Making Your Law School Resume Shine: Part One

Like any resume, your law school resume must be customized for its audience.  You should keep in constant view four basic determinations that law schools are trying to make as they decide whether to extend an offer of admission or merit-based financial assistance to you:  you are dedicated; you can do the intellectual work at a high level; you will bring positive interpersonal energy; and your career after law school will reflect favorably on their decision to admit you.  You don’t say any of that directly in your resume but a well-constructed resume communicates these qualities clearly.

Because law schools receive hundreds of applications containing similar LSAT and GPA data, your application package must set you apart from applicants with similar profiles.  Of course, your resume is not the only document that law school admissions committees review.  Law schools receive your LDSAS report, letters of recommendation, your law school personal statement and any application addenda you prepare.

These documents should work together to present a strong picture of who you are and what you will bring to a law school class.  No single document must (or should) tell law schools everything; each should form a part of an integral whole and, while each should connect to the others, you should avoid repeating large blocks of information.

The basic elements of a law school resume are fairly standard: educational achievement, work experience, service and (optional but recommended) interests.  How those elements are presented distinguishes the effective resume from the average.

Below (and in our next posts) are some tips to help you present a professional, clear resume that can help you stand out from similarly-situated applicants and give you an edge for admissions and merit-based financial aid.  Of course, to put the crucial final touches on your resume, you will want expert advice from those who know (or have come to know) you well.

  • Be Selective.  Ideally, your resume should be one page, and certainly no longer than a page-and-a-half.  It ought not tell your life’s story; you want to give law schools salient, specific information that gives them confidence that you will be a successful student and a consummate professional of integrity.  You should not include data that is not directly relevant to what kind of student and legal professional you will be.For example, you worked on a political campaign.  That won’t help you much if what you did was slip flyers under doors on election day; it should help you if you managed a staff of volunteers, developed the distribution strategy or were a dogged worker who dedicated significant time in the midst of other responsibilities.  If you can’t find the link between what you did and the four key determinations law schools are trying to make, you should omit the activity; if there is a link between them, you must describe it specifically.
  • Be SpecificLaw school admission and financial aid reviewers must understand you in order to make their decisions.  Simply telling them where you went to school and giving basic hard data is of limited use except as a reinforcer, since they will know that data from your LSDAS report.  Telling admissions committees where you have worked—for pay or as a volunteer—tells them nothing unless you also tell them what you did (and are selective in emphasizing those skills that are important to them).We’ll talk more about specificity in our next post as well, but here are a few do’s and don’t’s to get started
    • Intellectual ability.
      • Your GPA and LSAT hard data give law schools basic information.  If those numbers are strong, you should include them in your resume (they aren’t new information but are useful reminders).  Include your undergraduate major(s).  If your GPA is significantly higher than the average GPA for your major at your institution, that is important—it means that you excelled.
      • Advanced degrees should be listed first (your resume should be in reverse chronological order, since law schools are more interested in recent information).
      • List academic honors that demonstrate superior intellectual, writing or professional ability.  Unless the honor is well-known (Phi Beta Kappa, for example), don’t assume law schools will know what it means.  You should tell them what skills are the basis of the honor:  if it isn’t for intellectual achievement, writing ability, a skill that is important to your future professional life or a quality that reflects on you as a person of compassion or integrity, think twice about including it.  It is more likely to distract law school reviewers from paying attention to those of your achievements that are relevant for them than it is to help you.
    • Writing skills.  Although legal writing is a specific type of writing, law schools want to know generally that you are able to write well and professionally (more on that in the next post).  Your personal statement and LSAT writing sample will carry more of the burden of proving your writing ability but your resume matters.
      • Emphasize any legal writing that you have done.  Some legal assistants or paralegals are entrusted with initial drafts of legal memos or other documents.  Some research assistants will draft parts of law-related articles.  (You should also think seriously about having the supervisor or professor for whom you did such writing provide a strong letter of recommendation for you; you should also make sure it’s ok with them to reveal that you wrote initial drafts.)
      • If you have received awards for your writing, list them.  Be as specific as possible about what the award was for.  Theses (both undergraduate and graduate) and dissertations that are validated by awards will be significant boosts to your application.
      • Even without awards, extensive writing experience gives law schools confidence that you will be able to write well in law school.  Writing skill is one area in which your resume should be more expansive.
      • If you have experience with different kinds of writing (marketing presentations, contribution solicitations, etc.), you should tell law schools that when you describe employment or volunteer responsibilities.  The more diverse your abilities, the more admissions reviewers will know that you will be able to write successfully in and after law school.

In our next posts, we’ll give you more tips that will help you be specific about other parts of your experience.  We’ll also talk about how you can compensate for certain weaknesses in your application and how to present yourself professionally in your resume.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on January 12, 2010.

5 Responses to “Making Your Law School Resume Shine: Part One”

  1. […] need to keep a sharp focus on what law schools want to know about you.  Our last post covered the four crucial determinations that law schools are making.  Those are the principles that should guide every part of your […]

  2. […] Part 1 – The Principles.  Law schools must make four key determinations about you: […]

  3. […] should not use letters to explain away weaknesses.  Which strengths?  You need to remember the skill sets that law schools want you to demonstrate to them, and have a well-developed idea of the portrait you want to paint.  Your recommenders […]

  4. […] package as a portrait, and understand the place and value of each piece of it in relation to the key skills law schools are looking for and the holistic picture of yourself you’re trying to […]

  5. […] Check. In times gone by, I would have called these the “themes” you want your résumé to express: points you want to hit. Anything that doesn’t support one […]

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