Not all positions require that you submit a writing sample, but when asked, submitting a strong sample can be a great way to advance your candidacy. In fact, a writing sample can make or break your chances of landing a great job. For this reason, it is important to understand how to select and prepare a high-quality submission.
Selecting and Preparing Writing Samples in Three Key Steps
- Step 1: Review and Select
When considering which sample to share, think about your recent work and consider which memorandums, motions, pleadings, or briefs are the best representation of your writing abilities. Remember, this is your time to shine and make your mark as a candidate. Your writing and analytical skills will be under scrutiny, so select a sample that shows your strengths on both accounts. Also, choose a sample that has had only minimal edits from partners or senior attorneys.
- Step 2: Redact
It is essential to protect all confidential information. Take extra care when reviewing your writing sample to ensure nothing is accidentally shared. Of course, if you can select documents that have already been publicly filed, do so. It’s the easiest way to avoid grave errors.
If you don’t have any strong publicly filed documents, select your best sample, and redact all confidential information. You may also find it helpful to replace the names of people and organizations with generic terms. Once this is done, review and review again to ensure nothing confidential was accidentally left in the writing sample.
- Step 3: Edit and Update
Once you’ve selected and redacted your samples, make sure you leave adequate time to edit and review them. Avoid careless typos and improper formatting, and make sure your references are correct. After all, the reader will be assessing your writing skills, your analytical skills, citations, and knowledge of case law. If you would like to have another set of eyes review your writing sample, consider asking someone you trust (e.g., a former professor or current mentor).
Beyond the steps already outlined, there a few other important considerations to bear in mind when preparing a writing sample.
- Keep It Brief
Most employers will want to see a writing sample of five to ten pages. Avoid sending longer samples since most partners won’t read beyond ten pages. If your sample is exceptionally long, include only those portions that highlight your writing and analytical skills. In the cover letter, explain which sections were omitted to ensure the sample remains fully legible.
- Include a Cover Letter
Your writing sample should include a cover page. In your cover letter, provide a brief explanation. Offer any context and background needed to fully understand the sample and when and why it was written.
As a lawyer, your writing skills are among your greatest assets. For this reason, it is essential to submit your very best work. As any employer will tell you, a careless writing sample can stop a candidacy in its tracks. Likewise, an outstanding writing sample can often help a candidate rise to the top of a highly competitive search. If you select a strong writing sample and take time to edit and prepare it, it will undoubtedly highlight your potential.