How to Write a Legal CV
Just like other professionals, solicitors, barristers, advocates and paralegals can exert a strong directional influence on their careers by producing a powerful Legal CV. This is especially true at the start or in the early stages of a legal career, when an effective CV can help you get a foot into the door.
Part-way into your career, a CV can help you to reach the positions in the upper echelons of the profession. As befits the profession, your CV should be conservative and traditional in its presentation.
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Legal CV Profile
Your profile statement should be 2 to 4 sentences long at the top of your Legal CV and should provide a snapshot of your training and career to date. While your profile is by necessity short, it should create an immediate impact, so that it catches the attention of an employer faced with a stack of legal CVs to read through.
The golden rule tends to be that your CV must attract an employer's attention within the first 30 seconds of being read. This means that the details you include must be highly relevant to that employer in relation to the particular legal jobs you are applying for.
The content of a law CV depends on the stage you are at. At the start of your career, your vocational postgraduate training should be mentioned here, as well as your 2-year training contract or year-long pupillage. If you have little experience beyond your training contract or pupillage, you can also refer to voluntary work or placements that have provided valuable experience.
Your legal specialist areas need to be highlighted here. This depends on the interests of the law firm or chambers you work with, which might be taxation, contract law, litigation, criminal law, etc. Solicitors firms usually concentrate on business law, property law, employment or family issues. Many mid-sized firms are concerned solely with company law.
If relocating between Scotland or other areas of the UK, you need to state whether you have completed updating training for the different legal systems.
In your professional CV you should list two or three outstanding legal abilities to strengthen your profile - examples are legal research, writing skills, knowledge of particular areas of law, etc.
Additionally, you should refer to two or three transferable skills and your personal strengths as a legal professional. This can include high levels of motivation, dedication, the ability and willingness to work long hours, the ability to work under pressure, teamwork, patience, decisiveness, etc.
Leave references to social media or other networking sites out of your Legal CV. If a partner or administrator wishes to research your profiles, they will do so - ensure that your profiles are either private or contain information you would not mind a legal employer viewing.
Achievements on Your Legal CV
The achievements section of your Legal CV should show how your knowledge, skills, aptitudes and personal strengths yielded tangible results.
Your achievements should show how you made a difference through your individual contribution, even if this was towards a team effort.
The most effective achievements are those that provide evidence in the form of quantifiable outcomes. This section should contain 5 or 6, in the form of bullet pointed sentences. If you have more than this number, you can include them throughout your career history.
At the start of your legal career, it's perfectly acceptable to include details about your voluntary work on your law CV or even awards gained through societies and clubs whilst in education, such as debating societies. Commendations from persons of influence are worth including too. The only requirement is that the skills or qualities you've had rewarded are relevant to the legal position you're pursuing.
Quantification is important because it makes the details more specific and so adds more to the clear picture you want to build in the employer's mind.
Examples of quantified achievements you can include on your Legal CV may include:
- A complaint you drafted in a contract case. You can include the financial value of the property or possessions being contested.
- A series of motions you edited or drafted on behalf of a group of people. State how many you worked on and completed.
- An asylum seeker you helped as part of pro bono work. As well as the case's successful outcome, specify how long you spent on the case and how long the hearing was.
- A legal manual you wrote or edited. State how many pages it was, how many copies were published, and where it was distributed.
- Speeches you drafted that were read out at committee, council or public meetings. State how many, how long they were, and how large the audiences were. A combined figure is acceptable.
- You obtained a sentence reduction for a client in a criminal case. State the time periods and sentence lengths involved.
Career History on a Legal CV
Your work history should be presented in reverse chronological order on your Legal CV, starting with your most recent or current position.
It is conventional to include details about positions from the last 10 years - listing the employer, your position and inclusive dates of employment. Beneath each position, you then write 5 to 6 bullet-pointed sentences describing your role.
From jobs held prior before 10 years ago, you need only list the employment information, without providing bullet-pointed details.
If you are at a very early stage in your legal career, you can entitle this section Legal Experience. This gives you opportunity to include your training contract, voluntary work and other unpaid experience, such as placements. You do this in just the same way.
Avoid listing the items on your job descriptions, but instead focus on what you actually did in those positions. You can write these points up as achievements - the more quantification and specific information you provide, the better. Once again, only include information that's relevant to the legal position you're applying for.
Concentrate on the skills and abilities the employer may be seeking in a new clerk or partner. It is highly likely that they'll be interested in candidates with strong research, writing and communication skills. Along with the research abilities, they'll be interested in seeing analytical abilities, as researched information isn't much use unless it can be made useful for legal purposes.
If you have been exposed to a particular area of law that is central to the vacancy, prioritise this on your Legal CV. Even if it wasn't the major part of your work in a particular position, make it the first bullet point. It's vital that the employer notices this.
If you've worked in non-legal as well as legal positions, then it may be helpful to separate your work experience into Legal Experience and Other Experience. Doing so will enable you to draw the most relevant information, the legal experience, together and in a higher position on your CV.
However, if you changed career and your legal positions are the most recent in your career history, then there will be no need to separate them.
Be sure to highlight and include the following on your Legal CV:
- Evidence of your knowledge of legal practice and regulations as used in your professional role.
- Details of your communication abilities and effective liaison with different parties, from senior managers to clients and various authorities and regulatory bodies.
- Your experience of critical thinking and problem-solving when researching and drawing on legal information.
- Evidence that you're able to make legal information accessible to the lay person and your clients.
- Your thorough approach to organisation and administration.
- Your ability to prioritise tasks amongst heavy workloads, working to deadlines when under pressure.
- An outline, spread across the bullet points, of the legal matters successfully worked on.
- When mentioning cases, specify the area of law, your level of autonomy, the tasks executed and the outcome.
- When confidentiality agreements prevent you from going into details about cases, refer to the type of client in general terms.
- The type of legal material and documentation you were involved in drafting.
- The kind of meetings you attended and their purpose.
Legal CV Qualifications and Training
If you have only recently qualified, you may include this section high on your Legal CV, beneath the Achievements section.
This is particularly helpful if you have graduated from a notable law school. Otherwise, this section is positioned below your Career History or Legal Experience and Other Experience sections.
Start by listing your postgraduate experience, either in a training contract or pupillage. It isn't necessary to go into more detail about the role if you've already done so in your Achievements section on your Legal CV. Include dates.
Next comes your law degree. In most instances, especially if it's over 10 years since you gained your degree, you only need to list the university, your qualification and the year in which you graduated. You can omit the year if you feel it will mark you out as a mature candidate and damage your chances.
If it's early in your career, you can also include a couple of lines referring to any notable achievements, projects or work experience gained while studying. Only do so if the information is highly relevant and likely to make a difference to your chances of employment.
It's not necessary to list your schooling before the age of 16 years old unless, once again, you attended a notable institution that might assist you in your employment quest.
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