Monday, July 5, 2010

A Present from Esq, Never: Resume Advice for the J.D. Looking for a Non-Legal Position


After reading the title, some of you may think to yourselves that this "gift" is the equivalent of receiving tube socks for Christmas. After all, aren't "resume tips" a dime a dozen on internet?

Others may contend, "Right, Esq. Never. Why on earth would anyone take advice from you - a man who has frequently complained that he couldn't even buy a job since this blog began?"

Well, fair enough, but let me try to respond. As to the first point, it's true that virtually everything from to pay-per-click ad based "filler" sites host content regurgitating the same basic advice for preparing a resume. In my case, however, I'm offering advice that's specifically tailored to those with J.D.'s, who are looking for non-legal jobs.

As to the second point, it's also true that I've struggled to find employment. However, within the past month or so, I've had three "waves" where I've submitted my resume via job listing sites (probably no more than ten submissions per "wave"), and I have received an interview for a substantive position each time. (Though the interview wasn't always substantive.)

I also met a recruiter at a job fair who practically begged me to apply for an analyst position based entirely on my resume. (I declined because I am not currently in the position to relocate.) Finally, I'm on track to actually be gainfully employed (see my last post) also largely due to my resume.

Now, maybe the economy is getting better. Maybe I, at least, live in a part of the country where the economy is improving. I don't know. It's certainly possible that more is at play here than my resume, but my improved fortunes in terms of receiving interest in my resume began when I made some improvements to it - thanks to some advice I received from a free resume critique at a job fair.

At the very least, my resume isn't seriously flawed, and I want to take the time to help out others who have faced the same struggles I have.

Preliminary Points

Before proceeding, here are some caveats. The university to which my law school is attached is pretty well regarded in the region in which I live. I had a reasonably practical major - economics via my undergrad school's business school. I worked for two years in a substantive position before law school, and I have pretty well developed computer skills.

The good news for those of you liberal arts majors who went to law school right out of undergrad and can barely do anything more than check your e-mail and update your Facebook status on your computers is that I think a good resume can still compensate for limited practical skills.

After all, I'm not really a specialist in anything. Economics requires good math skills and a logical thought process, but I highly doubt that any job will ever require me to calculate the optimal price for a firm to charge in a monopoly market.

Moreover, while I had a solid, white collar job before law school, I was sort of a jack of all trades - I really didn't have a specific position like being a financial analyst or a programmer. Finally, while I have solid computer skills, there really isn't an area or relevant piece of software over which I have mastery.

Therefore, nobody was really going to hire me because I brought a specific skill set to the table.

What Not to Do

With that out of the way, let's focus on how to write an appropriate resume.

At the risk of sounding like some insipid career adviser guru, it's important to remember that your resume really is a sales pitch. Okay, if I heard some CSO slug say the same thing, I'd probably roll my eyes too, but it's true.

Aside from your cover letter (which is usually essential), it's pretty much what every employer is going to use to judge you. It's an advertisement for your "employee services", and it needs to tell your prospective employer why he should shell out tens of thousand of dollars for those services by way of salary, benefits, and taxes. (Particularly because you have so many competitors).

Now, don't take this analogy too far. Your resume should still be pretty conservative even though it's an "advertisement". Use of graphics and other gimmicks should be saved only for the most creative marketing and related jobs.

What you don't want to do, however, is hand in some plain resume that contains only the most basic information about your background. Unless you have a background that immediately is going to catch somebody's attention (e.g. 4.0 GPA in CS from MIT), then you can't get away with this.

If your resume just states your contact information, where you went to undergrad and law school, and that you worked a couple summers at the Olive Garden, your phone isn't exactly going to be ringing off the hook.

Aside from having a "non-sales pitch" resume, the biggest mistake a J.D. can make in applying for non-legal jobs is using his legal resume to pull this off. Nothing says, "I'm just settling for applying to work for your business because I can't find an attorney position," like submitting a resume better suited for a law firm than the business to which you're applying.

CSO's usually advises students to create a resume with this format:


Law School: GPA (if good); Honors; Co-Curricular Activities (Journal/Moot Court); Other Activities

Undergrad: GPA (if good); Honors; Activities


Most Recent Legal Internship to Least Recent: Bullet points based upon tasks performed

Pre-Law Work Experience and Any Relevant or Impressive Internships

Additional Skills
CLE's/Other Practical Experience Interests

This may work well when applying for attorney positions, but it's not going to work for other jobs. Some of you may be thinking, "No kidding, Esq. Never", but I'm not sure if it's quite that axiomatic.

After all, if you're apply for both attorney and non-attorney positions, it can be very tempting to submit the same resume for each. Some people who haven't applied for non-legal positions before may not even have experience using a non-attorney resume. Also, there is a certain logic to using this resume for non-legal positions: Ostensibly, it does tell an employer that you're well educated, intelligent, and that you've spent the last few years working intellectually demanding jobs.

The problem is, as mentioned, that it tells employers that you're really only suited to be an attorney and are not a good fit for the non-attorney positions to which you're applying (particularly entry level positions).

Professional Summary

So what should you do? Well, obviously, I'm not an expert, but let me go through the categories I used on my resume that helped me improve my job search fortunes.

A great way to market yourself is to provide your prospective employer with a brief introduction to your resume. When employers have to sift through reams and reams of bullet point laden resumes, anything that can help focus your "sales pitch" is going to give you an advantage.

First, give your professional summary a title that will grab the reader's attention. If you're a computer programmer, it would be something like:

Computer Programmer with 7 Years Experience Developing Software in Java and C++

If you don't have a specific field in mind, then use a broad term and highlight some aspects of your skill set. For example:

Entry Level Professional with Strong Writing and Editing Skills


Business Professional with Excellent Quantitative and Computer Skills

After writing your title, you should then include your professional summary in paragraph or bullet point form. (I recommend a paragraph format, so it stand outs.) Use three or four sentences to summarize your background. Make it sound professional and objective. Do not use personal pronouns.

Sentence 1: Hit the best points from your previous work experience.

Example: Two years as a researcher using VB script and Access databases to organize, calculate, and report data.

Sentence 2 (optional): Additional highlights from your professional work experience.

Sentence 2/3: Undergraduate education - Can substitute additional explanation of work experience if more relevant than undergrad degree.

Example: Graduated from well ranked communications program that emphasized public relations coursework and concise writing skills.

Sentence 3/4: Addressing the J.D. It's going to come up at some point. This is your chance to take "the question" head on and try to explain why you pursued a J.D. even though you don't want to be a lawyer.

Example: Recently received a J.D. [don't say law degree] for the purpose of enhancing [insert skill set here, e.g. analytical skills, writing skills, communication skills, ability to be a heartless parasite (j/k), etc.]


Now that you've given a summary of your background, it's time to get into the "meat" of your resume. How you approach the divisions within this section depends what type of experience you have.

What you want to do is try to emphasize the non-legal skills you have acquired while downplaying your legal acumen. This can be tricky if most of your work experience is legally related. (If you were a paralegal for three years before law school and then had a bunch of legal internships, I don't know what to tell you.)

Also note, we're including experience BEFORE education in order to help to downplay the law degree.

There are three ways I would recommend dividing this section depending on your experience.

If all you have is legal experience, then you really have no choice, start with your most recent legal position and list them all (see next session for some caveats) under the heading "Experience".

If you have some non-legal experience, but they're only internships or part time jobs, you should divide this section into two parts. The first part should be called something like "Business Experience" or whatever best describes your non-legal experience. You should list this experience chronologically.

The second section should be labeled as something such as "Recent Internship Experience" or "Other Experience". This allows you to chronologically list your legal internship experience while drawing more attention to your non-legal (and with any luck, more relevant) experience while still highlighting important aspects from your legal internships.

For those who were fortunate enough to have worked in a full time position prior to law school, you should divide the "Experience" section into two sections "Professional Experience" and "Internship Experience" both under the larger banner "Experience". This, once again, allows you to draw more attention to previous work experience than your legal experience.

Improving the "Experience" Section

The order in which your work experience appears is important, but there's more you can do to help emphasize your non-legal attributes and downplay (but still receive credit for) your legal background.

Chronology: There is such thing as a "functional resume". That is, a resume that emphasizes skills rather employment history. This may be a tactic some of you can use, but from what I've heard this will confuse if not annoy employers. If you're taking steps to conceal when and where you worked, employers may assume the worst and not consider your resume.

The reason why we're dividing the "Experience" section into subsections is because it allows you to maintain a chronological resume while still emphasizing your non-legal experience prior to your legal experience.

Detail: This is pretty standard resume advice, but don't just list the tasks you performed. Give details about the assignments you were responsible for and emphasize your achievements.


Awarded 2006 salesperson of the year for most B2B sales in department amounting to over 20% of company's revenue

instead of...

Successfully engaged in B2B sales

If you want anymore advice on this type of writing, most resume assistance sites/books should be able to give you additional information.

Emphasize Non-Legal/Transferable Skills: You need to be careful when explaining the tasks you performed for legal employers. If you worked for an administrative office, a non-profit, a company, or a judge during law school, that's good. It will be easier to spin your experience.

If you worked for a law firm or anything that put you into a courtroom (i.e. a DA or PD internship), you may want to reconsider including this experience. It may be something to mention in an interview (e.g. "I can handle stressful situations thanks to arguing for indigent clients in municipal court."), but try to not confuse a prospective employer.

Skills to Emphasize:
-Writing - particularly getting something published
-Research - particularly computer and on-line research
-Managing projects
-Meeting and speaking with clients

Skills that are Generally Irrelevant:
-Court room observation
-Filling out legal forms
-Arguing/Appearing in court
-Taking depositions


Education should be a chronological listing of the institutions from which you've received your degrees. Usually, this will be your law school and undergrad school though some of you may have a masters in between.

There is still, however, work to do in this section to "de-attorney-ize" your resume.

Law School: I recommend just using the name of the university, noting your J.D., the year it was received and then moving. Listing an impressive GPA (but not class rank) is okay, but nobody cares about Order of the Coif, Law Review, Moot Court, or any of that other garbage in the real world. Also, don't mention that you are licensed to practice law. "Just the facts" and then move on.


TTT University
, Anchorage, AK, J.D., awarded May 2010

Following this, you should list your undergraduate degree in a similar format, but this time do everything you can to emphasize your achievements and degree.

Things to include:
-Major (particularly if it's a practical major)
-Good GPA
-Honors (Latin Honors, Honors Program, Honors Societies, etc.)
-Activities (particularly if you were an officer or leader)
-Relevant courses (computer courses, writing courses, math/quantitative courses, business/finance courses, etc.)

If You Have Room
If you have additional space, you should add any other skills (particularly computer/software skills) you have, volunteer experience, and/or your (appropriate) personal interests and hobbies.

So There You Have It

I'm going to provide you with a sample resume at the end of this post, but this is pretty much the format I used. Am I full of baloney? Maybe, but this formula helped me.

If I don't know what I'm talking about, well, at least you didn't have to pay for this advice. Nevertheless, I sincerely want to help everyone else who is going through this ordeal. Feel free to modify this format as you'd like. There's no magic bullet, but I hope others will see some success as well. Let me know if you think it's useful.

(Look for Part II: More Esq. Never Advice: Cover Letters and Where to Apply)


Ralph Marley
123 Document Review Purgatory -555-5555 -

Experienced Sales Professional with Ten Years Business to Business Sales Experience

Ten years as B2B sales professional for fifth largest software vendor in the state. Received multiple awards for outstanding sales performance. Graduate of ABC University with major in communications that offered practical curriculum in client interaction and business writing. Recently received a J.D. for the purpose of enhancing client assistance and presentation skills.


Professional Experience

Software Company, Anchorage, Alaska, Senior B2B Sales Representative (1997-2007)

-Awarded Salesperson of the year award from 2000 - 2006 for generating the most sales for the company
-Frequently made sales presentations to top business executives that resulted in a successful sale more than 70 percent of the time

Internship Experience
County Office of Revenue, Anchorage, Alaska, Clerk (Summer 2009)
-[Sorry, too lazy to come up with some non-legal spin for a legal job]

Hon. Judge Steven, Anchorage, Alaska (Summer 2008)


TTT University, Anchorage, Alaska, JD, awarded May 2010

ABC University, XYZ School of Communications, Honolulu, Hawaii
BA in Communications, awarded May 1995

Honors: Dean's List, Communications Honors Society
Activities: Assistant Editor, ABC Newspaper

Relevant Courses: Public Relations, Marketing and Advanced Marketing, Web Design

Additional Skills: Quark Publishing, Powerpoint, Adobe Photoshop, Dreamweaver

Activities/Hobbies: Public Speaking Society, Volunteering at Dog Kennel, Amateur Photography


  1. Thank you so much for your tips!

  2. "Recently received a J.D. for the purpose of enhancing client assistance and presentation skills."

    If I saw this on a resume, all I'd think is, "What a maroon! Who spends three years and six figures getting a professional degree to enhance his ability to work in a completely different field?" I know you have to address the J.D. somehow - I don't think this is the way. And I wouldn't assume that employers don't know enough about a law degree to see through this. With the numbers of J.D.s being graduated every year, who in the United States doesn't know at least one unemployed lawyer who bitches about the wasted three years and the loan debt?

  3. Awesome tips! Thanks so much!

  4. That professional summary thing is great. I am going to add it to my non-legal resumes ASAP. I believe that is what most of us have been missing.

  5. If you have an impressive class rank, why not put that down?

    Even the most oblivious employers will likely know that law school are notoriously competitive. It certainly wouldn't hurt.

    (I can understand the rationale for not offering that you're in the top 50%.)

  6. Thanks a ton, Esq. Never--this is the kind of practical advice that those of us trying to escape this hellhole of a "profession" need!

  7. 10:19 - I agree that plenty of employers will dismiss this, but those employers will likely drop a resume with a JD regardless. From my personal experience, some employers will accept that a JD is versatile - if you take the initiative to explain it. I'm, of course, open to more artful methods of explaining it away.

    12:41 - My concern about listing the class rank is because it can draw more attention to the JD. Do other schools really keep official rank? You don't want your reference to your JD to stand out from your undegrad degree.

    Nevertheless, I doubt this will make a big difference either way.

  8. "From my personal experience, some employers will accept that a JD is versatile - if you take the initiative to explain it. I'm, of course, open to more artful methods of explaining it away."

    10:19 here. I agree completely with the first sentence quoted; your experience accords with mine. The phrase I take issue with in the sample resume is "recently received a JD for the purpose of ..." because it makes the candidate sound either like a liar or an idiot. No one puts himself through the meatgrinder of law school *in order to* pursue a job in a non-legal field.

    Yes, put the JD on the resume and add something about your analytical or writing or public speaking skills or whatever you developed in law school that's relevant to the job you're seeking.

    If the employer's close-minded about JDs, you won't get an interview anyway. If the employer's open-minded and calls you for an interview, don't even address the JD until you're asked (and of course you will be) why you're not practicing law.

    Then either go the route of relative honesty ("It was the right decision when I started but by the time I graduated we were deep in a recession and field was saturated") or tell a better lie ("I enjoyed law school and did well but by my second year I realized that actually practicing wasn't for me; I finished the degree because I had only one year to go and it's a useful degree for many different jobs - such as this one" and then segue off law school and make your pitch for why you're the right person for this non-legal position).

  9. This kind of information is very limited on the internet. Nice to find the post related to my searching criteria. You write your articles very well.

  10. Esq.,

    If your JD is listed, then it'll automatically draw the employer's attention. At this point, I would think the employer would question exactly why you aren't going after a legal job.

    Listing a good class rank at least gives the employer reason to believe that you at least could practice law... though perhaps GPA could achieve the same. (My school gives the exact rank out of X students.)

    A loyal reader (and 3L),


  11. Esq.,

    The sample resume will benefit those with law degrees seeking employment in non-law fields as well as those without a law degree but an undergraduate degree who are facing the dark star equivalent of the void known as resume databases.


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