Key Principles of a Law School Résumé

Résumés have a sort of oxymoronic importance in the admissions process. On the one hand, your admissions officer probably won’t spend more than thirty seconds reading yours. On the other hand, she’ll probably read it first, and it might color her admission impression of your entire file.

What Sections Should You Include?

Most law school résumés have four sections:

1. Experience

Include both jobs and internships. Note promotions and other accomplishments. Quantify your achievements with numbers where possible.

2. Education

Include degrees, distinctions such as magna cum laude, and academic awards. You can also note if you’ve worked your way through college. If you’re still in college, Education should be your first section.

3. Activities

Include community service and other extracurriculars. If you’ve been out of college for a long time, you don’t need to include your extracurricular college activities, and this section may not be necessary at all.

4. Personal

Include skills (e.g. computer programming, piano), languages (other than English), and a couple interests or hobbies (which can help with your interview).

If you have numerous awards or publications, you may want to call attention to them separately with an Awards or Selected Publications section.

Length

Most admissions officers don’t mind two-page résumés. That said, your reader is going to skim no matter what, and you have more control over where her eye lands if you keep your résumé to one page. A shorter résumé also makes it easier to convey a coherent story about your career.

Don’t go over two pages.

Key Principles

1. Make it scannable.

When you’re listening to a song, the rests are just as important as the notes. When you’re reading a résumé, the white space is just as important as the words.

Don’t use dense blocks of text or a microscopic font size. Let each entry breathe. Whittle away everything that’s extraneous so that your key accomplishments pop.

2. Use bullet points, but no more than three per entry.

  • Bullet points make your résumé more scannable.
  • But an admissions officer will probably skip a third or fourth bullet.
  • If you cut a bullet, you don’t necessarily lose anything—you just redirect your reader to something more relevant.

3. Give context for each entry.

Let’s say you put the following in your Education section:

Received George Byron Waldrop Award.

If that sentence were a logical reasoning stimulus, you’d have some questions:

  • What on earth is the George Byron Waldrop Award?
  • How many people were eligible for the award?
  • How does it demonstrate academic excellence?

It’s important to qualify and explain your achievements with context:

Recipient of George Byron Waldrop Award, given by faculty nomination to the classics major who “shows the greatest promise for future scholarship.”

4. Format consistently.

Judges and lawyers put a huge amount of stock in small details, and you want to signal to the adcom that you’ll be employable after law school. Thus, it’s incredibly important that your résumé is error-free, legible, and formatted consistently.

If you write “Sep 2013” in one entry, don’t write “Nov. 2013” (with a period) or “June 2013” (no abbreviation) or “5/2013” anywhere else. It doesn’t much matter how you format your dates, so long as you format them—and everything else—consistently.

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