Writing a great resume can be challenging for any lawyer. It’s a competitive profession, and one that’s replete with intelligent, experienced, hard-working achievers. It’s important to stand out among an already elite group. But the task of developing a strong, competitive resume becomes especially complicated for lawyers who have resume gaps.
It’s fairly easy to explain away short periods of time without a job. In fact, in-house counsel who have been laid off from big companies for reasons outside of their control are often highly sought after among other legal departments looking for experienced in-house counsel. But long stretches of unemployment are problematic.
Because some resumes age gracefully and some don’t, it’s important—at any point in an in-house counsel’s career—to keep in mind several insights to ensure the strength and viability of one of the most important tools for landing a new job.
1. Employers don’t like time vacuums. Once the calendar ages your resume, the worst entry for any year is no entry at all. Instead, put down examples of active engagement with the profession, such as pro bono work, part-time assistance for other attorneys or contract work. This shows employers that even though you haven’t been traditionally employed for some period of time, you are continuing to sharpen your legal skills.
2. Solo practice entries may raise a red flag. Many recruiters and employers become skeptical when they see an unemployed in-house counsel has included a solo practice entry on their resume. Recruiters and employers often think it’s nothing more than a way to fill a resume hole. Moreover, the kind of work many attorneys take in these situations (such as house closings and individual estate planning) can dilute how your more sophisticated expertise is viewed.
3. Of Counsel and Special Counsel titles with well-known law firms make an impression. One of the best ways to keep a resume current is to show recent work with a branded firm under a respected title. Go to a former firm employer or one to which you’ve given a lot of business over the years, and cut a deal. Make the decision easy for the firm. Agree on an hourly arrangement for work and even offer to reimburse the firm for the cost of adding you to its malpractice policy. Be honest about continuing your search for an appropriate in-house counsel decision. It’s a win-win arrangement.
4. Independent work with legal departments is a great way to fill gaps. Consider handling single projects for a legal department as an independent contractor or through a staffing firm. When including this work on your resume, focus on the high-level, strategic aspects of the work to ensure it isn’t mistaken for low level document review type work. Include the name of the company you contracted for, if it’s permitted.
5. High-level, non-legal work can be a great asset to a resume. Consider a volunteer leadership role. For example, connect with a U.S. senate campaign or with recognizable and respected non-profits, such as United Way or Red Cross. This is activity consistent with your credentials, especially among senior-level lawyers. It’s not only positive, but it’s also in keeping with the imprimatur level of your career path.
Considering a few or all of these insights will help keep any aging resume from becoming old, stale and—most importantly—tossed aside by important recruiters and employers. Do something solid. It’s not as hard or as intimidating as it may initially seem.