The Risks of Using Law CV Templates


Using a CV template you find online, in a book or elsewhere is extremely risky. It will most likely result in your CV ending up on the “No” pile.

In this article, I will explain why you should avoid using a CV template, why you may nonetheless be tempted to and what you should do instead for the best chance of success in your job search.

Why using a CV Template is Dangerous

When you use a CV template, it’s hard to know its quality.

You hope it’s good enough and will lead to success. However, as they say in business:

Hope is not a strategy”

It Will Fail the “Fit For Purpose” Test

The problem with most CV templates is they are not fit for purpose.

One of the biggest problems I see is candidates using a generalist CV template which is clearly not fit for use in the legal profession.

Even if you use a template tailored to lawyers, one size does not fit all. It’s impossible for a template to fit all lawyers or all purposes.

Think about it. What are the chances you will find a CV template specifically drafted for a person of your PQE, with the same background, skills and achievements as you and targeting the same types of jobs you are? The chances are remote, to say the least.

It’s like buying a suit off the peg versus having one made to measure and tailored exactly to your requirements. Which one is likely to look best and give the best impression of you?

You Will Come Across as a Plain Vanilla Candidate

If you can find a template with a Google search for “law cv template” then so can many other candidates.

This means the same language crops up, common CV Cliches are used and the CV ends up having a familiar feel to it.

You become another plain vanilla candidate who blends into the crowd rather than stands out from it.

Legal recruiters can spot the use of a template (or template components) at 100 paces.

When they do, they might well conclude (fairly or not) that you struggle with communication or take shortcuts when facing a difficult challenge. Consequently, you will make a poor first impression on the recruiter. This may be impossible to turn around.

Why You May Be Tempted to Use a Template

Despite knowing the risks, the temptation to use a template can be too great for many.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you looking for shortcuts to save you time?
  • Are you looking for examples of CV language to use?
  • Are you looking for a quick fix so you can get out there in the job market asap?
  • Are you looking for a precedent document you can “Save as…” and edit to fit your own circumstances?
  • Are you looking for the “how to” secrets for drafting a winning law CV?

If the answer to any of these is “Yes” then STOP!

Look, I understand the temptations. I’m certainly not judging you. I’ve been there myself and I certainly sought shortcuts, time savers and pointers along the way.

As lawyers, we are conditioned to use precedents. Not only do these save us time, they also guide us on the content to include – on the “acceptable way” to do things.

However, please resist the temptation when it comes to an important document that needs to be personalised and tailored if it’s to succeed.

What To Do Instead of Using Templates

What you might not want to hear is it takes time to create an impactful CV.

The time is not in drafting a two-page document – you probably knock off longer letters in no time on a regular basis. The time is in the process of thinking, preparing and crafting a CV that is fit for purpose.

The more you can draft and edit your CV in your own original words, from your own original thought processes, the less likely you will come across as a plain vanilla candidate.

To do this well you need to (1) identify the purpose of your CV and (2) identify the appropriate specification for such a CV.

1. Identify the Purpose of Your CV

You need to clearly identify your CV’s purpose so you can draft one to fit this.

  • Is it to get you a job interview?
  • Does it need to evidence particular experience or skills?
  • Is it to secure you an initial meeting?
  • Does it form part of an introduction to a new contact?
  • Is it to be used in discussions around a specific type of role, eg in-house?

One of the most important parts of my work with my CV Relaunch clients is to get them very clear on this at the outset. It’s essential this work is done before I even think about conducting my formal review of their draft CV.

2. Identify the Appropriate CV Specification

It’s critical to your success to determine the appropriate specification for your CV given it’s intended purpose:

  • Consider the industry norms for this purpose
  • Consider any specific requirements for this purpose
  • Consider who will be reading this version of your CV
  • Consider the evidential requirements – what types of experience, skills and achievements do you need to demonstrate?

You can learn these things by:

  • Speaking with recruitment consultants
  • Having conversations with your network – ask them questions specifically about this.
  • Conducting desk research – for example, reviewing job ads (old and new) relating to your purpose.
  • Working with a career consultant, preferably one who knows the legal recruitment landscape well… like me (shameless plug intended!).

The Exceptions to the Rule

Whilst I normally advise not to use a CV template, there are exceptions to the rule.

Rather than advocating the use of templates wholesale, however, I prefer to cautiously recommend using them as references to model elements from.

If your word processing skills aren’t the best, or you want to speed up the layout and formatting process, you could model the framework from a template you like the look of.

If you find a strong action word, a good relevant heading or a style of presenting an impactful achievement in a template you can note those down and use them as a model for your own writing.

However, be warned…

If you do this blindly, without carefully considering your own context and the specific purpose of your CV, you will drastically reduce your chances of success.

So, Proceed With Caution…

Hopefully, I have convinced you to proceed with caution when it comes to using CV templates.

You will be tempted, and that’s ok.

Merely ensure you consider your context and purpose at all times. Don’t blindly use templates to save time, or replicate them as if they were perfect precedents.

Whilst I use templates myself when I work with my private CV Relaunch clients, it would be irresponsible of me to share them publicly. I never share a template without first getting to know a bit about the recipient’s background and the intended purpose for this version of their CV.

If you decide to use a template drafted by a stranger who knows nothing about you, don’t be surprised if you end up on the “No” pile with the rest of the plain vanilla candidates.

Want me to review your CV and send you a template to model?

Complete the Contact Form and I will send you a short questionnaire about your circumstances and intended purpose for your CV.

I will then conduct an initial personalised “first impressions” review of your CV and send this to you together with a template that is fit for purpose.

Want a blueprint for a winning law CV?

Make sure you check out our Essential Guide to Creating a Successful Lawyer CV.

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Matt Oliver

Matt is the founder of Law Career Plus and a former in-house lawyer (Sky Sports, London & Foxtel, Sydney). With over 12 years of experience as a career consultant & executive coach, he supports lawyers with their career development & career transitions. He does this through this website, a regular email newsletter and his one to one lawyer career coaching.

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