When an employer asks for a writing sample, they are asking for an unedited writing sample, e.g. one that has not been substantially edited by another person. Your writing sample needs to reflect your own work. If you produced a document with another writer (e.g., your appellate brief for Legal Research and Writing), omit the portions the other writer drafted.
Below are additional guidelines to keep in mind for writing samples:
- Review of Writing Samples: Career Services does not provide critical review of writing samples. For a formal review of a potential writing sample, you may contact the Legal Research and Writing professors.
- Length of Writing Sample: Each writing sample submitted should be no less than 5 and no more than 12 pages in length, unless otherwise indicated by the employer.
- Writing Style: Unless otherwise directed, a traditional legal writing sample should demonstrate superior legal analysis, advocacy (where appropriate), perfect grammar, and formal use of a recognized legal citation method. Whenever possible, try to match the writing sample style and content to that of the employer’s mission and everyday style of writing (e.g., an administrative law memo for a federal agency application or a policy review paper for think tank).
Cover Sheet: A cover sheet is recommended, but should always be used when submitting only a section of a larger piece (e.g., the entire eight-page argument of a much longer brief) or when providing useful context to the sample by explaining the assignment or a position you were assigned to advocate. If a few facts are needed to put your argument in context, they can be included in an explanation that should be no longer than three sentences.
Type of Writing Sample: Any of the following may be appropriate:
- Legal Research & Writing Appellate Brief: Submit only an analytical section of the brief, and attach a cover sheet (see above)
- Actual Work Product—from your job, an externship or clinic, for example. In doing so, obtain approval from your supervisor to use the work product and to redact all confidential information.
- Scholarly Work—published articles, law reviews, for example. As above, the emphasis here should be on providing a sample of your legal analytical and writing skills.
Most employers do not ask for writing samples at the beginning of the recruitment process when you send out your initial resume and cover letter. Do not submit one at this stage unless asked. More than likely, a writing sample will be requested later in the process, so you should have one prepared.
Your writing sample should be the best legal writing you have done. As a general rule, 5-10 pages will be of sufficient length. It can be a memo from a summer job, the writing competition note you submitted for the journals, a portion of a moot court brief, or part of a memorandum or brief that you wrote for Lawyering. If at the time you are applying you have a law journal note or a seminar paper, use that. Only use work from Lawyering if you did well on the assignment, and you feel that this first year effort reflects your current ability.
Additionally, you should proofread the document, check your bluebook citations, and make the changes recommended by your Lawyering professor. Once you have made the suggested changes, your Lawyering professor may review work from the Lawyering class. If you are sending something you worked on for an employer, be sure to obtain (and make clear to the prospective employer that you have obtained) the employer's permission to use the materials. Be very aware of confidentiality issues with memos and exclude client-identifying information. If you are working on a journal note, you might send a discrete 10-15 page section, with a synopsis of the balance.
Your writing sample should include a cover page. Write your name, contact information and law school name on the cover page. Also state the circumstances under which you drafted the document. If you are sending a sample that has been edited by someone else, indicate the circumstances. (Be aware that some employers, including judges, request a sample that has not been substantially edited by another person.)
You should also be sure to make clear why and when you wrote the sample - e.g., for a seminar in a particular course, as part of a memorandum for an employer, for a particular journal. (If you redraft an earlier effort, you should describe the sample as “based on a memo I wrote in our first year writing program”.) If your writing sample has been accepted for publication be sure to indicate that. If you are using as your writing sample an opinion that you worked on for a judge (for example, in a summer intern position), do not use the phrase “opinion that I drafted” or “opinion that I wrote”. Instead, indicate that you “worked on” the opinion. Be aware that some employers may not accept an opinion, or any other writing ultimately attributed to someone else, as a writing sample. Speak with someone in the Career Services Office if you encounter any difficulty in selecting a writing sample.
TranscriptAn unofficial transcript will be sufficient for almost all employers. Request a transcript from the Law School Registrar, which you can then copy for mailed applications or scan into a PDF for emailed applications.
When you Request your transcript, you will have the option to include or exclude your GPA. This decision should be consistent with whether or not your GPA is included on your resume.
Copy the header (e.g., name and contact info) from your resume onto your Reference List for a uniform look across your application documents. Then type "References" in bold type and list the names and contact info for your references. When providing your reference list in hard copy, it should be printed on resume paper.
The references presented should have some relation to your work and study experience and not be solely social acquaintances. At least one, and perhaps two, of the references should be a member of the law school faculty (1L students should establish relationships with their Lawyering and/or small section professors to help this process). Undergraduate professors and prior supervisors can also be excellent references. Courtesy and common sense dictate that you request references' permission before using their names, so that they will not be caught off guard when an inquiry is made. It is a good idea to furnish your references with an updated copy of your resume to refresh their memories and to keep yourself and your job search fresh in their minds.