Most students come to law school without any real legal experience. While many have worked, their experiences range from positions in retail and restaurants to the military or general administrative work. This leaves their résumés looking rather light on the type of experience legal employers are looking for.
Before you know it, you find yourself in that unnerving “chicken-or-the-egg scenario”: you need experience to get a job—but you need a job to get experience.
Don’t fret. When you’re looking for internships, externships, clerkships, and other hands-on positions in law school, you can still impress employers. Here’s how…
7 professional skills employers are looking for
When you don’t have much (or any) real-world legal experience to add to your résumé, the key is to highlight the more universal skills and experiences you do have. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, there are a handful of “transferable” professional skills that are in demand across all majors and degrees. Here are the seven most relevant to law students:
- Ability to communicate with people inside and outside an organization
- Ability to work in a team structure
- Ability to make decisions and solve problems
- Ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work
- Ability to obtain and process information
- Ability to create and/or edit written reports
- Ability to influence others
While you will gain core legal skills in law school, such as conducting legal research, drafting memoranda, reviewing contracts, preparing trial materials, and so on, you can also highlight your non-legal work experience by framing it in the context of these seven professional skills.
How to frame your non-legal experience (with examples)
Start by using the following format to write your non-legal work experience on your résumé:
Action verb + responsibility or duty + explanation of how, why, or result
Remember: you never want to just list your general responsibilities in your job, because that is not enough information to make your résumé stand out. (It’s probably not enough to convey your readiness for a legal job either.)
On your law school résumé, you want to tell people what you did and why. You might even look at the official job description from your last job to help you get started. Job descriptions can be incredibly helpful in putting together your résumé because they’re written in a way that makes it easy to translate your experiences into a language that employers are used to reading. From there you will have to add your own details about how you tended to your responsibilities, why you did them, and what results you achieved.
Example: If you worked as an administrative assistant for a real estate company and you helped manage their apartment listings, rather than list on your résumé:
- Helped manage apartment listings
You could write:
- Managed apartment listings by collecting and organizing new listings from agents and posting them to company website to increase website traffic.
Example: If you were the lead counselor at a summer camp, rather than list on your résumé:
- Responsible for thirty campers and organized daily activities.
You could break it up into several lines providing a more detailed and impressive picture of your job experience:
- Managed a team of six counselors who oversaw the well-being and safety of thirty daily campers.
- Organized educational and athletic activities on camp grounds as well as day trips to museums and farms.
- Communicated effectively with parents regarding sensitive issues such as disruptive behavior.
The possibilities are endless based on how you frame your work experience. You can now effectively communicate your valuable work experience to employers in the legal field. All you have to do is highlight the right skills in the right way!
Mo Chanmugham is a career coach and the former Senior Associate Director of Career Services at New England Law | Boston.
Ready to fill your résumé with real-world legal work? Explore experiential learning opportunities for law students.