What you Need to Know About Writing Samples

Always have one ready and bring one with you to every interview. If your sample was prepared in conjunction with a course, make sure it is reprinted so that written instructor comments are not included in the copy submitted to employers. If you are using a writing sample developed during employment, obtain your employer’s permission to use it. Be sure that the names of the parties and any other identifying information are removed. Eight to ten pages is an ideal length. Twelve pages is the upper limit. If you use a section of a brief, use a cover sheet to explain. Make sure there are no typos anywhere in your writing sample. It is unethical to submit a writing sample that incorporates significant revisions by a professor, judge, co-worker, or tutor. However, if you have edited a writing sample in response to a professor’s or supervisor’s comments, that is fine. Writing samples must contain only your own writing. This does not mean you must submit a first draft. Law journal articles are not recommended because they are usually heavily edited by someone else and are too long.
In selecting a writing sample to provide to employers, follow our top ten tips:
  • Legal-Make sure your writing sample highlights your legal reasoning and analytical skills. For many students, a sample from your legal writing course, advocacy, or work you completed for a legal employer will be your best options. 

  • Confidentiality-If you use a sample from an employer or externship, you must ask permission before using the sample and redact any confidential information, such as the party names.

  • Length & Cover Sheet-Follow any guidelines the employer provides for the length (do not exceed the page limit). If no guidelines are provided, generally eight to twelve pages is appropriate. Ideally, provide an entire product (memo, brief, etc.). If you cannot provide an entire document due to length requirements, provide a portion of a memo or brief e.g. the introduction and analysis section so they can see your legal reasoning. Always include a cover sheet that includes your name, address, email address, and a short description of the issue or issues as follows: 

Susan H. Smith
222 North Columbus Drive #2002 Chicago, IL 60601 ssmith@gmail.com

Writing Sample #1:
Memo Denying Summary Judgment Motion in a Medical Malpractice Case

Summer Law Clerk Position Condon & Cook Law Firm
June 2, 2017

I wrote the attached memorandum while I worked for Condon & Cook, a Chicago law firm. The issue addressed in the portion of the memo I have submitted involves . . . . I conducted the legal research and wrote the memorandum myself. The law firm has authorized my use of this memorandum as one of my writing samples.

  • Unedited-Employers often request an unedited sample. This does not mean you have to use the original draft you turned in to your instructor or supervisor, but it should be your own writing. It is fine to provide a version of your writing that has been revised as a result of feedback from others as long as you are the one who made the revisions. Also, you should submit a clean copy (not a draft with comments on it). 

  • Recent-Ideally your sample should be less than two-years old as your writing skills have likely improved with experience. 

  • Provide your own work-If possible use a sample that was not co-authored. If you worked collaboratively on the sample with a practitioner, the editorial staff of a journal, or a moot court teammate-you need to clearly indicate which portions of the sample are yours. 

  • Include your name on your writing sample-You should make sure your sample has page numbers and that your name appears clearly on the sample. 

  • Proofread, Proofread, Proofread-Even if you have reviewed the sample many times give it another review by reading it backwards, out loud, or with a ruler. It should be free of misspellings, typos, grammatical errors, and all citations should be in accordance with the Bluebook and Shepardized. 

  • Have your writing sample ready when requested. Some employers request writing samples along with your resume and cover letter. Other employers will request a writing sample at an interview. If you haven’t submitted a writing sample beforehand, bring a sample with you to your interview in case you are asked for it.

  • Be ready to discuss the content of your writing sample during an interview