Lawyer Seeking Résumé Critique

zjb1's picture

Hi everyone!

I've lurked here for years but I think this will be my first post.

I'm a lawyer and I'm about to start a new job search.

I searched the Typophile archives for inspiration. A lot of the discussion seems to deal with résumés for designer types, but I suspect a lawyer's résumé ought to be a bit different.

The book Typography for Lawyers by Matthew Butterick has had a profound influence on my work in general. In drafting this new version of my CV, I've taken a lot of his advice. Butterick includes a sample résumé in his book, but I've tried to avoid using that as a template. Instead of just aping the ideas of the leading law typography guru, I want to come up with something fresh.

At the same time, I think it's important that my CV not be over-designed. I want the document to look professional--even elegant--but definitely not arty. This CV will be reviewed by people who are accustomed to working with lawyers, and I want it to stand out for the right reasons.

If you have any thoughts about my type design choices or about the substance of the CV, I'll appreciate hearing them.


ZB Sabon June 30 CV draft (Hrant's advice taken)2.pdf120.93 KB
HVB's picture

I'm not an attorney, but I'd think that while they might like small print in contracts, they wouldn't even read a resumé that needed a magnifying glass. My initial impression was that it was too small, probably reduced in order to fit everything into two pages. Can't tell exactly what font you used, or in what size, since it's not embedded. If you're submitting your resume as a pdf, I'd strongly recommend that you either embed all fonts used or convert to outlines. In that way it can be enlarged at will without displaying the jaggies.

As far as content is concerned, when I was reviewing resumés I looked for activites that pertain to the positions I had available. I also looked for signs of success. Phrases like "involved with" or "worked on" don't carry as much impact as phrases such as "which led to obtaining a $40 million contract" or "as a result of which I was named Senior Partner". People who tailor their CV to the company and position they're interested in have a better chance of getting that personal interview (which is just about the ONLY thing a resumé is good for).

- Herb

JamesM's picture

I don't know anything about legal resumes, but I'd avoid having bullet text (or any text) run the full width as you do now. You could try a format of 2 columns of equal width (similar to the 2-column bullet list in the "additional coursework" section), or you could try a narrow left column (perhaps about 1/3 the available width) holding the subheads and a wider right column (around 2/3 the width) holding the text.

Should the resume have a photo? If so you could make the main head flush left (which would be more in keeping with the overall layout than the current center alignment) and put your photo to the right of it.

TurtleType's picture

I agree with the two column solution.

If you have to use bullets maybe find a different shape to a diamond.

McBain_v1's picture

Hi Zack

First off, I am not a typographic expert (hell, I probably don’t even qualify as an amateur) so don’t pay too much attention to what I say or take it to heart.

Overall I thought that the document looked pretty slick but I did wonder whether, in the Additional Work Experience section on page 2, you might be better off trying to get the small cap (I am only assuming they are small caps - I’ve no way of telling) headings onto a single line? This would give you some more space to expand a bit on what you did. Same comment could be applied to the Educational Background section I guess, get yourself more space to brag about what you have achieved rather than where you did it.

Is the font Equity by any chance?


zjb1's picture

I really appreciate all your advice.

The font family is Sabon Next. I used MS Word to generate the PDF file. How can I make sure I'm embedding the fonts correctly?

I see now that 10 pt type is too small to try to string across the width of the page in such long lines. I'll experiment with presenting the info in columns as some of you suggested. I think uneven columns might be a compelling way to emphasize the key data (the stuff I set in small caps in the first version--positions held, degrees, dates, etc.) by separating it from the longer narratives.

I guess I used bullets because I always see them in CVs. I'll look into taking the bullets out entirely, or if that doesn't work, then at least I can try to find a cooler shape for them.

As far as the substance, I haven't worked hard enough yet to pare this résumé down to its most essential information. Version 2 will be leaner and meaner.

Thanks for your help!


HVB's picture

"How can I make sure I'm embedding the fonts correctly? "

I'm not familiar with Word 2010, but once you figure out how to untie its 'ribbons', this is how it's done in earlier versions:

Tools / Options / Save
Click on the box labeled "Embed TrueType Fonts"
This should also work for OpenType fonts; I'm not sure about Type 1.

When you generate the PDF, it will inherit the embedded fonts as well.

- Herb

hrant's picture

If you really must cram things you should use a font that looks large on the body (which mostly means a large x-height) so no Sabon... If it's large enough you might even be able to go down to 9 point. It won't look "elegant" though. BTW if you go this route, Equity (besides being too old-fashioned for a résumé I think) isn't big-looking enough here. Maybe Iowan Old Style? It has very classy caps.

Something else: There seems to be a nice French angle to your... être. :-) Would you consider a typeface with a French vibe, as a "subtext"?

BTW, here's a crazy idea: Could you use legal-size paper? :-) Is there any precedent for that? But maybe it would be too mannered.


eliason's picture

In addition to being set small (and being small on the body), that font seems to have quite small smallcaps (particularly apparent in mixed settings). If you're set on the font, would you consider boosting the smallcaps pointsize a touch?

McBain_v1's picture

Embedding fonts in Word 2010 is quite easy: on the "save" dialogue box there should be a button marked "options". Click this and you will see that it allows you to embed the fonts, either the entire font or just those characters that are used in the document.

I'd go along with what hrant said about the x-height. Magazine fonts seem to have a good x-height as they are often printed at small sizes.

J. Tillman's picture

Re: fonts in MS Word, with OpenType CFF fonts, Word will always rasterize them. Read what Si_Daniels says:
"Okay, I heard back from the Office gurus. Word will rasterize rather than embed "no embedding" fonts and non-TrueType fonts. The fonts in question were OpenType CFF. I've given the team a few pointers if they want to address this limitation in the future."

My guess is that this is not much of a problem if a PDF is enlarged only slightly for screen reading.

Joshua Langman's picture

Definitely try to narrow your main text column a bit. But headings can stick out beyond the width of this, if it works visually.

I would say use oldstyle numerals throughout.

By the way, in posting this for critique, you've done at least one thing right. I recently had to wade through some resumes for a position for which I was interviewing applicants, and I basically dismissed some of them off the bat for having appallingly badly designed resumes. Yours is already much better than average.

zjb1's picture

Hey everyone!

I've experimented with your suggestions on how to improve my CV. Now I'm back to see what you think of my revisions.

In this new version, I've tried to make better use of columns and I've taken out the bullets in response to your suggestions. I can't figure out how to attach the new version down here in this part of the thread--instead the attachment is next to the original attachment up at the start of the thread.

Right now the actual content is not exactly what will go in the final version--especially on the first page. The content is similar to what I think will go in the final version in terms of number of words per sentence and number of sentences. But please understand that the first page still has some filler text just to make it easier for you to evaluate the document design.

I think I figured out how to use Word to embed my fonts in my PDF correctly. In case the PDF doesn't say it clearly, I'm using different weights of Gotham for my headings.

The serif type that I'm using is SabonNext at 11pt. In some places, I've experimented with SabonNext's true small caps and with old style figures, as some of you advocated.

For all the sans serif type (other than the Gotham headings), I'm using Caspari. I've set the Caspari text at either 10 pt (which I find quite legible in narrow columns) or elsewhere at 11pt. Again, I'm fooling around with Caspari's separate small caps font and the OSFs.

I hope you Typophiles will review my new document and tell me what you like and what you don't. What works? What's confusing? What's inelegant or clunky?

I'll appreciate whatever feedback you provide.

Thanks again,

TurtleType's picture

It's looking good. I think Gotham is a good choice for san serif, but I feel it conflicts with your Sabon Next type choice. If you're set on using Sabon Next, Douglas Bonneville has a book/pdf on type combinations. He suggests pairing Sabon with either Franklin Gothic, Helvetica, Lucida Sans, Monotype Grotesque, Myriad, Stone, Trade Gothic, or Univers. I don't think it's the end all but it's a start.

It's a design faux pas to put more than two type choices (usually a serif and a san serif) in a layout unless, of course, you have a good reason. I don't know why you put Caspari in the body text, but it has a nice authoritative feel (just as long as you increase the line spacing AKA leading). Type combinations seem to be one of the hardest to learn for a designer.

I'm not sure how much control you have in Word, but you need to align the baselines between the two columns, that will help tighten up the layout.

Also, think about the heading/pinline/sub-heading areas. Try flipping the lighter for the heavier weight and vise versa. Basically, you need to think where you want your eyes to go first, second, third, and act accordingly by increasing/decreasing the weight, point-size, indents, spacing etc.

If you have time find a copy of Robin Williams The Non-Designer's Design Book it's one of my favorite books for providing a clear, accessible, run down of layout principles.

zjb1's picture

Thanks for your thoughtful advice, TurtleType. I've made changes based on your ideas.

I started using Sabon after Butterick recommended it for lawyers on his website a few years ago. It looks great for some papers I might file in court, but now I think it's wrong for my CV. Sabon has gravitas--it's elegant and graceful and traditional and all that. But the most important feature of the typeface I use for my CV has to be legibility. I wouldn't pick Sabon for a road atlas or for subway graphics. I don't think I want it in my CV anymore.

I'm not sure why I chose Gotham. I guess it's because I notice it on movie billboards all the time. But that feels like the wrong reason to use it in my CV.

So now I've switched everything to Absara Sans. I think the effect is kind of profound. What do you think of Version 3? Again, I'm focusing on the design issues and not so much on the substance yet.

butterick's picture

Good effort. A few suggestions:

Reconsider the relative visual importance of the headings vs. the body text. Right now, the headings look more like captions. After your name, those headings should be the most prominent features of the page. People reading your résumé want to establish a few facts quickly — did he go to good schools? Has he been employed at good firms? Make it easy to figure that out. Also, to that end, I would start the name of your employers & schools on the left edge.

The hanging indents don’t add anything. If you need to make paragraphs more distinct, reduce the line spacing of the body text and increase the space between them. (I notice that the lines in each column align vertically, which is a nice detail)

Don’t bury the lead. I'm not a fan of bland “objective statements” like “Looking for a dynamic, challenging position driving outcomes for clients.” Still, it’s never a bad idea to summarize who you are and what you want, because you have about three seconds before the hiring partner moves to the next résumé in the stack. So if you’re selling yourself to a particular firm as an experienced FDIC ligitator, why not just say "Zachary Brown | Experienced FDIC Ligitator"? Don't assume that anyone will read the content and reach that conclusion.

Finally, as pointed out above, when you use OpenType fonts with Word’s built-in PDF generator, they get rasterized. This is bad, because it makes your file large, and it makes it display poorly on screen & printed. Solution: use a dedicated PDF print driver, like the one included with Adobe Acrobat, or one of the many third-party options that are cheaper.

JamesM's picture

On page 1 you're using hanging indents, but in "Other Work Experience" on page 2 you aren't. I'd be consistent with your paragraph styles.

Maybe this is just personal taste but to me all the hanging indents give it a busy look. I'd suggest experimenting with some alternatives like making the paragraphs flush left (maybe add slightly more space between paragraphs; get it by reducing leading very slightly), or maybe use bullets instead.

Also you might try bumping up the size of your main heads (like Core Professional Experience) slightly.

zjb1's picture


I feel like I posted a question to a physics forum and just got a response from Enrico Fermi! I'm so grateful for your efforts to show the legal profession why typography matters. A few years ago, you might have been a lone voice crying out in the wilderness. But many lawyers have since embraced your cause.

I learned stuff on your website that dramatically changed my understanding of my own job as a lawyer. The bottom line is this: lawyers who don't care about typography are lawyers who do their work badly, and that's inexcusable. So let me thank you first for your influential website and book. Now I'll thank you again for reviewing my CV and giving me your sensible comments.

The forum has offered me so much valuable input. Those hanging indents in the columns are hideously distracting, aren't they? They make the document look like an old IBM punch card. That will be an easy fix.

After I make some comprehensive revisions to my CV, then maybe I'll seek the forum's advice again. For now, however, I think it would be prudent to take down the draft versions that I posted here earlier (if I can still make that happen).

Zack Brown

zjb1's picture

Hi everyone. Since I started this thread two months ago, I've been slowly working on my résumé. I've just posted two new versions of it here.

In trying to fit this thing on a single page, I took out a lot of nonessential information. I know many people insist it's better to use more pages rather than cram too much on one page. But I have some good reasons to make my CV a one-page document.

I think I've come up with a sensible layout. Now I'm trying to decide whether to use a serif font (Sabon Next) or sans serif font (Whitney). Both fonts are set at 10.5 pt with 14.5 pt line spacing and very wide margins on letter size paper.

Sabon Next is elegant and traditional, lawyerly and easy to read. But I still have a lot of text and I'm worried Sabon will make the document too busy, even at 10.5 pt.

A while ago, I had a fantasy of setting the whole thing in Absara Sans, but some friends persuaded me that Absara is too informal. Whitney is a great alternative. Somehow it's more formal than Absara without feeling impersonal.

But is Whitney too spare and modern? One person who saw my CV set in Whitney said it looked too daring, too different. He also said lawyers shouldn't use sans serif fonts, except maybe for headings. He's pretty old and his sense of style is different from mine, but guys like him are probably part of my target audience.

Looking at the two documents side-by-side, I think the Sabon version is warmer. It's old fashioned in the right way. But the Whitney version is definitely more legible for me at this size.

You experts gave me lots of valuable criticism in April. Now I'm back again to see what you think. Which font do you prefer? Any advice on my layout? I'll appreciate getting whatever feedback you care to offer.


hrant's picture

- I'm no old fogey lawyer, but even to me the sans one doesn't feel right.
- It doesn't look cramped. I don't know if you dumped too much important info though.
- Why are the two lines under your name wider than the main text column?
- I think your two rules are going too far right. Although instead of trimming them I might make them go further left.
- A little bit more room above "Education" might be nice.
- Try an en dash instead of a hyphen in your phone number.
- To me running text that uses semicolons needs periods too.
- In the Meserve section you're mixing present and past tenses. For a current job I would go with the former.
- In the 4th paragraph kern the A-apostrophe in "FHA'S".
- You're not using "fi" etc. ligatures?
- I would dump the colons in the "Education" section.
- Kern the "s/" in "Hays/FLAS".
- That "Nat'l" is bugging me - better to spell it out. I know you don't have much room though... What about dumping the "Dean's List"?


zjb1's picture

Thanks for your smart suggestions, Hrant. I've taken almost all your advice and posted the updated document here. The only thing I can't do is figure out is how to use ligatures, although they're supposed to be supported in my version of Word.

dstdenis's picture

The only thing I can't do is figure out is how to use ligatures, although they're supposed to be supported in my version of Word.

Font | Advanced | Ligatures

processcamera's picture

Speaking as an amateur reviewer with absolutely no legal training, I think the first paragraph sounds dumbed down and could potentially be deleted to make room for a hairline border and a couple lines of white space at the bottom of the page. I think that running text to the bottom margin leads most people to expect another page of text, whereas leaving some white space above the margin makes clear that the CV has ended.

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