Crafting your law school resume can feel incredibly daunting… but it doesn’t have to be! What should I put in it? Exactly how long should it be? (one-page-or-bust or three-page-novella!?) Can I just regurgitate my employment resume? Before obsessing over the details, it’s important to take a step back and think about what your resume is. Why do law schools want one in the first place?
Admissions officers sort through stacks and stacks of applications looking for students to admit. As one of thousands of sheets of paper, your aim is stand out. Be memorable. Just like your personal statement, your resume is another opportunity for you to show admissions officers why you’re a great fit for their school, separating yourself from the rest of the pack. Think of it like a classic elevator pitch: highlight the most compelling aspects of your academic/professional career, without beating admissions officers over the head with too much detail.
How long should that be? Get the old one-page-or-bust mentality out of your head -- what’s true of professional resumes, doesn’t always apply to the law school resume. On the other hand, resist the temptation to push your resume over three pages. In our experience exact length can really vary based on the applicant, though it’s rare that a resume really warrants exceeding two pages. So what do you put on there?
First, remember that admissions officers aren’t computers. With thousands of apps to tackle, they can’t read every single line with a fine-toothed comb (though they do have a keen eye for typos!). Resist the temptation to pack in every single thing you’ve done in your life. If your resume is diluted with a litany of mediocre experiences, it can take focus away from experiences that would otherwise stand out to admissions officers. Therefore, paradoxically, listing too many items can actually make the entire resume feel weaker, with your best experiences getting lost in a sea of details. Impress them quality, don’t overwhelm with quantity.
Second, law schools are looking for people capable of efficiency and concision. On the LSAT, you’re tasked with taking note of the most salient details (see, for example, our blog on Reading Comprehension). The same is true in the law. Legal writing is all about brevity -- getting your argument across in as little space as possible and honing in on the most important information. A long legal brief is often weaker than one that gets across the same points in fewer pages. A shorter, tighter, more focused resume shows a capacity to do that and also often creates a more compelling pitch for your candidacy.
What does that mean in practice? List out all of your experiences, and think critically. Ask yourself, what does this experience indicate? How important was it to me? Sort your experiences by importance and meaning. Think carefully about whether each experience actually adds anything to the resume or just creates more for the admissions officer to sift through. If that list is full of truly compelling experiences, don’t be afraid to include them, even if it means spilling well into page two. But remember, your resume is a mini argument about why you should be admitted to their law school -- keep it strong, keep it concise.
Finally, make sure to research the schools you’re applying to and pay close attention to what the individual law schools say about how long a resume should be, or what they’re looking for. If a school says keep it to a page, then make sure you submit a shortened, one-page version. If, like the University of Chicago School of Law, they emphasize adding more detail, then submit a longer version, if you ended omitting a few entries on your list of ‘awesome things I’ve done’ (but don’t start adding in mediocre details, just because a school indicates three pages is fine).
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