Law Student Resume Advice
Over at the Conspiracy, Eugene has sparked a conversation about whether a law student ought to include proficiency in Westlaw, Lexis, Word, etc. on her resume. He argues that it’s a net negative because most employers will assume these skills, and their very inclusion draws attention away from more signficant credentials.
I have to admit, this is one recurring aspect of law student resumes that has long troubled me. In my view, inclusion of these skills does more than obscure other skills. Because employers assume resume writer competence, their incusion suggests that the candidate doesn’t have anything more to recommend herself. As a couple of Volokh commenters note, however, not all recipients are the same. In small firms, particularly those that have not done a great deal of hiring recently, these skills may stand out. If an applicant knew she was applying to the Smith Law Firm, which consists of three sixty year old guys, she might be well-advised to note her comfort with Westlaw.
At Alabama, I was further vexed by the Greek Alphabet Soup that populates so many student resumes. Some of these were the names of undergrad social frats and sororities. When I first arrived in the South I thought their inclusion ridiculous. I came to understand that many lawyers do look at this information to assess candidates. It’s not a heuristic popular at Cravath or MoFo, but it may well be a sorting factor for a 20 attorney firm in Mobile. Many students include other Greek-titled societies and clubs as well, despite the fact that they would be incomprehensible to 90% of likely resume readers.
Here are my two quick pieces of advice. First, every law student (and lawyer) should revisit each line of her resume to see if it adds value. Much like poetry, a resume requires precise language. If your membership in a high school drama club is unlikely to draw a reader’s attention, and improve your odds of getting a job, scrap it. (Caveat: sometimes a quirky entry can generate good interview conversation…but people should be very careful about including material for this purpsose.) Second, resumes require tailoring. The resume you send to small firms may emphasize different skills and experiences than one to a behemoth. And a resume going to an Alabama firm most probably needs to be seriously rewritten if it’s going to be sent to New York – or even Louisville.
A good resume can make all the difference in the world. You’d think that career planning offices, or resume self-help books, would have helped tune up all but the most hopeless resume. But it’s just not so. The excellent resume writer still maintains a significant edge. Somehow, in this utilitarian age, efficient resume writing remains quite mysterious.