Making a strong first impression can seem difficult, especially for fresh graduates. More often than not, an employer’s first impression will come from reviewing your CV.
In partnership with Lawyer Monthly, Joanne Startup MCIPD, HR Business Partner at Langleys Solicitors, describes the most important elements a law firm recruiter will look for when reading a CV and how a prospective applicant can put their best foot forward.
There is a range of different employment opportunities within the legal sector, and while they may vastly differ from one another, most positions will require the submission of a CV.
It is also imperative to remember that your CV will be your first introduction to a law firm and therefore your first opportunity to make yourself known and set yourself apart from other candidates. Additionally, a key aspect of working in the legal profession is written communication, and this is your time to showcase your capabilities.
General Rules For Your CV
Firstly, familiarise yourself with what the law firm is specifically looking for, and then at each stage ensure you are demonstrating these desired skills. Don’t forget there are many core skills that all firm’s would love to see, such as those relating to customer service, problem solving and prioritisation, so these are a great place to start.
Secondly, always be honest. Don’t make the mistake of putting anything in your CV that you can’t back up at an interview. Finally, presentation matters. Ensure you have a professional format; keep it concise, relevant and focused and check, re-check and check again for spelling or grammatical errors.
Although it is important to stand out, your CV should follow a basic structure to ensure you are including all relevant information.
Personal details – Make sure to include your personal information at the top of your CV, including your name, address, telephone number and email address. Apart from this, it is unnecessary to include any further personal details.
Education and qualifications – Starting in reverse chronological order, include all relevant educational information and qualifications, including both A-level and GCSE results, although the latter can be summarised. For each qualification, add either a received or predicted grade, otherwise an employer may assume it was a low grade.
While it is not necessary to include all taken modules, it may be worth including any specific highlights as long as there is clear relevancy. If you have any mitigating factors then you may wish to include them, especially where they impact on an entry requirement for the role you are applying to.
Legal work experience – Including relevant work experience within your CV is a great way to demonstrate an interest in the legal profession. Ideal experiences include shadowing of a lawyer, work experience placements, previous employment, sitting in court etc. Experience gained during your education can also be relevant. For example, many law graduates will have chosen to work within their universities’ legal clinics.
You should also indicate the duration and the date of the experience, and specific examples of the work you did while there, especially if it demonstrates skills that are specific to the role such as research, drafting of legal documents or taking client instructions. Additionally, it is a way to show the development and refinement of key skills over time, using active verbs to describe the skills e.g. ‘I researched the up-to-date case law surrounding a key legal issue in making an application for judicial review’.
Additional work experience – Don’t undervalue your non-legal work experience, it is a great way to showcase key transferable skills including adaptability to new and high-pressure environments. Law firms will be looking for a wide range of attributes that can be illustrated through varied experiences. When describing the key tasks you undertook, link it back to a skill that would be relevant to the position. For example, ‘worked on customer service desk’ could become ‘delivered exceptional customer service at all times and successfully resolved customer complaints’.
Positions of responsibility – If you have any relevant experience being in a position of responsibility such as evidence of teamwork, leadership, motivation etc, then it’s important to include this. You could use examples from study, work or leisure that illustrate you are trusted, reliable and confident to step forward and do more than is required. Examples could include captain of a sports team, or secretary or president of a university society.
Additional skills – Listing your skills will be sufficient (driving licence, languages, coaching courses etc), although where relevant, list specifics. For example, when listing IT skills, mention which programmes (e.g. Westlaw, Lexus Nexus).
Other interests – Limit this section to a few interests where you demonstrate that you are able to commit to developing yourself over a period of time. Make sure to indicate the level and duration of your involvement, and in team activities, emphasise your contribution (e.g. captain of the netball team).
Referees – While most organisations will request these separately, you should ideally provide one professional and one work-related or academic reference. Include their full title, relationship to you and their contact details.
Key Tips To Stand Out
Highlighting excellent customer service experience can set you apart, as a key skill for any legal professional is being able to engage with and build relationships with clients. Fully consider the transferable skills you have demonstrated in different opportunities.
For example, getting involved in charity work might involve fundraising and networking, and many of these skills directly translate to those you will need to develop as a solicitor. Indicate any scenarios where you have stepped up and taken on ‘something extra’ such as voluntary/charity work.
The legal profession is continuing to expand as more people enter through non-traditional routes. While law firms like Langleys recruit graduates on an annual basis, they are also open to more than those that have taken a direct and traditional career pathway. Skills acquired from other professions can be easily transferred, and we would encourage those with communication, team working, problem-solving and research skills to consider a job in the legal sector.
The staff at Langleys are drawn from a wide range of backgrounds and circumstances. It is this diversity which has played a key role in our ongoing success. Having a broad range of expertise we can draw on strengthens the whole of our company.
A prime example of this is Sally Cottam, who joined Langleys following a successful career as a conveyancer spanning over 20 years. The skillset she acquired through working in conveyancing, including strong communication abilities, people management and problem-solving meant she has had a quick progression once entering the legal field.
She continues to bring her unique expertise and perspective to our leadership team. Talking about her career change, Sally said: “Many firms, including Langleys and Home Property Lawyers, will support you in working towards qualifications. There is a clear progression path for those that want it.”