Sectors 18.06.20

How To Write A Legal CV – Our Step By Step Guide

We’re sure at one point back in secondary school someone told us how to put together a CV, but to be honest, it was a long time ago and it’s all decidedly fuzzy. Plus, in the highly competitive world of law, we’re not sure your GCSE science teacher who drew…
Kim Connor Streich
Kim Connor Streich

We’re sure at one point back in secondary school someone told us how to put together a CV, but to be honest, it was a long time ago and it’s all decidedly fuzzy. Plus, in the highly competitive world of law, we’re not sure your GCSE science teacher who drew the careers lesson short straw has the most up to date know-how anyway.

So, aside from looking to the video resumé, Elle puts together in Legally Blonde (which we would definitely advise against using as a guide) where can you turn for some decent law CV advice? Well, luckily for you, we’ve been working on it. Here’s our complete checklist for everything you need to think about before you kick off the job hunt.

Keep The Structure Standard

Depending on who you’re talking too, you’ll probably hear a lot of different things about how to structure your CV, but the truth is that it varies from sector to sector. So there’s no need to go back to your friends in marketing screaming about how they’re wrong.

For law, in any case, you’re looking for a simple structure which starts with your name and a strapline. The first thing you want people to see is you and your personal brand – not the words Curriculum Vitae or CV in a big centred font, because frankly, they know it’s a CV.

After that, you should be putting together a short profile to introduce yourself and your experiences, followed by details on your education, your skills, then your interests and any referees. Don’t worry too much about actually putting in references at this point though –  just saying “references available on request” will do the trick. But do make sure you actually have some people to turn too if they do ask for them.

This Is Not The Time For Fancy Designs

Again, each industry to their own. You might have heard about the guy who made his CV look like a Google search or the person who sent in an actual guitar with his CV on it, but the truth is this probably isn’t the right vibe for a law CV. There’s a time and place for groovy, creative stuff, and the law sector just isn’t it.

Keep things simple with a clear and concise design that’s easy to read and easy to follow. Make sure you’ve got clear and defined headers for each section, your name is the overriding thing you can see at the top of the CV, and the font size is at least an 11 at its smallest. Sure, you want to fit everything in, but remember people are going to need to read this. 

The aim of the game here is to make your CV easy to digest for the people reading it, so even if you’ve got a lot to fit in, make sure you’re still using simple tools like bullet points and keeping things sensible spaced out. When you’re ready to press the big red button marked go, also make sure to export as a PDF, which will avoid things jumping around on the page or showing up differently when recruiters open it.

Address Any Gaps Head On

Okay, we’re speaking to the elephants in the room right now – it’s time to come out and shout about yourselves. Whether you took time out of your studies for a gap year, worked for a bit in a non-legal position, or actually just needed a bit of a break, it’s vital to explain any gaps in your legal CV.

Recruiters are looking to understand all of your journey to where you are today, so make sure to give the full details of your whole career history. If anything, leaving gaps feels like you’re hiding something on purpose. And remember, you’re not losing any points by having spent time doing things unrelated to law.

While it might not feel that transferable, there’s a whole lot you can talk about from any experience which is relevant to law.  Whether it’s an ability to interact with people from all walks of life, showing you’re able to graft for long shifts, or working as part of a team, think about how your experience relates to law, as well as help you bring something different to the table. 

Always Give Evidence To Back Up Your Skills

Just as you would in any law case, you’re going to need evidence that you can do what you say you can. We say this a lot at Debut, but honestly, there are way too many graduates out there just listing the tasks they’ve done, rather than taking their thinking a couple of steps further.

If you claim that you’ve had experience working with clients, make sure you’re explaining exactly what you’ve done. So rather than you’re bullet point being simple ‘experience working directly with clients’, a better example would be:

I worked directly with clients as part of their introduction to the centre. During initial calls, I assessed their needs and the main issues of their case, which I recorded and fed back to the leading solicitor.

Equally, where you can, also try to think about the results of your work. For example, your research into prior cases might have undercovered a vital new point for an argument, or you might have suggested new ways of streamlining working. You’re basically looking to take your thinking on a level from just explaining tasks or skills in a standalone way.

Keep The Whole Thing Pretty Concise

There’s a lot to fit into a legal CV, and you do want to make sure you’ve gone into enough detail, but we’re here to tell you there is a point where you really shall not pass. Law graduates are lucky enough to get a bit of extra leeway than some other sectors, but you still shouldn’t be passing more than two or three pages as an absolute maximum.

Putting together your CV is a juggling act between doing into enough detail and keeping things tight, and hiring managers are just as much looking for the latter as they are the former. Not only do you need to remember that it’s a real person who has to sift through the piles of CVs for schemes, but that being able to speak in a concise way is a vital skill they’re looking out for.

If you’re struggling, the best thing to do is write down everything you want to include, before printing your CV out and taking to it with a red pen. No one gets it entirely how they want it the first time around – it’s a continuous process of drafting, tweaking, and redrafting to get it into a good place, so don’t feel down if it doesn’t work out immediately.

Make Sure You’re Focusing On The Company, Not You

It might sound like a bit of an odd thing to suggest, but this is an important mindset to get into before you get cracking on your finest piece of work. While you’ve probably been planning your career in law for a long time, and can talk at length about where you want to be in five years’ time, that isn’t what hiring managers are looking for.

Always remember that the reason there’s a vacancy at a law firm is because they need someone to come in and do some work – they’re not just benevolently trying to give some law grads a leg up. Translate that into writing your CV and it means focusing on what you can bring to them, not how the job will help you in your rise to becoming the next Amal Clooney. 

For every job you apply for and every CV you put together, think about the skills they’re looking for and how you can help tick those boxes. It might sound pretty obvious, but it’s an important, if subtle, mindset to have while you’re putting your case forward. Basically, the aim of the game is to make it easy for someone to see why you’ve got all the skills they’re looking for.

Treat Every CV As The One True CV

There’s something quite clever about Doctor Who. Even though every time a new companion gets introduced you know it’s not a forever deal, they still manage to make it feel natural and unique every time. Whether it’s Rose Tyler, Bill Potts, or Amy Pond, it feels like they’re the only ones for the job.

It’s a similar approach to the law CVs, even if it sadly involves less time travel. Law is a competitive industry and when you’re applying for training contracts or internships, you want to make the company you’re applying for feel like they’re the only ones for you. If the person sifting through applications feels like they’re just another CV on your list of places to chuck a CV at, chances are you won’t get too far.

The aim here to make every law firm feel like you’re the only one you’re applying for, with a genuine passion and understanding of their principles shining through. If you haven’t got where we’re going with this yet, yes that means you should be reworking and personalising your CV each time you’re using it in an application.

Sure, it’s an extra layer of work, but, as with everything, it’s better to put together fewer applications really well, than it is to scattergun your CV out to anyone who happens to be hiring. You’ll want to pay particular attention to the values and focuses of the firm you’re applying to, as well as the specific role they’re looking for you to play.

Think About What Makes You Stand Out

It’s potentially the million dollar question – but what makes you stand out from the same 20,000 law graduates in England and Wales every year? If we’re being realistic, pretty much all of them will have got a decent degree to their name, and most of them will have done a couple of internships or placements to clock up the experience.

As a recruiter when you’re faced with a lot of people who all have broadly similar skills and experience, next you turn to the people who stand out in some way or have something a little bit different to bring to the table. The truth is we’ve probably all got something we could add to our CV that would stick in a recruiter’s mind, but not all of us think to add it to our CV.

Think about the types of cases you’ve worked on and how you’ve contributed to them – for example, if you’ve been part of any work that’s had a much wider effect, or your contribution helped to change the set course. 

There’s also a lot to be said for non-legal experience here too – while it’s vital that you’ve got experience working in a legal setting and that it’s clearly signposted on your CV, if you’ve been able to bring your legal skills to other projects or vice versa, this can be the kind of stuff that makes you stand out from other graduates.

Make Sure You Check It All About Fifty Sixty Times

Okay, we’re exaggerating, but you get the point. It sounds like something your mum would say, as obvious as hell, but we really can’t stress enough how important it is to make sure you’ve carefully checked your CV several times for any boo-boos.

Not only will time-poor recruiters use errors as a way of whittling down candidates who are similarly qualified (harsh but true, you need some way to cut down after all), attention to detail is a crucial requirement for working in law. To put it another way, would you trust someone with critical legal documents if they can’t spell their university’s name right? Nope, didn’t think so.

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