Top Tips for Legal Resumes and Cover Letters

In my role as a law school career advisor, I spend a lot of time discussing job applications with students and assessing resumes and cover letters. Below I list my top five tips for resumes and for cover letters. Later this week I will follow up with tips for interviews and internships. Do you agree with my advice? Do you have other suggestions or are there critical tips I neglected to provide? Please post your tips, too!

Top Five Resume Tips

1. Use action verbs to highlight the transferable skills you have developed. All law schools and legal employers appreciate applicants who can explain how they did the following: edited, drafted, managed, organized, researched, led, persuaded, counseled, taught, assessed, and tutored.

2. Provide detailed content-the key to an effective resume. For example, if you worked as a paralegal, "Conducted legal research, edited briefs, and organized case files" is much more powerful than "Assisted attorneys with case management." In fact, don't use "Assist"-that word is very vague, and can mean anything from "helped attorney write memoranda" to "got coffee for partners."

3. Highlight volunteer activities. These are just as-or more!-meaningful as paid jobs at this stage in many applicants' and students' lives.

4. Value quality over quantity. If possible, demonstrate a long-term commitment to a limited number of meaningful activities (regular volunteer work, leadership roles, increasing responsibility) instead of providing a list of memberships that require no active involvement.

5. Proofread, edit, proofread, edit! Print out your resume for a hard-copy edit, and make sure that at least one other person proofreads it as well.

Top Five Cover Letter Tips

Your cover letter is the first writing sample an employer will see, so thoughtful writing and careful editing are critical. 

1. Explain why you want this job. Do not use a generic letter for which you cut-and-paste the employer's name.

2. Carefully read the employers' job description and website so you can address specifically why you are a strong candidate for the position.

3. Do not repeat your resume by listing all of your prior experiences in paragraph form. Instead, highlight a few experiences and explain how they are relevant to this job application. Provide specific examples to back up your claims of certain skills.

4. Convey confidence but not arrogance.

5. Address the letter to a specific individual if at all possible, rather than "To Whom It May Concern."

See more on cover letters here


Nicole Vikan is a graduate of NYU Law School. She spent her first law school summer at a large law firm, and her second summer in the Homicide Investigation Unit at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. She returned to the District Attorney's Office after graduation and spent five years as a criminal prosecutor, handling cases such as robbery and assault. Nicole then joined Fordham Law School's Career Planning Center, where she advised students seeking employment in the private and public sectors. She is currently a career counselor at Georgetown Law Center's Office of Public Interest and Community Service. As part of the Anna Ivey team, Nicole works with law school applicants and people exploring legal careers.