The unprecedented demand for lateral associates over the past year is reaching a crescendo: with year-end reviews and bonus distributions out of the way, peak lateral associate hiring season is upon us. There is no better time to craft and refine your resume for maximum marketability in a competitive lateral applicant pool. At Lateral Link, we constantly engage with associate resumes and are well attuned to the most common areas for improvement.
Your resume is one element in the lateral hiring process over which you have complete control. While there is no one-size-fits-all model for drafting an exemplary resume, implementing some best practices can help enhance your candidacy and set the tone for a positive interview process.
Structuring Your Resume
Keep in mind that firms focus on three main factors when reviewing lateral associate resumes and extending interview invitations: (1) law school ranking and academic performance; (2) the reputability and practice sophistication of the associate’s current firm; and (3) having the level of experience needed to fill the associate role. In addition, firms consider elements such as diversity, firm committee involvement, pro-bono work, and leadership roles in bar associations and community organizations.
The two most important sections are Experience and Education. The optimal order of these sections depends on your tenure. For junior associates with academic credentials at least as strong as the prestige of your current firm, beginning with the education section is customary. At the junior level, your academic performance matters more to firms, and you will also have less law firm experience to describe. If you are a junior associate who attended a lower-ranked law school or attained a mediocre GPA, but you work at a prestigious firm, it is better to lead with your experience section. You may also consider beginning with your experience section if you have more experience than would be typical for your year level (e.g., a corporate associate with substantial ancillary document drafting experience or a litigation associate with motion practice or deposition experience). Leading with your experience section in this context can be particularly helpful if you are applying for a position where you may be just under the targeted year level.
For mid-level and senior associates (i.e., third-year level and up), firms will generally expect you to lead with your experience section, demonstrating core practitioner skills and establishing that you will be able to hit the ground running. Firms typically also expect a deal-sheet for corporate transactional associates when they reach their third year of practice.
After your experience and education sections, you should include your bar admissions (if relocating, you can include a brief explanatory statement about your bar admission status or bar eligibility in the state of the firm’s office). You can also include positions held in bar associations as well as involvement in community and philanthropic organizations. For associates with a significant gap between college and law school, it is helpful to include your work experience during these years. Showcasing this experience can be especially helpful for IP associates who were engineers prior to attending law school. It is appropriate to include interests or hobbies outside of work, as this can help make an associate more relatable in the interview process.
Either one or two pages is an acceptable length. However, if your resume is two pages, it is critical that there be some content relevant to practicing law on the second page. Do not devote a second page only to interests or hobbies.
The education section, and specifically your law school section, should highlight honors such as cum laude, magna cum laude, with Honors, with Distinction, and Order of the Coif. I recommend including your law school GPA if it is at least 3.3. While most firms will have your law school transcript, attorneys briefly reviewing your resume may assume your GPA is low if you do not list it. Class rank is helpful to include only if you are in the top 20% of your class. Law review membership is the most valued law school credential after academic performance. Editorial positions and membership on primary or other law reviews should be highlighted. It is also helpful to include positions and membership in student organizations, such as the Student Bar Association and diversity affinity groups. Finally, while I do not see this mistake frequently, I see it often enough to mention — your degree is a “Juris Doctor,” not a “Juris Doctorate.”
Firms are less focused on undergraduate academic performance and do not typically expect you to include your GPA. For most majors, you should only include a GPA of 3.5 or higher. However, IP associates with hard science majors should include their GPA if it is at least 3.3, as firms look closer at candidates’ college grades for patent prosecution and IP litigation positions. Note that for consistency, if you are not including your law school GPA, you should not include your undergraduate GPA.
The law firm experience section of your resume should effectively demonstrate substantive experience handling sophisticated matters in your practice area. It is essential to provide details regarding both the types of matters you have worked on and, importantly, your specific role and the assignments you completed for the transactions or cases. Law firms want to know what types of assignments prospective associates can handle from day one. In reviewing associate resumes, I often see initial drafts containing general practice descriptions, such as: “Represent and advise clients on a range of M&A, private equity, and other corporate transactions.” An improvement of this description will encompass more pertinent details on the client base, types of transactions, and deal-size range, such as: “Represent private equity sponsors and public and privately held corporate clients on complex transactions ranging from $100 million to $10 billion in deal value, including mergers and acquisitions, leveraged buyouts, divestitures, growth equity investments, joint ventures, and other corporate matters.”
Litigation associates should similarly describe their practice in detail. An example of a compelling introductory bullet point for a litigation associate: “Represent public and privately-held companies and shareholders in federal and state court in connection with a variety of litigation matters, including litigation under federal securities and commodities laws, class action defense, breach of contract and restrictive covenants, breach of fiduciary duty, media and defamation law, and other complex commercial litigation.”
Following an initial practice overview bullet point, it is vital to detail specific functions you performed on matters and the types of work product that you completed. In describing your work, remember that corporate transactional practice groups appreciate document drafting and negotiation experience more than due diligence. Thus, the second experience bullet point should specify the types of transactional documents you have drafted, prioritizing primary documents over ancillary ones. Litigation associates should lead with deposition, trial, and motion practice experience over document review and written discovery.
The law firm experience section should also contain involvement in firm committees and other initiatives, such as summer associate recruiting, diversity and inclusion affinity groups, and pro bono work. Including committee positions and participation demonstrates leadership qualities, good corporate citizenship, shared DEI values, and being well-regarded at your current firm.
Be sure to consistently use present tense for your current position and past tense for previous positions. Additionally, while not major issue, if listing a series of matters or types of work product, there is a slight preference for using a serial/Oxford comma. The most important thing is to be consistent.
Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. This post is by Jesse Hyde, a Senior Director based in the Chicago office, where he oversees attorney placements and client services in Chicago and throughout the Midwest. He specializes in placing associates, partners, and in-house counsel with leading Am Law 100 and 200 law firms and premier corporations. With a proven successful track record, Jesse advises attorneys, law firms, and companies through all stages of the recruitment and hiring process to effectively reach their objectives. Jesse received his J.D. from Loyola University Chicago School of Law where he was on the Dean’s List and a Member of the Loyola University Chicago Law Journal. Jesse received his B.A. from the University of Michigan and majored in history. Before recruiting, he practiced as a commercial litigation attorney with a Chicago-based law firm for four years.
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