Lawyer Monthly hears from Francine Ryan, Senior Lecturer in Law and member of the Open Justice Centre at The Open University, on how first-time legal jobseekers can stand out from the pack.

There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic is having an impact on the graduate job market and trainee and pupillage recruitment. However, it is not all bad news, as many firms are still recruiting. In order to apply for a job, you often need a CV. CV is an abbreviation of curriculum vitae, which is Latin for ‘course of life’. It is a written overview of your education, qualifications, work experience, and skills. In these challenging times, your CV is even more important, it is your opportunity to showcase your talents and make you stand out from the crowd.

Here are some tips to help you perfect your CV:


Many law firms receive over 1000 applications for trainee and vacation scheme placements. To make sure you are one of the few that secure an interview, it is essential that your CV is well-presented. Choose a font that is easy to read, and once you have decided on your layout, make sure it is consistent. Think carefully about:

  • Format – font size, type, spacing, headings
  • Grammar – write in full sentences, do not use slang or any form of text speak
  • Spelling – proofread carefully and ask someone else to read through your CV, as it is often hard to spot our own mistakes
  • Avoid anything that might be considered ‘gimmicky’
  • Include contact information – your address, mobile phone number, email address – avoid using a quirky email address that may draw the wrong conclusions about you!
  • Save you CV with your name and surname as the file name, do not put CV.doc

Many law firms receive over 1000 applications for trainee and vacation scheme placements.


There is no one right way to do this. Your CV tells a story. Think about what you want to convey to the reader. Your CV  has to be more than a list of what you have done and your qualifications. You need to explain what you have learned, and what skills you have developed from what you have achieved. One approach might be to group together information such as education and qualifications, work experience, extra-curricular activities, and your interests.

Alternatively, you might want sections on your CV that highlight your experience and your commitment to a particular job. For example, if you are pursuing a career at the Bar you could have a section on your CV called ‘Professional and volunteering experience’. You could group activities such as mooting competitions, volunteering at your local Citizens Advice, and mini-pupillages under that heading.

When you write your CV, mirror the language the employer uses in the job description. This is a way of demonstrating you are the right person for the role. You might want to draft different versions of your CV to find the structure that works best for you.


Your interests and hobbies are an important element of your CV. If you have an unusual hobby or, for example, you have traveled, it is a great opportunity to show how you have developed relevant skills that will make your application stand out. Your interests and hobbies show a lot about you but avoid examples such as socializing with friends. The key is to write about them in a meaningful way to demonstrate teamwork, leadership or organization skills. Also think about how they might be useful for an employer, so for example, highlight IT skills, speaking a foreign language, or driving skills.


At this point, you are unlikely to have lots of experience to draw on so do not feel the need to fill up space unnecessarily. A short, well-written CV is much more effective than one that rambles on. It is important to check the specific guidance for each application, but generally, a CV should be no more than 2 pages of A4.


It might be tempting to embellish to make your CV appear more impressive, but employers often verify what you have included and if they find out you have lied then you may find your employment terminated. It is important that your CV reflects your profile on LinkedIn as employers often check.


Do not include a photo unless it is required. If you are asked to supply a photo it should be one that reflects your professional image.


Tailor your CV for each application rather than submitting a generic one. Go through the job specification and the company profile to ensure that your CV meets what the employer is looking for and submit exactly what is specified in the application.  Make use of the support from your university careers service and have a look at the wealth of resources online, including CV templates.

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