rules you should know. 

  1. Keep it neat and clean. You may be tempted to add design flourishes, but recruiters are much more impressed with a legible resume clean of distracting colors, fonts, or graphic elements.
  2. Make sure your contact information stands out, as this is one of the first elements recruiters look for.
  3. Use the "E" or "F" patterns, which follow the way the eye moves when reading, to place your text. This means that the top-left corner of any screen or document is the one that gets the most attention. As you move diagonally towards the bottom right, the readers’ focus will drop more and more.
  4. Other features that increase the legibility of your resume are bold titles and bulleted lists of accomplishments. Large blocks of type are hard to read.
Statistical insight

Simple layouts with clear sections and heading titles got the most attention from recruiters, according to that Ladder, Inc., study

Key takeaways

  • Attorneys or lawyers should have common foundational skills it is necessary to highlight. Also, highlight the explicit skills you have in different fields of law.
  • Individualize your resume for each job. Recruiters look for applicants who have a clear understanding of the exact position they are looking to fill.
  • Demonstrate your skills and professional growth by using numbers, achievements, and the all-important keywords that will help you beat the ATS.
  • A professional-looking, legible resume will get you the attention of recruiters.
  • Our resume samples and online resume builder will take the guesswork out of design and formatting -- and save you time in the bargain.
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