How to Draft Your Resume or CV After You Have Quit Law School

To start with a quick update about me, since this blog is primarily read by a few of my friends:  I realized today that I am the happiest I have been in the last couple years.  Quitting law school was definitely the right choice for me.

Moving on to more important things to those of you random stoppers by who find yourself wanting to bail on law school, or who have bailed.  Your resume.  Or for the handful of international readers that I didn't anticipate for this blog:  Your CV.  What to do?  Trust me, this was one of the most difficult problems I've ever had when it comes to resumes.  I found a solution fairly quickly, but it was probably not the best.  With this post, I will aim to assemble the best advice and ideas on how to treat dropping out of school on paper.  Hopefully we can both gain from this one.

Who's Your Intended Employer?
Unless you're just barely into your legal education, you probably already have a resume with your law school front and center.  This will have to change.

You need to start by considering who your potential employer is looking for.  What do they want to see from you?

If they care at ALL about your time in law school, then further consideration of this matter is important.  However, if a hypothetical employer couldn't care less about your few months(weeks maybe?) of education in torts, contracts, and civil procedure, you could probably be excused from including law school at all.  (And excused from reading this, you're saying to yourself.)  That is of course dependent on the thoroughness required of your resume/cv.  If its a government job, they often want an accounting of school, jobs, and everything in between.

If you're like me, and you are dealing with years of law school/legal experience... I don't think you get out of it so easily.  It would be tough for me to tell a potential employer where the last couple years went if I didn't include anything about law school.

Ways To Present Unfinished Law School

Of course, if you have worked any legal jobs, these can be utilized on your resume and will almost definitely be an asset, depending on how you present them.  I have found that intern work for judges has adapted well to various office work positions I have sought, and obviously to law-related posts.  But there's still that problem of the time I spent as a full-time student.

Now here's where this gets tricky, and various sources suggest a few different solutions.

I don't know how to do this other than to throw the various solutions at you, and let you conclude which you like best, and which suits your needs.

  • An article on eHow suggests:  "Write the date you started and the date you withdrew from the school. Include a couple of bullet points detailing any extracurricular activities. These may compensate minimally for the lack of degree or diploma."  Extra-curriculars are definitely a key to sugar-coating something that you quit.  If you got far enough along to have ANY sort of activities, use them.  Granted, the sophistication of your employers may see through rather hollow activities, so know your audience.
  • Another suggestion, which comes from various dubious and semi-trustworthy sources and which I actually have used is to call law school "Additional course work," and list activities, etc.  I am not completely settled that this is the best idea when you have a year+ experience.  I say that because I think it doesn't quite settle the question of whether I'm no longer pursuing law school or whether I'm just not done and may/will go back.  (Most employers want you for as long as possible.)  I had just the dates of my law school attendance and placed my law school experience UNDER my undergrad experience. (See the picture above.)  I don't love this solution and I considered further augmenting this solution with a notation where my attendance dates are of some similar form to "No longer pursuing JD."  In some online application formats that don't permit a standard resume I have used that.  (I didn't get those jobs... so... let's keep looking at ideas!)
  • Another similar suggestion to the first comes with an example and is referring to undergrad, but you can apply the idea:  "If you attended college, but did not graduate, include the dates you attended, your major, and how many credits you earned toward your degree. List your high school after the college information." (See example below.)
  • Another possibility may be to include an "Objective" section which explains your abnormal move.  (Oh wow, I almost just did a legal citation... weird.)  This source finds Objective sections abhorrent, but suggests that a career change may justify one.  "Objectives are redundant because everyone knows what your objective is: to get a job. . . . If you’re from a non-traditional background – a Ph.D student who wants to move into M&A, for example – you might think an Objective is 'necessary' to show recruiters what you’re doing.  If you’ve done your job correctly, though, you have already presented your story in-person to recruiters and to your contacts..., so there’s no need to reiterate it on your resume."  Of course, a verbal resume to a potential employer is ideal if you can clearly explain the whole law school situation.  However, if you don't have the chance to talk to anyone about why you're applying before they see your resume/cv, then perhaps a clear and concise "Objective" section is for you.  I've never used one, and I also doubt their effectiveness.
  • A source I don't look to often for great advice, Yahoo! Answers provided this next one.  The "Best Answer" reminded me that I need to point out the importance of your cover letters.  They are an absolutely crucial tool for you to explain your situation!  You can expound on your reasoning for quitting, but as this inquirer points out, this can often seem unprofessional.  The "Best Answer" provides some good ideas in using the cover letter, as well as a line in his job history that emphasizes some good that was done amidst a career break that might otherwise look to an employer like a red flag. Say as much or as little as you like, but the cover letter is probably the best way to address why law school was not completed.  The "Best Answer" also expounds on a great solution to talking to the employer about a career break, such as quitting law school.  We all have our reasons, just do your best to state yours concisely while making it clear that it was a good reason to quit.  Note: The only other answer to this inquirer suggested that "Consulting" was a good way to cover a career gap.  Sounds kinda slimy, but maybe that's just me... and the inquirer who selected the other answer as "Best."
  • Another blog post from a putative "work coach" (including a tale to which we can relate) further deals with the topics of possibly leaving law school off the resume, and how to answer employers with THE million-dollar question.  As for the resume, this job coach suggests leaving law school off.  While that may be fine advice intended for someone more than ten years removed from law school, I think those of us closer to the experience will need to include law school in our job hunt to some degree.  However, this same crowd can also probably benefit from this post's advice on answering the question, "Why did you quit law school?" for potential employers.  Having a straight-forward and honest answer to those who ask you about quitting law school is going to be the best policy.

There are some ideas, and I hope that they help.  I really do.  This post is by no means final.  I intend to keep refining all my posts as a matter of fact.  As I find more stuff I'll add it here, and refine my own resume for the future!

I want to really help other people in this situation because I know how alone I feel in this decision sometimes. No one I know personally can relate exactly.  Hopefully I can be just a bit more comfort to those of you who are struggling with your decision more than I have.  Hope you can find the happy place I'm in these days!

Next time on How to Quit Law School:  How to escape!

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