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Using Active Verbs In Your Legal Resume
By: Leslie White

Your legal resume is your most important career document.  It is designed to sell who you are to a prospective employer, and to set yourself above others competing for the same position.  In this marketplace, your legal resume is competing against many others, including legal resumes that are professionally written and edited.  One of the tools of the trade in designing a professionally written legal resume is to use active verbs.  

The right use of active verbs allows you to create sentences that exude confidence, energy, and results.  They are designed to engage the reader in a positive manner.   At the end of the day, this is the type of reaction you want your legal resume to elicit.  You want the person reading your legal resume who has been tasked with hiring for the position, to feel positive and energized when reading your legal resume, and to contact you to schedule an interview.

Using The “Right” Voice on Your Legal Resume.

English verbs have two voices: active voice and passive voice. In active voice, the writer specifies who is doing the action.  For example: "The attorney wrote the brief yesterday." The person acting is the attorney.

In passive voice, the writer does not specify who is doing the action.  For example: "The brief was written yesterday."  Here, we do not know who wrote the brief.  It could have been an attorney or a paralegal, we just don’t know.  The sentence is also in passive voice if the writer specifies the actor, but does so later in the sentence.  For example, "The report was written yesterday by the attorney."

Why use an active voice over a passive voice?  Passive voice can make sentences unclear by keeping the identity of the actor secret.  It can also make sentences sound awkward and evasive.  Finally, it can lead to misinterpretation when it comes to responsibility.  For example:  "A mistake was made in the initial legal strategy but it was corrected and the client recovered damages." Here it is not clear whether the attorney, the client, or some third party made the mistake and/or correction.

While passive voice is appropriate for some documents, when writing your legal resume, you need to use the active voice.   A resume is designed to describe the actions of only one person: you.  Therefore, when you are describing your experience, skills, accomplishments, and qualifications, you need to structure your sentences by using active voice.  Here are some examples:
  • Counseled the senior management team on a variety of business, commercial, strategic, and risk management issues.     
  • Drafted contracts review and approval procedures to conform to Sarbanes-Oxley compliance measures.
  • Served as first chair on products liability cases, and managed all phases of litigation from case intake to trial.
  • Evaluated agreements to ensure compliance with laws, regulations, corporate policies, and procedures. 
  • Litigated thirty commercial trials and arbitrations in cases involving insurance subrogation matters.
Notice that you legal resume does not have to be structured with complete sentences to be effective.  In this case, our bulleted examples are not complete sentences and did not use the subject “I.”   Instead, we used active sentences that are clear, to the point, and will show a prospective employer that you can deliver in the various areas you are describing on your legal resume.

Selecting The “Right” Active Verbs for Your Legal Resume.

The key to selecting the “right” active verbs for your legal resume is to be both selective and varied in your choices.  You do not want to use the same verb twice under any one employer’s position. You also want to make sure that the verb you have selected is descriptive of the experience, skill, accomplishment, or qualification you are trying to explain.

When selecting a verb to begin your sentences, remember to use the present tense for describing the job functions of your current position.  Use the past tense for previous job functions with former employers. 

Finally, remember to choose verbs that are specific to the action you are trying to convey, as well as to the industry in which you have experience or are seeking a new position.  Most of the words in the list are suitable across industries and can be applied to almost any legal resume to make it more impactful.  

The view our sample list of verbs, select the attached pdf. file below.

Date: 03/31/09
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