Optimizing your General Counsel and Attorney Resume
Quite a few attorney and general counsel resumes I have reviewed and subsequently re-written this year suffered initially from what I like to call “career neglect” or “career outgrew resume.” While the actual career of many general counsels has grown significantly over the years in terms of responsibilities and achievements, that growth is often not reflected in their legal resumes.
I believe the two main reasons for this common scenario are that 1) early in a legal career the focus seems to be mainly on graduating from a prestigious law school and snatching a job with a big law firm and 2) career marketing does seem to come somewhat unnatural to legal executives.
Let’s look at those two reasons in a bit more detail now.
I. Early Legal Career Focus
Typically, you earn your first stripes in the legal field as an attorney in law firms and private practices. At this stage, a law degree from a top school might be enough to serve as your door opener. Once you get your foot in with a top law firm, the combination of your law school and top firm will frequently carry enough weight to land your new opportunity easily and without too much “resume hassle.”
However, once you make the transition to in-house positions, and you are making a move to General Counsel or Vice President of Legal Affairs, the need for a sophisticated and optimized resume increases drastically. At this stage, quite a few non-legal professionals will review and screen your resume, and your achievements must be “translated” for the business side of things. In other words, the classic “bear bones” attorney resume you might have received as a template from your law school 20 years ago won’t cut it anymore.
II. Career Marketing Might Feel Unnatural to Legal Executives
Legal counsel management, leading major negotiations, and defending the intellectual property of your employer and clients are all things that come quite naturally to you as a general counsel or private practice attorney. Ideally, you enjoy doing those things quite a bit.
But tooting your own horn? Usually, not so much. Most of my legal executive clients will say that they are good at writing about a plethora of legal problems but feel less comfortable drafting their own career materials.
And this only makes sense. Drafting legal documents with potentially an unlimited available amount of words and pages with other legal professionals in mind is quite different from jam-packing your entire career on a 2- or 3- page resume format that must pass a 10-second legal recruiter “scan.”
III. What do you do?
The first step to catapulting your resume to 2019 is to become aware that the resume is essentially a marketing document which will receive very little initial attention; be it from a recipient of an application or another law firm that you might be targeting for potential referrals.
In other words, this is non-billable time for your resume and CV recipient too (except for a legal recruiter that is), so they will not take 30 minutes out of their daily schedule to thoroughly go through your document line by line. Your resume and CV has to deliver rapidly to make an impact. Contrary to legal writing, you will have to limit yourself to stressing your most crucial career highlights to communicate the benefit that you bring to the table. Everything that looks like “too much work to go through” bears the risk of not getting read, and that is obviously what you are trying to achieve. That’s why I recommend limiting attorney and general counsel resumes that target employment to 2 to 3 pages.
But what about resumes and CV that you want to utilize to target other law firms for referrals? Well, in that case, I usually recommend a tiered approach. You could provide your recipients with options that vary in length and detail.
So, for example, you could send them a folder/attachment with a short/introductory one-page bio, two-page resume, and a full-blown academic CV with all speaking engagements and publications.
That way, you put your potential reader in full control of how much they want to “digest” about you and your achievements.
Full-reader control is your way to success for your legal resume in 2019!
If you have any questions about your attorney or general counsel resume, feel free to send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org