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Recently, there has been much attention in the news about certain people from the world of athletics embellishing their resumes. Among others, there has been the candidate for the job as head football coach at Notre Dame and the president of the U.S. Olympic Committee who lost opportunities because there were certain items on their resume which were, well, shall we say, untrue. Like many others, lawyers are outraged by these instances of resume embellishment. We are outraged because we are the ones who set the standard in creative resume writing. We are outraged because the spotlight has been stolen by individuals who do not include law degrees, real or made up, on their resumes. By lawyer standards, the embellishment of one’s academic record is really minor league stuff. Still, upon hearing the news, many lawyers immediately consider their own resumes. The thought of employers checking the accuracy of the items we have on our resumes causes a high degree of panic among those working in the legal profession. Resume inaccuracies at The Firm are common when it comes to academic credentials. This may stem from the fact that The Firm automatically refuses to consider applicants whose academic records are below a certain standard. This clearly encourages individuals to take certain liberties in writing their resumes. I should know. The Firm hired me. I have a pretty good career as a lawyer. And I never even attended law school. Verifying law school grades and LSAT scores can be time consuming. Some firms have gone to more basic things — such as verification of each attorney’s bar number. Legal lore includes many tales of lawyers “forgetting” to update their resumes to reflect one or more disbarments. Others simply decide that studying for the bar exam is a waste of time when it only takes a minute to write something on one’s resume. Some law firms (fortunately not mine) are cracking down on resume embellishment. They have taken to checking each and every item a job applicant puts down on paper. Despite these efforts, certain sections of one’s resume remain ripe for embellishment and, if you are screening applicants, here are some tips you may find useful. 1. WORK EXPERIENCE. Accurately interpreting a resume requires some reading between the lines. The best advice is to think back when you were writing your own resume. By doing this, one can usually better understand what is actually being described on a resume. For example: Resume Entry: “Prepared supporting documentation for corporate finance transactions.” Translation: Xeroxed and faxed documents for senior lawyers. Resume entry: “Extensive litigation experience.” Translation: Summarized depositions taken by other lawyers. Resume entry: “Expertise in corporate securities, labor law, taxation.” Translation: Never got out of the library doing research projects generally related to each of these fields. 2. MISSING TIME. Lawyers reviewing resumes on behalf of The Firm should also look for gaps of time on the resume. Such gaps may indicate certain indescribable (at least on a resume) activity taking place in his or her life that the job seeker, in error, forgot to mention. The general rule for interpreting a resume is that the harder something is to verify, the less likely it is true. 3. PERSONAL REFERENCES. Another part of the resume begging for embellishment is the section requesting personal references. Law firms should see red flags if the resume lists individuals as references who are well known, yet difficult to reach for confirmation. Salman Rushdie, Roman Polanski, Jimmy Hoffa, Queen Elizabeth II, recently-deceased members of the U.S. Supreme Court and The Rodent are all good examples who might be listed as personal references yet who don’t really know the person. 4. COMMUNITY HONORS AND ACTIVITIES. It is likely that an applicant’s imagination is often more active than he or she has actually been. Interviewing attorneys should look for embellishment indicators such as: winner of Nobel Prize, Presidential Medal of Freedom winner, discoverer of polio vaccine, member of Baseball Hall of Fame, Purple Heart recipient, Olympic gold medal winner and “Personal friend of Barbra Streisand.” While law firms attempt to curtail resume embellishment, they also know they can only go so far in these efforts. If the resume of every lawyer was verified and all those with errors were put on leave, there would be far fewer attorneys left practicing. Society simply thinks too highly of lawyers to stand for such a thing and the world would be unable to survive without the present abundance of lawyers. Well, perhaps I embellish. The Rodent is a syndicated columnist and author of “Explaining the Inexplicable: The Rodent’s Guide to Lawyers.” His e-mail address is [email protected]

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