Lawyer resumes and LinkedIn profiles remind me of my high school English teacher, Ms. Angott. Her red ink filled the margins of our papers with “awk” and “dead wood”. My margins contained many pithy comments, but awk for awkward and dead wood for unnecessary are the two I most remember. Particularly dead wood.

When I read phrases like “experienced attorney” and “demonstrated history of” or “proven track record of“, I start reaching for a red pen or a chain saw. I invoke Ms. Angott’s name. Cut out the dead wood! Eliminate these phrases.

If you don’t accept my advice at face value, ask yourself what’s the value of these phrases? What purpose do they serve? What is their relevance? Or like dead branches, are they merely filler taking up room, distracting and detracting?

For that matter, what’s the value of the sentence “Proven track record working in the legal industry“? If that phrase hits dangerously close to home with you, hit the delete key. Ask yourself if you need to replace that sentence with another. Probably not.

Instead, try out sentences with facts. Attorney with 15+ years advising Fortune 500 companies and C-suite executives on … Attorney serving as outside general counsel for manufacturers …. Transactional attorney with 5+ years working on deals ranging from $2M to $200M…. IP lawyer focused on… Legal advisor and authority on HR dispute resolution and retention programs….

Let the facts, and more specifically your accomplishments, speak for you. Select them wisely and let them demonstrate the value you bring to the reader.

Show don’t tell.

Same with cliches such as “trusted advisor“. Yes, I know David Maister, an expert on professional service firms, coined the phrase and wrote a book entitled “The Trusted Advisor.” I know that being or having a trusted advisor is important and desirable. But the phrase is now overused. Look at a handful of corporate law firm websites and you’ll see what I mean.

Individual lawyers and law firms should find other ways to express and demonstrate their capabilities, roles, and relationship skills. Demonstrate that you think independently and creatively and that you are trusted and trustworthy.

Show don’t tell.

I’ve had more than a few clients say, well, that’s what they see a lot of people writing, so they thought they should too. What? You’re not a sheep.

Use of these bland phrases and similar sentences appears to be de rigueur across industries. Do a quick search on LinkedIn. See how you can mind-numbingly blend in and how you can stand out.

Use the analytical skills you acquired in law school and the judgment you’ve developed throughout your life. Question or at least examine and consider the value and purpose of various actions, including your choice of words on your resume, LinkedIn profile, and website bio.

By the way, after you do so, feel free to write or call me. I’d be happy to take a quick look and give you some feedback. I’m not Ms. Angott, but I’d be pleased to be able to pass along at least a smidge of her advice.

If you’d like to talk and see if there’s a fit for us to work together on an aspect of your legal career, please contact me.