5 Resume Tips for the Legal Job Hunter

Resume drafting is it’s own unique torture. First, there’s pressure because you very much want to secure a new job. Second, you can no longer recall much of what you did even a year ago. And on top of that it is really hard to sell yourself. For those of you who have started the New Year with a search for greener career pastures here are 5 tips to help you to create a resume that succeeds at highlighting your unique strengths.

Tip One – Include a summary

The big challenge for job hunters is that the common approach to resumes simply adds up to a dull list of past employers and bulleted work experience. These resumes at best get a quick scan by a prospective employer and don’t succeed in telling the story about your character, attributes, business development skills, and other strengths.

To add interest to your resume and ensure that your strengths are clearly communicated add a summary at the top. This summary should sit just below your contact information and is the first section of your resume. You can give it the header “profile” or “summary”. This section of the resume will be one to three paragraphs in length and in it you will describe your strengths and include supporting detail.

If you have a hard time listing your strengths, pull in a favour from a close friend and solicit their help. Or work with a career coach.

Tip Two: Avoid overused stock phrases

Avoid using the stock phrases that turn up on so many resumes such as “team player.” Instead describe your strengths and give examples.

Tip Three: Tailor your profile to the specific job requirements

Before drafting your introductory profile, carefully consider the specific job you are applying for. What skills and qualifications are they seeking? Review your list of strengths and highlight those that are most relevant to the opportunity.

The profile section can be written in first person or third person. The choice is yours. In my view writing in the first person directly addresses the reader and can help grab his or her attention. Here’s an example to help you get started. In this example the job candidate has chosen to focus on highlighting his business development skills.

“I am a ten year call lawyer with a practice focused on corporate commercial matters, mergers and acquisitions and corporate finance transactions for both public and private companies. I have acted for a wide range of clients, from start-ups to TSX listed public companies, in a range of industries, including mining, energy, and technology. I have worked with clients in Toronto, Ottawa, and elsewhere in Canada and the United States.

My strengths include excellent business development skills. I originated over seventy-five percent of my own work last year, directed work to others, and have met or exceeded my billable target for each of the past five years. I have an extensive network of contacts and participate actively in two industry associations…”

Tip Four: Always include a transaction sheet or a litigation synopsis as an appendix

Your transaction sheet or litigation synopsis is a one or two page list of your significant experience. Here are some examples from the Counsel Network:

I find it most effective to separate your experience into different sections. For example, a corporate lawyer might include sections on Mergers & Acquisitions, Financing, and General Commercial Experience.

Make sure to provide some interesting detail about each piece of experience while protecting the confidentiality of the information.

Tip Five: Make the case

With your resume, transaction sheet, and cover letter you are essentially building a case about why you are the best candidate for the opportunity.

As you write and then review your career documents make sure that you are providing specific examples that demonstrate your key strengths. For example if you are highlighting your negotiation experience then make sure there are one or more specific examples of negotiations you conducted and the results you achieved.

When you have your resume polished and ready to go send it to your most detail-oriented friends for a final proof read. This final close read of the resume is essential for catching any errors in punctuation, grammar, and spelling, and will ensure your resume is exactly as you want it to be.

Resume drafting isn’t easy, and it takes time, but ultimately this time will be rewarded by getting you the interviews you are seeking. Best wishes on a successful job hunt!

My thanks to my friend and colleague Linda Robertson for sharing her ideas and experience with me about what it takes to make a great resume.


  1. As someone who has helped quite a few people with their resumes and cover letters plus worked some 25 years at law firms in Canada, I agree with many of these tips. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have a fresh pair of eyes read your resume and cover letter template. Whether it is a spouse, parent, neighbour, family member, friend, whoever, have a few people read them over. It is amazing the number of spelling mistakes and the like that someone else can catch and you want your resume to be 100% perfect. It does not hurt to read it backwards, word for word, to check for accuracy. Ensure you pick a font that is easily readable. Ensure your resume tells a story – tells YOUR story – in an interesting way. The resume will be kept and it will be remembered. So many resumes look exactly the same and your potential employer will only glance through them. While you may have a standard form of cover letter, make sure each cover letter contains information relevant just to that particular position or business. You want the reader to think they are receiving a personal letter and not a form letter that has been sent here, there and everywhere. Ensure also that the key points you want to make in your cover letter are made in short paragraphs so they stand out and are read. Don’t have two or three “super large” paragraphs that contain all sorts of important information. They probably won’t be read as thoroughly as you would hope them to be. Lastly, don’t be afraid to have some white space on your resume. It makes it so much more inviting and readable.