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August 15, 2007
What to know if you are considering a lateral move

By Rosanna Catalano
Special to the News
Attorneys are on the move. According to the National Association for Law Placement Foundation, 8.3 percent of entry-level associates leave their firms within one year and 50.5 percent of new attorneys leave their firms within four years. In order to make the lateral leap, you need to revamp your resume, sharpen your interviewing skills, and determine if your new employer is the right one for you.

Resume
A legal resume is your marketing literature and its main function is to get an interview for you. It also serves as a conversational guide and as a memory-refresher after the interview. It should be written to interest the employer and to supply information concerning your past experience, education, and unique abilities. Identify those experiences in your background that make you particularly qualified for the position you are seeking and find ways to highlight them.

Make sure you place contact information at the top of your resume. Do not use your current work e-mail or phone number because you probably do not want your boss to know about your job search and it sends the message to a potential employer that you spend your days job-seeking rather than diligently working to produce a top-notch product.

For maximum impact, your resume should be well-organized so that the high points can be absorbed in seconds. The first section should list your experience and include legal employment, clinical work during law school, internships, and significant volunteer work. Make sure to list your work experience in reverse chronological order with your most recent employment first. The format should include the name of the employer, the city and state of employment, position, dates you held the position, and a description of your responsibilities.

Job descriptions are the most important part of your resume. The most recent job does not necessarily warrant the longest description. Instead, use longer descriptions to accentuate those work experiences most relevant to your job search. Individual descriptions should be made up of short active phrases that use dynamic action verbs, (i.e. drafted, synthesized, managed). You do not need to create separate sections for “legal” and “nonlegal” experience. Many of the skills and responsibilities of nonlegal positions are easily transferable to the legal profession. Thus, focus on the transferable skill set when describing your work responsibilities.

Finally, be certain that the information on the resume is correct and the verb tense consistent. Your resume should have accurate dates and titles. Do not forget to include sections for publications, speaking engagements, and languages as they apply to you. A section titled “Bar Memberships & Professional Affiliations” is a great place to showcase volunteer bar association activities along with your admissions to various jurisdictions and federal courts.

Interview
After your resume opens the door to an interview, both you and the employer will want to assess whether a potential working relationship will be possible and profitable. During the interview you have to establish your intellect and skill as a lawyer, but also show your personality, poise, and sophistication. You should ask questions about the organization because it demonstrates your enthusiasm. Be sure to look at your surroundings to pick up clues about the interviewer’s personality and interests. Always be positive when you talk about previous or current employers because no one wants to work with a curmudgeon.

Earning what you’re worth?
Tapping into your professional contacts and trusting your own instincts will assist you in determining whether you are making a good career move. You can learn a lot about a potential employer simply by tuning in to what your colleagues say about the organization at networking functions. You should also listen to your gut. If you are tired of working weekends and desire a more polished professional atmosphere, then a potential employer who is disorganized during the interviewing process and calls you only on Saturday may not be the best new employer for you.

Once you receive an offer from a desired employer, be sure to use the NALP Directory at www.nalpdirectory.com. The directory is an excellent source for information, including salaries and billable hours, on legal employers of all types — private practice, public service, government agencies, and corporations. Also, don’t forget to reach out to the career service professional at your alma mater. These individuals usually have salary statistics, job searching resources, and a slew of ideas to assist you.

Rosanna Catalano is a lawyer and director of Florida State University College of Law’s Placement Office. She may be reached at (850) 644-4495 or rcatalan@law.fsu.edu.

[Revised: 10-15-2014]