In this article, I write on the main things a law student should focus on, while building his CV for placement. As a bonus, I will also tell you what are those things which are usually found in a CV but they don’t matter much to a recruiter. At the end of it, you will know how to create that perfect CV as a law student so that you are guaranteed an interview.
I first prepared my resume in 4th year, when we were to apply for internships with law firms for the first time. Earlier internships were all based on class ranking (senior advocates of Supreme Court) or draw of lots (lawyers of trial court) or simply by choosing the one (NGO). A template was floated in the batch and we all used the same template to create our resumes. In fact, I had continued to use that same template over years just with updates.
Not something you should do.
But coming back to a law student CV, you don’t have to be as naive as we were, back in 2007. You are the next-gen, technology savvy, enterprising bunch of law students who can make their CV snazzy with all the available tools and resources. This CV which will help you stand out amidst the huge pool of candidates.
But the question is what is that you should have in your CV to impress the recruiter who has come down for campus placement or the hiring manager of the job that you have applied to as a fresh law graduate? What matters to him? What doesn’t? How should you utilise your time in law school, apart from all the show binge-watching and partying, which will help you to snag that coveted job as a fresher?
Let’s find out.
Focus hard on having a good academic record
I am sorry to start with the obvious, but hear me out before you decide to close this page. At the risk of sounding like a school marm, let me tell you that your CGPA, as a law student, matters in your CV a lot.
Many recruiters shortlist the applicants based on the class ranks. I was a member of the Campus Recruitment Committee in my batch and I remember making the class rank chart for various recruiters. For them, it was an easy way to shortlist candidates for interview. Even many law firm internships required the Campus Recruitment Committee to send the class rank chart of the applicants. There was a particular summer school which was wildly popular with us – they only selected the top ranked two applicants every time. Even when you are applying for jobs as a lateral hire, the recruiter will look at your CGPA to gauze your academic soundness.
I get it, not everyone can be toppers in their batch, but strive to be in the top 20 at the very least. You have 5 years to work towards it. Nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it. Find out your strength and work to amplify it. Know your weakness and strive to overcome it.
But what if you are not in the top 20? Don’t despair. You have other avenues to work on.
Gain work experience, of any kind
The next area to focus on for building your CV as a law student is internships. However I have a slightly different view.
I don’t believe in adding names of the top law firms, companies and senior lawyers to the CV. I believe that what you showcase as your internship experience counts much more.
Let’s say, if you have interned at L&L Partners but are sitting for an interview at Khaitan & Co. Chances are that the recruiting partner isn’t interested in hearing what agreements you proofread and cross-referenced and what research you did. What he is interested to know is what you learnt out of that internship and question you on that. So, highlight your main learning rather than jotting down every little thing you did in that internship. Eg. You interned with the dispute resolution team of a law firm. Chances are that you picked up nuances of the practical side of law by drafting, attending conferences and court hearings. You may have also befriended the team clerk and picked up a few procedural aspects from him. Write that, instead of writing “drafted plaint, petition and application, responses to legal notices and attended hearings in the Supreme Court of India“. Every law student attends hearings in the Supreme Court; so what is that extra special aspect you did and learnt? This is what will impress the recruiter, even if he is interviewing you for the corporate team. He will know that you learn new things wherever you go. Your skill of being a knowledge sponge will be highlighted, rather than your half-baked learning in the lit team.
I know that not everyone can get access to internships with the top places, cos there are only a handful of them.
Believe me, the name of the place does not matter.
There are many new-age law firms that are open to internships now, all over the country.
There are law firms which are using technology in a big way, law firms which advise only the startups and law firms working in very niche areas like energy law, media law and so on.
There are young, first generation lawyers who are building their law firm practice from scratch. There are offices of practicing advocates who are extremely loaded with work and could do with a helping hand.
There are tons of startups which have small or no legal department, who would welcome an intern.
Aim for a long-duration internship with them, if possible. Focus on what you are learning instead of factors like name value.
Here I will say something you might not like – you don’t learn anything during internships unless you take charge of things you want to learn.
Pitch to your firm what you can bring to their table. It could be a non-law related skill too. Suppose you have a flair for writing. Offer to co-author articles and aim for publishing in popular channels. Always negotiate the right to add your name as a co-author.
Suppose you understand technology. Offer to review various law practice management software and help to integrate their practice.
Suppose you are a social media expert. Offer to write social media content and promote them so that their visibility increases.
Then you can negotiate your right to attend a client briefing session, be a part of the core team solving issues, do research on the actual issues with the full picture, instead of getting piecemeal premises which do not make sense half the time, tag along the clerk to the registry and learn firsthand how things are filed and so on. The sky is the limit for your learning when you go the extra mile for them.
Don’t be that intern who sits in the library waiting for a call.
The other important thing I want to highlight is that you don’t necessarily have to do legal internships all the time. Volunteer for a cause. Do a fundraiser. Organise an event. Prepare study materials for the many legal education companies that are there now. Give tutions to law aspirants on CLAT. Sell burgers at your local food joint in the evenings. You will pick up extremely important skills which will come handy during the interview.
If you are shaking your head thinking how selling burgers will help you get that coveted top tier law firm job, hear me out. If you master the selling of fries and cola and ice-cream to someone who only wanted burgers, you can sell yourself well to the prospective recruiter. It will increase your confidence level. You will learn to articulate yourself well. All of that are important skills to have for the interview. So don’t shy away from non-legal work experience just because you feel it doesn’t have a place in your CV. When you write about that work experience, talk about how it enhanced skills which are necessary for lawyer. The recruiter might end up talking to you about your burger selling experience only and get so impressed that he forgets to grill you on technical questions. Now, won’t that be nice?
Aim for good quality paper publication & presentation
The next activity to focus on in your CV as a law student is researching and writing good quality papers and having them published in renowned peer-reviewed journals. That’s the best way to establish your interest and expertise in any area.
As law students, you write 50 projects in the course of 5 years; don’t let them go to waste. Pick your favourite topic, go deep into it, polish the writing, increase the word count and write an article that you would be proud of. Then send it off to only the best journals. Aim high in your selection. Give it some time, while you write the next one. Your own law school might have a good academic journal, so you can start off there. Now with so many national law universities, there are good journals in existence.
Aim for at least 5 publications out of the 50 papers. If it’s not getting accepted anywhere, pivot and try some lesser known niche journals, but remember aim for the print media only.
Never pay to have your article published.
Never go for the online websites and blogs (except the famous ones like India Corp Law, Spicy IP and Law and Other Things).
You may write short pieces for the popular ones like Bar and Bench, Live Law, iPleaders and Lawctopus, but keep your best academic articles for the journals.
And stay away from any publication which gives you certificate for getting your article published. Reputed academic journals don’t do that.
Moreover, certificates don’t matter at all. A recruiter will never want to peep into your thick certificates file; he will ask you questions and will figure out whether you know anything on that topic or not. Just keep a physical copy of the journal with your piece as proof, if you have to.
The other thing to do with your best articles is to present them as a paper at conferences. There are plenty of good conferences happening in the country and abroad and might give you a chance if the topic fits their agenda. But please do not add conferences in your CV if you were only an attendee.
And if none of that is working out, put them up in a website of yours. Get your friends and juniors to contribute. Don’t make it out to be a personal blog, but a website for good articles, like The Law Review Anthology. Domain names and hosting are pretty cheap these days. You can try it out to be on a niche area, like IPRMentLaw. Over time, you might get friends from other law colleges to contribute. Who knows, maybe at the end of 5 years, you will be able to write “Founder of ABC.com, a website curating legal articles on technology laws”. in your CV. That will surely pique the recruiter’s interest.
Do extra-curricular activities that you enjoy
Many recruiters look for well-rounded individuals. I remember Trilegal never took the top-ranked candidates. Instead they made us go through a written test for shortlisting and then recruited two of the smartest guys from our batch, who were not exactly the toppers.
So, how do you show to the recruiter that you are a smart, well-rounded individual? Through the extra-curricular activities. Law school is a great time to do things for the first time. So get over your fear of public speaking by debating. Learn important strategy skills through Mock UN. Learn how to research well, draft a memorial, present your arguments and handle pressure by mooting.
Here, I must say that don’t try to do everything at once. If you feel you are not a great debater or mooter, just don’t waste your time in participating in lesser-known events for adding them to your CV. Focus your energy on something else instead, which you will enjoy and will be a good addition to your CV.
Do what will shape you and your CV well.
It’s important that your positive character traits are displayed through your extra-curricular activities and even hobbies and interests. Let your character shine through everything you write in your CV.
If you want to highlight leadership and teamwork skills, add activities which would reflect them. Leading college committees, playing team sports, organizing college festivals are examples.
if you want to highlight academic bent of mind and research skills, show that through your CGPA, paper publications in good journals, hobbies like reading and your internship experience.
If you want to highlight a go-getter attitude, show how you have overcome some adversity (say a tier-2 law school) to get good internships through your determination and persuasion.
Overall, try and develop a personal brand of yourself through your CV. Show your authentic self to the recruiter. Highlight your positive traits. Don’t write about things you have no idea of. Don’t use unnecessary lofty words to convey simple ideas.
As long as recruiters see a hard-working, willing-to-learn candidate with good knowledge of the basics of law, they will be keen to interview you.
Now some of the don’ts for your CV
Apart from knowing what a law student should have in his CV, it is also important to know what shouldn’t be there.
Like I said earlier in this article, it does not matter to recruiters if you don’t have big names on your CV, as long as you can show that you learnt great things from your internships.
It does not matter if you don’t have tons of certificates for every little thing you have mentioned on your CV. Of course, this does not give you the license to fib. What I am trying to say is don’t enroll in courses or attend webinars or go for conference or send articles just because you would get a certificate. Always focus on the learning and how to portray that in the CV instead of following the herd and doing 10,000 things, all of which you would forget after a few days.
I did a certificate course on European Law while in law school just because it was on offer and everyone was doing it. I remember jack-shit now. It’s not even relevant to my work. However, if you have plans for doing an LLM in an European University, by all means, go for it.
Here, I have to highlight an important point. You, as a law student might have the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out, just in case you aren’t aware) thinking that you don’t know where you might end up after graduation. This might make you run after every opportunity available. I am all for trying everything out, but I feel that by 4th year, all law students should have an idea of where they are headed and can spend the next two years tailoring their CV towards that – be it a job or private practice or higher studies or UPSC examination or any other path that is available to you.
Now comes some basic pointers to remember while writing your CV –
a) Please don’t give information about your parents in your CV.
b) Please don’t add your birthday and home address in your CV. Just your name, phone number, location and a professional email ID is good enough information.
c) Please don’t name your references. Just say, “References can be provided upon request”. No one does reference check at the stage of shortlisting.
d) Spend some time on the look and feel of your CV. Keep in mind ATS software while drafting your CV, especially if you are applying for jobs online.
e) Spend a lot of time on language, grammar and spelling.
f) Do not make it longer than 2 pages.
g) Please don’t, for heaven’s sake, end your CV with a truth verification statement.
With all the above tips, hope you will be able to craft a steller CV for yourself. All the best for your future.
Before I sign off, let me state something clearly. Although I have written about being the best in every field – academics, extra-curricular activities, internships, paper publications, I am, by no means, unaware of the fact that a vast number of law students might not have a spectacular CV, despite their best efforts. That does not mean that you would never get a job. While your aim should be to excel in at least one area, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t. It only means you would have to work extra hard to get noticed by a recruiter.
Or just be your own boss. Many law students who weren’t academic-oriented during law school, became excellent practicing lawyers once they graduated. Success is not always measured by having a job. In this article of mine, I talk about being a successful lawyer. Read it next.
All the best for your future.
Please write to me if you want to add anything or don’t agree with me on any of my points. The comment section is always open.
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I wish I had this sort of guidance. I don’t even want to look at my campus recruitment CV!
None of us had. Mine is terrible, too.
Thank you maam, for this extremely helpful piece! Most often we know what we should do but no one guides us on why we should do it. Thank you for explaining every tip in detail.