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Using Strong Verbs in Your Attorney Resume
By Emily Sanderson
Whether you use bullets or place structured phrases in prose form separated by semicolons in your resume, you know that resumes must sound assertive, project confidence, and place you in a category above the rest. Using strong action verbs in your consistently structured phrases makes your resume easy to read; potential employers can retain more information about you. In addition, solidly written phrases establish that you will actively deliver in the position for which you are applying.

Active versus Passive Voice

So you have taken a writing class or two. As an attorney, you write all the time to a specific audience using an accepted format. Depending on your practice, you may use passive voice more frequently despite having been taught to use active verbs in school, but rightly so. The following are two examples of the differences between passive and active voice:

Passive: "The matter will be given careful consideration."
Active: "The firm will consider the matter carefully."

Passive: "RFP responses were evaluated in seven categories."
Active: "Staff evaluated RFP responses in seven categories."

Passive voice deflects the subject of the sentence in order to focus more on the object or action. This format is very appropriate for business documents, particularly for large firms or companies. However, when writing your resume, you are talking about the actions of one person — you — and about how you are qualified and experienced for a position for which you are applying. The first step in exerting yourself into the limelight is through the use of active verbs in the structured phrases in your experience section.

We have already established that the subject of your resume is you. However, in order to avoid repetitive language and cut out unneeded verbiage, the subject is not mentioned in the structured phrases. The following is a sample list of bullets on a resume:
  • Advised and represented banking, financial, and insurance institutions in creditor rights, insurance subrogation, and commercial disputes

  • Served as lead attorney for firm's insurance subrogation practice, performed and managed all phases of civil litigation from initiating suit to resolution

  • Drafted pleadings and motions, interviewed witnesses, conducted depositions, and negotiated and prepared settlement agreements

  • Prepared and argued contested motions before federal bankruptcy and state courts

  • Second-chaired jury trial

  • Litigated more than 60 bench trials and arbitrations in cases involving consumer contracts, secured and unsecured claims, and insurance subrogation matters

  • Reviewed legal documents for compliance with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

  • Created a standard operating procedure for the legal side of firm's insurance subrogation practice
Notice that these structured phrases are not complete sentences, but if they were, the subject would be "I" in every case. Use present tense for describing the job functions of a job you are at presently and past tense for previous job functions at former employers, of course. Be varied in the verbs that you choose — don't use the same ones over and over again. The following is a list of active verbs to keep in your toolbox.

Achieve File
Advise Format
Aid Handle
Analyze Help
Appeal Instruct
Arbitrate Interface
Arrange Interpret
Assess Lead
Assist Litigate
Clarify Manage
Coach Mediate
Collaborate Negotiate
Collect Organize
Combine Oversee
Compile Perform
Compose Plan
Conduct Prepare
Connect Produce
Consult Proofread
Coordinate Provide
Counsel Represent
Craft Research
Create Resolve
Defend Review
Demonstrate Serve
Design Summarize
Develop Supervise
Diagnose Survey
Direct Teach
Distinguish Transcribe
Draft Tutor
Edit Write

This list is just a place to start. Your specific work experience may call for more specific verbiage. Use words like "assist" and "aid" sparingly. You want to show potential employers that you were into a project up to your elbows, and don't be afraid to take responsibility for things that you have implemented, organized, and participated in. You have worked hard to be where you are right now.

Some people are amazed at what they have accomplished in their careers when they put everything side by side. Your resume should be designed to get you a first interview, but it may also serve to empower you. Often in a work environment we use the subject "we" in describing accomplishments, and that is because we (there's that word again) have become so team oriented and focused on the success of the overall companies for which we work. But remember: a resume is all about your professional accomplishments and your work experience. Potential employers want to know about the transferable skills you have gained through your previous work experience that can be applied to their organizations, and through the use of strong, active verbs, you will proclaim your qualifications with confidence.

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