Older but Wiser: Resume Strategies

Older but Wiser: Resume Strategies

Valerie Fontaine and Roberta Kass
Special to Law.com
August 17, 2009

Editor's note: This is the third article in a new series about job transitions for older attorneys. Links to previous articles in the series are listed following this article.

It may have been a while since you have drafted a resume, and you might be surprised to learn that the rules are slightly different for a more seasoned candidate than for a junior attorney. First, we recommend a combination functional/chronological format rather than a straight reverse chronology of your work experience. Second, if you have more than five years of practice experience, you should be emphasizing your expertise over your education, so the education section comes after the experience section. And, despite what you have heard, it is OK if your resume runs longer than one page, but not much longer.

With word processing, each resume should be tailored to the specific job opening. It can be e-mailed, posted to a job site or snail mailed. Keep the background white and letters black so it will print and copy well. Include your e-mail address and cell phone number on your resume as it signals that you are technologically up to date.


• Chronological
A chronological resume is organized by your employment history in reverse order from the present back to your first legal position, with job titles, names and locations of employers, dates of employment and responsibilities and accomplishments for each. Recruiters and hiring partners like this resume format because it clearly demonstrates your job history and career advancement.

• Functional
This format sometimes is used by job seekers with a number of jobs, gaps in employment or a job history in a different field. A functional resume is organized by skills and functions. In a purely functional resume, company names, employment dates and position titles are intentionally omitted. This resume format is the least common and least preferred by employers because it signals that there may be issues in your background and leaves too many questions unanswered.

• Combination
The combination chronological-functional resume is our recommendation for experienced attorneys who have had more than a few jobs. It is mostly functional but also includes a bare-bones work history in reverse chronological order. This format highlights your expertise and achievements that might otherwise be buried within the job history section, while presenting, but deemphasizing, your chronology of jobs. [See Sample Resume: Combination Functional/Chronological Format (pdf).]


You want the reader to quickly scan your resume and see "this is what I've done and what I can do for you." You may include an initial sentence summarizing your strengths, but we recommend against an "Objective" section since it either is so broad it is meaningless or so focused it looks too crafted for the particular job.

In a combination format, rather than listing your experience at each past position, much of which is repetitive, fold your job descriptions into one "Experience" section, perhaps with bullets and/or boldface headings to make it easy to read. Focus on transferable skills and experience tailored to the position being sought. For example, if you have done a mix of corporate and real estate transactions but are applying for a real estate position, list your real estate experience first and spend more space talking about your relevant experience in that area and less on the corporate. It is fine to have more than one form of resume, tweaked to the particular type of position you are seeking.

Avoid phrases such as "X years of experience", especially if you are more senior than most of your competition for the job. Don't speak about yourself in the third person; that is stilted and old-fashioned. The resume obviously is about you. It's fine to use sentence fragments, such as "Negotiated and drafted agreements including ... ."


After describing your experience, include a separate "Employment" section listing, in reverse chronological order, each firm name, city, your job title, and dates of employment. You might include one sentence about your duties, but with little detail as it is fleshed out in the previous section. If you have worked in other fields, such as business or education, separate your work history with sub-headings into legal and non-legal experience. Briefly summarize your pre-law career if it is not specifically related to the substance of your legal career. Or omit it if it doesn't relate to current job or is too long ago to be relevant. If, on the other hand, your pre-law career enhances your legal practice -- for example, you were an electrical engineer and now practice patent law -- include the important details.


Only after you have presented your expertise and work history, list your education. If you wish to include specializations, certifications, MCLE and other training, you can title this section "Education and Training." List recent relevant MCLE or other training, including the year and source, to show you are up to date.

DO include dates on your law degree (and all law jobs). Rather than obscuring the fact of your seniority, omitting dates can backfire. Prospective employers may either assume that you are trying to hide your age or that you are even older than you are. They might be offended that you don't think they are smart enough to look you up in Martindale-Hubbell or a Bar association Web site where that information is easily found -- or you might look careless for leaving it off.

We realize that many non-law career advisers may counsel otherwise, and there may be a different standard in the business world on the subject of including dates on your resume, but we strongly believe that they should be included. You may leave off the date of your undergraduate degree if you are a second-career lawyer and there was significant time between that degree and your JD.


Listing interests on your resume is optional, and should include only those that are relevant to the position or that show you are fit and energetic. Opera, bridge and Renaissance history are wonderful hobbies, but hiking or bicycling, gardening, reading about alternative energy or computers and traveling sound more robust. Omit activities that show your age. For example, rather than listing "president of my church senior citizen group," say "leadership positions in church activity groups."

Include activities or memberships that may have business development potential. Also include publications and presentations if you have them. List technical skills, but omit obsolete technologies such as shorthand or typing speed. Leave off personal information such as marital status, children, height, weight and health. Those are illegal for an employer to ask about, so don't volunteer them.


It is best to keep your resume to two pages or less. If you have more information you wish to impart, consider an addendum. Addenda could include "representative cases handled" or a "representative transactions" sheet, where you select some matters you have worked on and describe them and the level of your involvement in more detail than would be appropriate in a resume. If you have authored numerous law-related articles, or spoken at many programs, those lists also could be appropriate for an addendum.


These days, most resumes and cover letters are submitted via e-mail. It's faster, and it allows your resume to be sent to all parties who must review it without making lots of copies. Don't cut and paste your resume into the body of an email text because the formatting is likely to be lost. It is preferable to attach the resume as a separate document to an e-mail that includes your cover letter, unless specifically requested otherwise. Most law firms and companies use the Word program for word processing, so try to send your resume in Word or the formatting may be lost or scrambled. In the subject line of your e-mail, state the position you are seeking.

Use an appropriately businesslike screen name, preferably a variation of your name. Make sure you have updated virus protection on your system to reduce the chance of sending a virus along with your resume. Most businesses have a virus scan system and infected e-mail will not be opened.

If you are e-mailing your resume to a number of addresses, do not list them all in the "to" section of the e-mail. Listing all of the recipients as "bcc's" is a dead giveaway that you are mass mailing and is not the best presentation. We recommend sending each submission separately, with a tailored cover letter which should comprise the body of your email.


Read other articles in the "Older but Wiser" series:

  1. Winning Strategies for Older but Wiser Job Seekers
  2. Older but Wiser: Get With the Program!
  3. Older but Wiser: Resume Strategies
  4. Older but Wiser: Crafting Your Business Plan
  5. Older but Wiser: Finding the Hidden Job Market
  6. Older but Wiser: Acing the Interview
  7. Older but Wiser: Handling Touchy Subjects
  8. Older but Wiser: Stay the Course