When I am advising a law student about how to write a CV for law, one of the first things I usually say is “remember, first and foremost, the person reading your CV is a human being!” This may sound obvious but what I mean is this; when you break it down, what you’re really trying to do is to make YOU sound as interesting as you can so that another person wants to find out more about YOU. But what about the dreaded “law” part I hear you cry? I know! I’ve been there! But all that really means is looking at all the interesting things you’ve noted down about yourself, and picking the ones that are most relevant to the law firm you are applying to.
Of course there are some basic guidelines to help you get started!
What should you include in your legal CV?
Your legal CV should follow this general structure:
- Personal details – At the top of the page, include important details such as your name, address, email (a sensible one please!) and telephone number
- Education and qualifications – List your degree, A-levels and GCSEs; when discussing your degree, mention the areas of law that you are studying while at university and state your dissertation title if applicable
- Work experience – Chronologically profile your work history starting with your most recent experience first, including the organisation you worked for and its location, plus your job title. Describe your key tasks and responsibilities. You could separate your work experience into different categories, such as legal, commercial and voluntary; use your law work experience to demonstrate your passion for a career in the field, and your part-time work to exhibit your transferable skills such as commercial awareness, team-work etc.
- IT and language skills – Outline your level of proficiency with relevant software packages such as Microsoft Word and Excel, and mention any additional languages that you speak
- Activities and interests – Avoid listing passive hobbies such as reading or listening to music. Instead, discuss your involvement in sporting teams and other organisations, highlighting any positions of responsibility you’ve held or awards you’ve gained
- Referees – You don’t necessarily need to give references at this stage; stating ‘references available on request’ will usually suffice
With me so far? Good. Even if you just have the bare bones of each section down, it’s a good starting point. You can edit and refine the information later but it’s better to have something on paper that can be worked on
Some General Tips
With all that said, there are some general tips that apply to the whole of the CV. We can certainly say that your CV will have more chance of success if it is:
- Easy to read – important information can be easily and quickly found
- Professional in appearance – correct spelling and grammar, professional font, good quality paper
- Does it pass the ’30 second’ test? i.e. can the contents be digested and understood in this time (the average time a recruiter will spend looking at a CV).
- Concise – experiences bullet-pointed and 2 sides of A4
- Interesting – see above!
- Targeted – see below!
Targeting your CV
Tailoring your CV for every application does take a bit of extra time and effort, but it will pay off as each application you make will be of a high standard and increase your chances of getting shortlisted for interviews. CV tailoring doesn’t mean you have to re-write your entire CV for every application. Tailoring your CV is about understanding which of your qualities are most important to a particular firm; and adjusting your CV to make them prominent to that particular recruiter. Using the following steps, you can tailor your CV to ensure that it has maximum appeal to every firm you send it to:
- Read the entire job advert/firm detail
- Take some time to really understand the job requirements and the firm you are applying to. Imagine you were the recruiter for this firm and reading your CV for the first time… does it match up with what they have said they are looking for
- Before you apply, ask yourself; can I immediately see the key requirements for the role/firm on my CV? If not, then you will need to move some of the information around or add some skills that you’ve left out.
- Be selective with your work experience The first work experience on your CV is very important because it’s the first example of your work that recruiters will see. In most cases you will list your experiences in reverse chronological order, – but you don’t always have to stick to this rule completely. For example, be a bit creative and list a vacation placement/legal work experience or relevant voluntary work at the top of the experience section to make the CV appear more relevant.
Remember, there is no perfect CV! YOU are the expert on YOU so be confident and make a start!
Rachel Vacalopoulos, Senior Careers Consultant