As a paralegal professional, you have training that is in great demand in law offices all over the country. However, as we always emphasize, this does not mean that opportunities will come to you.
A well-written, attention-grabbing resume can push your career forward or hold it back.
For starters, please look over our general article on how to write a resume. A paralegal resume is based on the same fundamental concepts as other types of professional resumes.
Now, here are a few pointers that are more specific to you as a paralegal:
1. Use the chronological format, but replace the objective statement with an executive summary.
The chronological resume format, which could more properly be called the reverse chronological resume format, is the most traditional way to present work experience, skills, and education on a resume. Thus, it is better suited to this traditional field than the new functional and combination resumes, which focus more on presenting career accomplishments than providing an employment timeline.
However, we would still encourage you to replace the old-fashioned objective statement with an executive summary. The objective statement has gone past the point of being traditional and is now essentially passé. In your executive summary, you can sum up your most competitive skills and qualifications to make sure your paralegal resume packs a punch from the very start.
2. Mention the skills that are in demand for paralegals today!
Mentioning competitive skills is always a great way to get your paralegal resume noticed. According to Linda T. Chin of Paralegal Today, these include:
- Proficiency with the Microsoft Office Suite
- Proficiency with Westlaw and Lexis as research tools
- Proficiency with CaseMap, LiveNote and Abacus Law
- Foreign language skills, particularly Spanish
- Knowledge of legal research and writing
- Familiarity with litigation
- Law office management skills
- Leadership skills (you may get a position with supervisory responsibilities)
- Knowledge of specific legal specialties (bankruptcy law, immigration law, and employment law, for example)
One of the best ways to keep up with employer preferences in terms of skills is to browse job websites, such as Monster.com and Craigslist on a regular basis. Look up paralegal positions and write down the skills that employers ask for most often. From that list, you will know which of your existing skills are the most valuable and which skills you could acquire to make yourself more marketable.
3. If you are just starting out as a paralegal, draw attention to any relevant experiences you may have had while in college or your certification program.
Internships are always important on a recent graduate’s resume, but especially on a paralegal resume, since practical experience in the law field offers so many benefits.
If you participated in an internship, name the organization that you worked with and emphasize your achievements an intern. Quantify these accomplishments with numbers, dollar signs, and percentages whenever possible.
4. If you have any special certifications, emphasize them.
Sure, you may not need a specific certification to be a paralegal, but having one can really give you an edge.
Here are some examples of prestigious certifications that look great on a paralegal resume:
- Certified Legal Assistant (CLA), granted by the National Association of Legal Assistants
- Certified Paralegal (CP), granted by the National Association of Legal Assistants
- American Alliance Certified Paralegal certification (AACP), granted by the American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc.
- Registered Paralegal (RP), granted by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations
- Professional Paralegal (PP), granted by the National Association of Legal Secretaries
Now, although we have mentioned the abbreviations for these titles above, you should not use abbreviations on your paralegal resume, especially since these are all voluntary certifications.
Our advice would be to list the full name of each certification, either the year it was issued or the year in which it will expire, and the name of the organization that provides the certification, since there is no uniform standard.
All of the above certifications require you to take continuing education courses to qualify for certification and recertification. If you find that one or more of the continuing education courses you took is relevant to the position for which you are applying, mention it in a separate “career development” section to make sure it catches the reader’s eye.
The bottom line for your paralegal resume…
Paralegals have a wide range of experiences, skills, and training, from high school graduates who worked as legal secretaries for several years to recent university graduates with Baccalaureate degrees in paralegal studies all the way up to highly specialized paralegals with Master’s degrees.
It’s a wide field and you have to find your niche. If you have the specialized skills that come from work experience or a higher education, make them stand out. If you have a prestigious certification, like the ones mentioned above, use that to your advantage.
The field is just going to get more competitive as people flock to one of the careers that is still growing in this economy, so don’t get complacent. Make sure your paralegal resume makes a great case for you.