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The “Order of Battle”

Now that you have made a strong first resume impression, your next critical resume decision concerns how you will present the substantive material about yourself. This question encompasses both the order and the manner of presentation.  Your decisions here can make or break your job campaign.

These decisions will not be the same for every attorney.  You will need to determine both (1) the placement of key information, and (2) what you will include in addition to Education and Experience.

Again, the decisions that you make about the order of battle are central to separating yourself from your competitors. Moreover, they tell the employer a great deal about your judgment and organizational skills. Naturally, you want that “subliminal” information to advantage you.

What Comes First: Education or Experience?

This is one of these determinations where it is essential to put yourself in the employer’s shoes.  What would you, were you an employer, want to see first about you?  This is almost always an easy decision if you are a final-year law student or recent grad applying for your first job.  For most of you who fall into these categories, Education would almost always come first.  Your legal work experience is, at this stage of your career, probably limited.  Your legal education is likely to be the most important factor in how you are going to be judged.

But this is not invariably the case.  If you have had extensive, strong, or very interesting work experience prior to or concurrent with law school, or work related to kind of position you seek, you may have to rethink the customary Education-first inclination.

An substantial number of attorneys come from successful careers In other fields―medicine, science, engineering, finance, accounting, real estate, education or elsewhere. If you are one of these, there may be little sense for you to lead your resume with Education.  In your case, it may be more important to begin with your work experience.

You need to balance the significance of your work Experience against your Education.  If you have great work experience, but performed exceptionally well in law school, this may not be a close question.  You would likely still want to put Education first because you want employers to be immediately impressed with your stellar legal academic credentials.  If you were a less-than-outstanding law student, you may want to put your prior or contemporaneous work experience first.

Similarly, if you have great work experience and attended elite schools, but did not shine academically, you still may have more to gain by leading with Education.

If your work experience bolsters your candidacy for the particular position for which you are applying, then Experience in most cases should appear first, before Education.  Say, for example, that you were a licensed funeral director prior to entering law school and are applying to the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection for a position in which you would be participating in enforcing the agency’s Funeral Rule. Your experience overwhelms any consideration regarding the order of battle.  It should come first.

When weighing what should come first against job(s) you seek, do not discount the “intangibles” you developed at work or elsewhere), e.g., “soft” skills such as teaming, multi-tasking, interpersonal communications skills, organizational skills, client development and retention skills, etc.  While not related to the substance of your potential jobs, these are nevertheless skills that any employer would value. If you can capture their essence in your resume, then the positioning decision may tack toward Experience first.


Bar Admission(s)? This information always needs to be included on your resume. If you are not yet a bar member, indicate when you expect to be admitted. If you are awaiting the results of the bar examination, say so. Mentioning this at the end of your Profile is as good a place as any to get this point out of the way.

Community or Volunteer Activities?  These are valuable additions for two reasons:  (1) They demonstrate that you have a life outside the law and are not just a tunnel-visioned grinder.  This is interesting information for an employer keen on evaluating your client development and client retention potential. (2) Activities, knowledge, skills and experience derived from such activities may compensate for thin, paid work experience.

As a very rough rule of thumb, these activities should be placed at the end of your resume. However, if your work experience is non-existent, or if you have not had any recent paid work, then you may want to position this information at the top of your Experience section to avoid the impression that you have done nothing of note recently.

Honors and Awards? Include all of the legitimate ones. Omit “honors” such as Who’s Who in…., since many such compilations are open to anyone at all who meets very minimal criteria or merely submits an application and accompanying fee. If you served in the military, leave out the National Defense Service Medal, which is conferred on every Armed forces member with a pulse at end of boot camp.

Include work-related honors and awards, since they indicate third-party vetting of your capabilities.

When citing honors and awards, accompany them with a brief explanation of their significance unless, like Phi Beta Kappa, they are well-known to virtually everyone. This is particularly important when they demonstrate that you have risen far above your peers.

One interesting thing you can do that is really different and eye-catching is to include “odes” to your capabilities from superiors, clients, judges, opposing counsel. Here, we are talking about exact quotes. Don’t do this in the absence of documentation of the praise, and refrain from including them if they are not truly exceptional. If a judge wrote in his or her opinion in a case you argued that “plaintiff’s attorney made the best closing argument I have ever heard,” that qualifies.

Keep in mind that many employers are jaded, think they “have seen it all before,” and react negatively when they think you are embellishing your resume with honors or awards that are not particularly special.

While many job candidates place Honors and Awards in a separate heading at the end of their resumes, you can get more mileage out of them if you put them in context, i.e., beneath the section—Education or Experience—when they were conferred.

Don’t include work-related, internal documents that you prepared in the ordinary course of business. These do not rise to the level of third-party vetting that impresses anyone. Exceptions to this might include briefs you submitted to a high court where you were the lead writer, but even then, this is a close call.

If something you wrote was published and sold to the public in a book, magazine, or online, that definitely qualifies. If you are a self-initiated blogger, that probably does not merit inclusion in your resume.

Publications are customarily listed in a separate heading toward the end of the resume.

Public Speaking Experience
If you have given presentations on site or online, include them under a separate section adjacent to Publications. Piping up during office meetings in the conference room does not qualify.

If you are a frequent presenter, it is not necessary to list every presentation you have made.