Five Keys to a Great Law School Résumé

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Writing your law school personal statement is a daunting task. But at least you can quickly realize that you don’t have to boil your entire life down into two pages – you can tell a single story that had a profound impact on you.

The résumé, on the other hand…

You have one page to tell me what you’ve done with your life. Go.

A lot of people view the law school résumé as superfluous. While it doesn’t carry the weight of other elements, it does represent a whole lot more. You’ll be showing the law school what type of student you are, what you spent your time doing, and what accomplishments you can list. It sets the tone of your life, and if it doesn’t create a good impression, admissions officers will be going through your law school application with a sour taste in their mouths.

So how can you make a great résumé?

Key #1 to a Great Law School Résumé: Cut anything from high school

You were captain of your school’s baseball team and drove a sweet Camaro. Good for you. Now cut that stuff from your law school résumé.

If you have high school achievements on your law school résumé, schools will think you peaked in high school (which is just sad). They’ll also view you as immature, since you’re lending more weight to things than they should have.

Unless it’s an Olympic medal, it’s gone.

Key #2 to a Great Law School Résumé: One page. Seriously

I’ve edited hundreds of résumé going to law schools. Two of them have warranted a second page.

Two.

One person had spent a decade doing missionary work overseas. The other was a decorated military veteran. If you aren’t either of these people, get it down to one page.

I don’t need a description of your job as an administrative assistant. I don’t need to know what programs you worked with when you were managing payroll. Let me know what you spent your time doing, and leave it at that.

Key #3 to a Great Law School Résumé: This is an academic résumé

What’s this mean? Your academic achievements should be highlighted. Education information up top, cut work achievements to fit in academic ones, and include relevant coursework/papers if you need to fill in some space.

Key #4 to a Great Law School Résumé: I don’t care that you’re good at MS Word

Throwing a section in the bottom letting me know that you’re proficient in Word, Excel, or Powerpoint is a waste of space. Including an Objective section is a waste of space. I assume you’re proficient in Word at a level that law school work requires because you’re submitting an essay written in Word. I know your objective in applying to law school – to get into law school.

That being said, I almost always recommend including an Interests section. You never know who’s going to share your love of crafting homemade butter churns and become a cheerleader for you during the process.

Key #5 to a Great Law School Résumé: Add depth to your other elements

A résumé should create depth to the rest of your law school application package.

Talk about your desire to go into public interest? I better see something on your résumé to back this up. Want to use your degree to go into some type of corporate law? (*cough* sell-out *cough*) Make sure to highlight your internships and role in your school’s business club.

Whatever you talk about in your personal statement should be backed up in the résumé.

Check in next week for some law school résumé formatting tips!

25 Responses

  1. Rebeka Smithson says:

    I did Running Start, a program that allows Juniors and Seniors in high School the opportunity to take college classes, and graduated High School with my AA. Due to this should I include information about my high school activities during those years?

  2. Rebecca says:

    I am 33 years old and applying to law school. I will graduate with my Bachelor degree in May, 2014, and work full-time. I have actually been pursuing my education since 2003, with 4 years off between 2006 and 2010, and have always worked full-time. My jobs during my periods of education have been law-related (for example, I’ve worked as a paralegal at a medium-sized law firm for the last 4 years), but those during my hiatus were in Human Resources. Should I include ALL of my work experience while attending school since 2003, or just the law-related jobs?

    • Hank says:

      Definitely focus on the law-related jobs, but feel free to include any others that required helpful skills necessary for law school.

    • Yuko Sin says:

      To add to what Hank said:

      Most law schools will ask for your full work history through the LSAC’s online application.

      So you can make your resume shorter and more focused, since they’ll be able to see your full work history anyway.

  3. Keith Morrison says:

    I have previously qualified and worked as a lawyer in Ireland. However in 2009 my son was diagnosed with autism. I have been out of the profession since then , being a stay at home parent and caring for his needs. I am now in a position to return to law. I have since moved to the USA and am anxious to apply to law school. I am unsure though how to address the previous five years in my résumé and/or statement.

  4. Keith Morrison says:

    Any advice would be appreciated.thank you

  5. Sharion Scott says:

    I just completed a mission trip called The World Race. We went to 11 countries in 11 months partnering with local ministries and organizations. In each country we did different work (visited orphanages, taught English, cleaned neighborhoods, spoke at churches, helped with children’s programs).

    How should I address this in my resume? Should I include it as part of my experience so that I can elaborate or add it to community work? If it’s part of my experience, how do I adequately describe it?

    Thanks!

    • Greg Nix says:

      Hey Sharion,

      First of all, sounds like a great program. Either way, it’s going to look good on your application.

      As to specifics, if that’s pretty much all you’ve been doing for the last 11 months, I’d say it’s fair to include it in your work experience – otherwise it will look like you’ve been twiddling your thumbs for a year at first glance. However, if it was something along the lines of one weekend per month for 11 months, it probably belongs in your community service section, since describing at ‘work’ might come off as disingenuous.

      Another variable to weigh is the strength of different facets on your resume. You want to look well-rounded, so if your resume is lacking on other forms of community involvement, it might behoove you to place it in that section either way.

  6. Jimmy Frost says:

    I have read from multiple sources that the best practice for law school resumes was to have around 2 pages to go more into detail about various honors organizations, work experience, etc. I originally had my resume at 1 page as you suggest but I recently went into more detail after hearing from various counselors, law school websites’ suggested best practices, and online forums that a longer resume than a 1 page job application resume is preferred. Why is there such conflicting information on this front? Thanks for your help.

    • Greg Nix says:

      Hey Jimmy,

      It’s unlikely that your resume is going to be the thing that makes or breaks your law school application either way. So don’t stress about it TOO much. But the reason many people suggest trying to keep your resume to one page is because it forces you to edit yourself; law schools simply don’t need to know that you were drum major in high school, or that you were the Chipotle Employee of the Month in June 2009. That kind of stuff is a waste of their time.

      You want to present information that is productive and relevant. Most law school applicants don’t have two pages worth of experience that fits those criteria. So we recommend you shoot for a one page resume for the same reason that you don’t start your personal statment with the sentence “I spent the first two years of my life learning English.”

      If you think you have more than one page of distinguishing accomplishments, by all means submit a two page resume. Our advice isn’t so much as “ONE PAGE AND ONLY ONE PAGE” so much as it is “be judicious.”

  7. Hannah says:

    I had to put law school on hold for a couple years to take care of my grandmother who was diagnosed with cancer. I decided to take on a job as my grandmother’s home health aide. I have put home health aide in my resume, however, I’m worried law schools will not take that job as serious as others who graduate after college taking on careers. Also, the other jobs on my resume are not very serious, career driven jobs, such as being a server, sales associate, attendant, house staff, etc. Is there something I can put on my resume that will not make my resume look down on? My personal statement is already written. It does not go into details about my job choices.

    • Greg Nix says:

      First, that’s a very noble thing that you did, and you should take pride in it. Don’t try to diminish your choice in any way. On the flip side, don’t try to exaggerate your accomplishments — that’s a slippery slope that can get you into trouble down the line. Your work history is your work history, plain and simple. There’s no magic resume bullet.

      You have some options. If the schools you’re applying to accept optional essays, you could take that additional space to go a little bit deeper into why you chose to take care of your grandmother and what you gained out of it. Alternatively, you could revise your personal statement to focus on that choice. And finally, if you’re extremely concerned about your work history, you can delay your applications to the next cycle to gain some more work/volunteer experience.

      But honestly, resumes are a small part of the admissions puzzle. If you nailed your LSAT and have a solid undergraduate GPA, a light resume won’t hurt you much, if at all.

  8. Crystal Walker says:

    I worked full time as an assistant manager at a convinence store for all 4 years of college. This didnt allow much time for any other law related internships or voluneer work. After college I joined the Army for 4 years. Now as im preparing for law school, I have the feeling of not being able to put together a strong or relevant resume. Any suggestions?

  9. Jesse Ritchey says:

    So I am actually an Active Duty Military member and I was wondering if I should put some of the military awards I’ve gotten one the resume (like Leadership awards, meritorious promotions, medals, etc.) or is this type of information better left off the Law School Resume? Thanks for any help.

  10. Cari says:

    I’ve been out of college for 5 years, mostly working for and volunteering for nonprofits relevant to the work I want to do as a lawyer. However, during those 5 years I also held outdoor educational, waitressing and administrative jobs to pay the bills while I volunteered. Do I need to account for every job I’ve held since college? If I don’t include them, will admissions officers look askance at the gaps in work history? My current job is excellent and what I want to focus on in the resume, but I don’t want to omit things I should be including.

    • Laura Santoski says:

      Cari,

      It’s probably a good idea to include at least some of those other jobs, both to give depth to the resume and to answer any questions about how you’ve been spending your time. That said, as Matt mentioned in the post, you don’t need to provide a description for those types of jobs unless there’s something worth noting. Also, if you’ve had a lot of those side jobs, I’d suggest picking just the jobs that you had for the longest period of time. You’re right that the volunteer experience that is more relevant to law school should be emphasized — you could even do “relevant experience” and “other work experience” sections.

      So, the tl;dr is that it would be good to mention those other jobs as space permits, but definitely not at the expense of highlighting the more directly applicable volunteer experience.

  11. James Stafford says:

    I worked both a full-time job as a bartender and a part-time job as a kitchen worker in a sorority house for the last 3 years of undergrad. Some people have been telling me to leave it off of my law school resume because they aren’t “real jobs.” But I feel like it shows that I at least have some time management skills. Any thoughts?

    • Greg Nix says:

      James,

      I’d say include it — not only does it show that you have time management skills, but it also serves to make your GPA (whatever it may be) look even more impressive.

  12. Valery says:

    Hello, I am a junior in Rutgers University majoring in global business management and i am applying to top 25 law schools in the U.S. My gpa is 3.83 and my last is 173/180. I am on deans list for all 3 years and a member of 2 honor society’s. However I have had only 2 internship experiences over the summer and 1 extrenship. Is that enough? My goal is Columbia Law school.

  13. Chase Lanfer says:

    In high school I was an Eagle Scout and I also was a regional officer for a youth group which regularly had me plan all the logistics and schedule for weekend long and week long events for 50-400 attendees and give public speeches. I was flying all over the country for this, and it was a huge time commitment, that really taught me to work on a team, how events are run and gave me a lot of speaking time. Should I include these two things on my resume? They seem pretty big.
    I have them after my two internships and my senior thesis.

    Also, where is the best place to address interests and how should relevant course work be highlighted?

    • Hi Chase. I think it’s great to put both of those things on your resume unless it pushes it over a page. Admissions officers read literally thousands of resumes, and you want to keep yours punchy and not too dense. I think you can choose to list interests or not. If an interest is not relevant to law school or the practice of law, then it should probably end up on the cutting room floor. And, really, the interests important to law school ought to get some kind of mention in your personal statement. Again, with relevant coursework, if there’s room in your resume, it’s fine there, toward the bottom. Otherwise, I don’t think it’s terribly important.

  14. Megan says:

    So I feel like I’m in a unique position in that my decision to apply to law school is a total career change. I studied journalism and worked as a reporter for four years before making the leap this summer, quitting the paper and taking a job as a paralegal. Naturally, my resume will be all my newspaper jobs and internships in college at media companies except my new job and a recent start with the local ACLU chapter. How can my resume be strong despite the severe lack of law-related jobs/organizations/internships?

    • Law schools operate on the assumption that they’re taking people who don’t know anything about law and making lawyers out of them. So, while they certainly like to see legal experience when you have some, a whole bunch of time in a law office doesn’t necessarily mean a lot more to them than experience elsewhere. Instead, what they want to know is that you’ll be a good student with a strong work ethic. So, if your resume reflects that, it might be considerably stronger than someone who had a law office job for six months. One last thing, it might be good to mention in your personal statement how your work in journalism relates to your ideas about law school and practicing law. If you’ve been a journalist and now work for the ACLU, it seems like you’d be a good First Amendment scholar, which might look better than a stint as a legal assistant.

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