Creating a Writing Sample

While your cover letters and resumes are obvious writing samples, you should be prepared to submit a formal legal writing sample as well. While a writing sample alone will not get you a job, it clearly can be your undoing if you submit something inappropriate.

Text of a Writing Sample

  • A writing sample must be entirely your own work. Do not plagiarize. Your writing sample should be substantially unedited by anyone else. If significant parts of the sample were not edited, you may indicate those parts on the document. If you have an unedited sample that might appear to have been edited, it is acceptable to attach a cover sheet with a brief explanation saying, "The following is an unedited memorandum I wrote as a paralegal at Arnold & Porter. I have been given express permission to use it as a writing sample."
  • A writing sample should demonstrate your ability to analyze a legal issue. Consequently, the sample should contain a set of facts, a discussion of the relevant case or statutory law, and a conclusion drawn from the application of the law to the facts. Many first year students use the memorandum they prepared for their legal writing course in the fall.
  • Inappropriate writing samples include: a book review, university thesis, or paper for a law school seminar based on a more jurisprudential topic. If you have written something that has been published, you might offer this as a secondary sample if asked.

If you select a document originally prepared for an employer, you must also be careful not to breach any confidences or attorney-client privileges. You must obtain permission from your employer before using such a sample and, as addressed above, you might want to explain this on a cover sheet. If you need to redact confidential information such as a client name, it is preferable to rename the client generically and to inform the reader of this change on a cover sheet or in a footnote (e.g., ABC Corporation). Please have your legal writing instructor review your writing sample before submitting it.

Length

As a general rule, a 5-10 page document is ideal. You may use a section of a larger work, but if you do, be sure to preface the sample with an explanatory note that (1) explains the larger task and the selected issue(s), and (2) offers any facts necessary to a full understanding of the excerpted analysis.
If you redact internal sections of a document in order to shorten it, make this clear to the reader so that if it is a legal area they are familiar with they do not assume that you left out an important argument. For example, if you are using a memorandum or brief that has separate sections, you could redact one section but leave its title.

Final Tips

  • Proofread. Your goal is to submit a document that is free from errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation, as it will be checked for errors, even in citation form. Candidates routinely lose potential jobs due to sloppy writing samples.
  • Your writing sample may be submitted on regular, photocopy quality paper. It should be stapled in the upper left-hand corner. Make sure each copy is clean and neat.
  • You do not need to submit a writing sample to an employer until it has been requested. However, you should bring copies of your writing sample to all interviews.