May 06, 2019



Your resume forms the foundation of your job search and is your most powerful self-marketing tool. A careless or poorly prepared resume will cost you an opportunity. To be successful, take the time to ensure that your resume is error-free, tailored to your targeted employer, is limited to one or two pages, and highlights your relevant skills and experience. Make sure you use "civilian" terms when writing your resume and avoid using unexplained acronyms when you are applying for a civilian position.


Before you prepare or revise your resume, conduct a self-evaluation of your experiences and achievements. As a starting point, honestly and thoughtfully respond to the following prompts. Then, use your most impressive experiences and achievements to shape your resume to apply for positions for which you believe are qualified.

  • List your past employment in reverse chronological order. Under each position, briefly describe your most impressive responsibilities and achievements. Quantify the scope of your responsibility and the results of your work when possible. For example, a former "Staff Judge Advocate" might include a bullet that says "supervised 45 attorneys and 35 paraprofessionals providing comprehensive legal support to over 7000 military personnel."

  • List all honors or awards that you received as a professional and while in law school and/or college and the military (academically or otherwise). Consider which honors and awards are especially impressive and relevant to the position you are seeking. Make certain you explain military honors in civilian terms. For example, if you were the Distinguished Graduate from the LL.M. program at The Army Judge Advocate General’s School, you should add "ranked first in class" as a parenthetical.

  • List the skills you learned from your previous employment that would transfer to the job you seek or are applying to. These may change for each position you apply to. Some civilian skills relevant to legal practice that veterans often develop include:
    -Legal research
    -Legal writing
    -Proofreading and editing
    -Oral advocacy
    -Supervising others
    -Case, project, or program management
    -Client interaction
    -Contract negotiation or management
    -Working well under pressure
    -Strategic planning and execution
    -Teaching or training
    -Handling confidential materials
    -Transcription services
    -Check out this military skills translator for more ideas.

  • List any foreign languages you speak fluently or with proficiency.

  • List all organizations to which have belonged, and any leadership positions you have held.

  • List any unusual experiences that may be of interest to a future employer.

  • List any volunteer or community work have you done. In what ways has your involvement with the volunteer organization(s) benefited your professional growth?

  • List any security clearances.

Building the Resume

An employer's first impression of you comes from your cover letter and resume. Your resume should convey your unique qualifications in a clear, succinct, and organized manner. Attempt to limit your resume to one to three pages—especially if you have fewer than five years of work experience. In the event of more extensive experience, you can include a second or third page if necessary to accurately summarize your relevant experience. Proofread your resume carefully, and then ask others to proofread it, to make sure it is error-free. Do not rely on spell-check; even a single typographical or grammatical mistake can cause an employer to reject your application.

Refrain from using resume templates from word processing programs, which typically do not reflect the proper format for a legal resume. The standard legal resume should include the following sections:

Contact information 
This section is your personal letterhead; it contains your name, home address, phone number (with area code), and e-mail address. Your voicemail message should be simple and professional.  Similarly, select an e-mail address that is professional and that you check regularly.  

If you are searching for employment in another city or state, and you have an address in that area (e.g., a family member or significant other’s address), you should include that address in addition to your home address. This will emphasize your ties to the area, and your ability and willingness to relocate.  

The education section of a resume should include your college and/or law school institutions; degrees and awards received; and activities in which you held leadership positions. List any academic honors or distinctions you received, such as Dean's List, cum laude or Phi Beta Kappa. Because they are Latin phrases, magna, summa, and cum laude should always appear in italicized, lower case letters. Be sure to research the academic requirements of the positions to which you apply, and include degree and other information to demonstrate that you meet any such criteria.

At most, include three to five activities and awards; listing too many detracts from the most relevant entries. 

It is not necessary to include your undergraduate grade point average unless it is specifically requested by an employer or not well-reflected in the academic distinctions you list. Law school grades, however, are an important consideration for some employers, especially when considering applicants with fewer years of work experience. While individual employers may vary, some trends exist across certain categories of employers:

  • Large firms. Many of these employers have grade requirements, expect to see GPAs listed on an applicant's resume, and may assume your grades were low if you do not list your GPA or class rank. 
  • Smaller firms and government offices. Some smaller firms and competitive government positions will have grade requirements, while others may not.  Those that do not have grade requirements will balance their consideration of grades against other factors, such as a demonstrated interest in a one of the office’s practice areas or relevant work experience. 
  • Public interest employers. These employers primarily look for sincere commitment to public service and dedication to the populations they serve and issues they address. You can display your public interest commitment by listing current and recent volunteer activities on your resume, even if they focus on different issues than those of potential employers.

If you graduated a number of years ago and feel your work experience is more impressive than your educational background, you can reverse the order of the educational background and work experience sections.

List your past employment in reverse chronological order, going back no more than five jobs or ten to fifteen years. Include the name of the organization for which you worked, your title or position, your dates of employment, your specific responsibilities, and any special accomplishments. Do not change or translate your military job titles to civilian equivalents. Instead, convey information about the nature of your position through the description of your responsibilities, always using clear, civilian terms, and consider adding a similar civilian title as a parenthetical after the military title. For example, if you served as Trial Counsel in the military, you could add "(Prosecutor)" after that title. If you include received a military award for an accomplishment relevant to the position you are seeking, include it, but provide an explanation in civilian terms.

Design your resume to highlight your most significant and relevant experiences for the position or firm to which you are applying. You need not list every job you have held. Be prepared, however, to explain any gaps in your resume.

Your goal in drafting summaries of your experiences is to provide substantive, but concise descriptions that highlight skills and the scope of your prior responsibilities that are relevant to the position you seek. Detailed descriptions are more interesting for the reader, and help to distinguish you from other applicants. Each description should begin with an action verb, but be cognizant of your audience. For instance, stating that you "led a team of 50 people in a high stress environment" may be received better by a civilian law firm considering you for hire than "commanded 50 soldiers in combat." Describe current responsibilities in present tense, and previous experience in past tense. Avoid using personal pronouns (e.g., "I" or "my") and passive voice.

Although most skills relevant to civilian legal practice will be the same across employers, consider changing which responsibilities you highlight to parallel the needs of particular employers.

If you are fluent or conversant in a foreign language, you may create a separate category entitled "Languages" that lists the languages you speak and with what proficiency. Do not overstate your skills, as you may be asked to demonstrate them.

Interests/Affiliations/Published Works
To tell a prospective employer more about who you are, consider listing a few of your personal interests or hobbies, associations you are affiliated with, community involvement, or published works. These can help spark conversation during an interview.

Omit from your resume:
Any "objective" or "summary" section. This is information that can be included in your cover letter, if appropriate.

Computer skills. Generally, these should be omitted. If, however, you are applying for a paralegal position and a prospective employer specifies certain computer skill requirements, you should include them.

References. Prepare your list of references as a separate document. Do not include in your resume a statement that "references are available upon request." Legal employers no longer expect this verbiage.

Cover Letter

Your cover letter serves as your first writing sample and an opportunity to communicate your enthusiasm and professional strengths to a prospective employer. A successful cover letter will capture the attention of the reader in a professional manner, direct the reader to the strongest points of your resume, and persuade the reader to invite you for an interview. Like your resume, your cover letter must be free of typographical and grammatical errors.

Prepare your cover letter using the same "letterhead" as used for your resume, and address it to a specific individual whenever possible. Avoid addressing a letter "to whom it may concern." Be sure that the recipient's name, title and address are correct. The body of your cover letter should consist of three main sections (but should not be labeled as such):

Begin with a brief description of who you are, the purpose of the letter, and the name of the position for which you are applying. Refer to your attached or enclosed resume (and any other materials you included). Tell how you learned about the position or the employer. If someone has referred you, mention that person by name.

Qualifications & Interests 
This section may be one or two paragraphs in length. This section should emphasize your work experiences that are most relevant to the position.  Avoid clichés and rehashing your resume. Instead, expand on your resume with a focus on how your skills meet the employer's needs. Demonstrate that you have done your research and understand the organization. 

Briefly reiterate your interest in the position and passion for the application of your skills. Thank them for their consideration of your candidacy, and let them know that they should feel free to contact you if they require additional information.


Be prepared to provide interested employers with the names and contact information of at least two or three people who can speak substantively about your performance. Before you list someone as a reference, be sure to call them to ask permission, let them know the type of work you are pursuing and provide them with a copy of your most recent resume.

Carefully consider which references you provide to each specific employer, as some references may have insight that is more helpful for one position than for another. If possible, include at least one non-military reference.

Prepare your list of references on a separate page, using the same "letterhead" as used for your resume and cover letter. "References" should be typed in the same format as you typed "Education" on your resume. Then, list the name, title, organization name, address, e-mail address, and telephone number for each reference. Consider including brief notes explaining how you know each reference.

Writing Sample

  • Have a writing sample ready before you start the application process
  • Find one that is a suitable length: 3-5 pages
  • Make sure it is a polished piece. Review/edit for any errors

Formatting Your Application Materials

The visual aesthetics of your application materials are important. Prospective employers may make only a cursory review of newly received materials, looking for something that grabs their attention. Your format should be pleasing to the eye and allow the employer to skim through your education and experience at a glance. Keep some white space on the page to enhance readability, and keep the paragraphs in your cover letter brief (no more than six lines of text).

Submitting Your Application Materials

It is important to follow whatever instructions your targeted employers provide with respect to how to submit your application materials (paper versus electronic). These tips will help you project a professional image through either an electronic or paper application.


If your targeted employer requests that you e-mail your application materials, send them in PDF format (unless the employer specifically requests otherwise). Converting your materials to PDFs will ensure that the materials the employer receives look identical to what you see on your screen—formatting, font, and content are perfectly preserved in PDF format. See these instructions for converting Microsoft Word and WordPerfect documents to PDF.

Include both your last name and the type of document (i.e., resume, writing sample, references) in the filename to facilitate the recipient's ability to store and easily locate the files. Include the name of the employer in the filename for your cover letter to help ensure that you send each prospective employer the correct cover letter. 


If your targeted employer requests that you mail or otherwise submit paper copies of your application materials, print them on good quality bond paper using a laser printer (if your budget allows). Black ink on white or off-white paper is most commonly used. For cohesiveness, print (rather than handwrite) mailing and return address labels to affix to the envelope.