If you only do one thing to improve your resume as a lawyer: fix the first sentence. Why? Because your words are long and boring.
What makes an effective lawyer resume? Someone is reading it. Better yet: someone reads it and decides to contact you. But it won’t work if they give up before the first comma.
Tip 1: Fix the first sentence.
On most attorney resumes, the first sentence should describe the problems you solve for clients in clear and concise language.
Objection: I cannot sum up my practice in one sentence.
If you’re stuck, or if you have three or more sentences and can’t narrow it down, use my favorite writing tip: Tell it to a friend.
Call a friend and tell them what you’re doing. Better yet, tell someone in person. When we talk to or look at someone, we get cues if we are making them feel bored. We get to the point and speak naturally.*
This step is the most important. You can fix your first sentence, stop there, and be confident that you’ve improved your resume. But to dive deeper, keep reading.
Tip 2: Know your audience.
This writing rule has become so cliche because it’s essential: Keep your audience in mind in everything you write. Your tone, word choice, and structure will be different for your resume than it will be for a client update or legal brief.
When reviewing your resume, consider:
- Who do you want to read your CV? Potential clients, clients, opposing attorney, potential colleagues?
- What question, problem or opportunity led them to your website?
- Did anyone refer to them? If not, how did they find you?
- How can you help them?
- Why should they trust you?
Objection: My audience is not monolithic.
It can be difficult to write to an unknown group of readers. Try to imagine a real person when writing – your best client, or the client of your dreams – and just write for them.
Tip 3: Include the essentials.
After you’ve thought about who your audience is and how you can help them, keep both things in mind, making sure to include the essentials.
- your practice. Your crucial first sentence describes your practice in short, snappy prose. Take another sentence or two for clarification if necessary, but keep it short: Less is more.
- Related experience. Related is the most important word here. Briefly describe one or two past experiences relevant to your current practice.
- Representative issues. What are most important to you in your practice and why? Describe one or two, briefly.
- education. List your education and credentials. You don’t need to describe them in sentence form.
- Personal thing. Show readers that you are human by including something about yourself: a hobby, a favorite book, a place you like to travel to, the names of your children or pets.
Objection: I must remain professional at all times.
You can remain professional while letting people get to know you.
Tip 4: Review.
All good writing is rewriting. Review and edit your new resume, then share it with a member of the marketing team or a colleague. Cut out anything extraneous. Be tough.
Objection: I don’t have time to think about my resume.
Attorney resumes are the most viewed pages on law firm websites. Don’t miss the opportunity! Make it easy for people to get to know you.
Tip 5: Use ChatGPT to brainstorm ideas.
Objection: ChatGPT can’t produce a thoughtful resume for a lawyer.
Until now, ChatGPT and other AI platforms cannot write the resume you want to use.
However, they can give you a boost.
You can copy and paste your resume into ChatGPT and ask them to write your lawyer resume. I’ve tried this. Although the prose was awful (it sounded like a high school student trolling around legal), it gave me something to liberate. Sometimes that’s all we need to get moving.
You can also ask the AI a question.
I’ve tried, “What items should every litigator include on his or her resume?” and “What do people want to know before hiring an estate planning attorney?”
In response to each question, the AI generated a list. It wasn’t perfect, but it gave me some ideas for thought and helped me put someone looking for legal services, aka the public.
I haven’t yet met someone who enjoys updating their resume, but I hope these tools will guide you through some simple steps that lead to great results.
Remember, even just fixing the first sentence is a huge leap forward.
Additional writing resources:
*Ideas in the first tip taken from: Vandehei, Jim, Allen, Mike, and Schwartz, Roy (2022) Smart Briefing: The Power of Saying More with LessPublishing Factor, pp. 73-76.
Caskey, Anne, Content Writing for Lawyers: 5 Start-up Ideaslegalisi.com, May 16, 2022.
Martin, Dan, Can ChatGPT do all my writing?legalisi.com, February 3, 2023.
Utilizing artificial intelligence to enhance a lawyer’s CVAll Things Podcast, July 28, 2003.