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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Frequently Asked Questions About Writing Samples

What are employers looking for when they ask for a writing sample?
When legal employers ask for a writing sample, they want to see an example of the applicant's strong legal research and analytical skills. Students may use one of the following: a memorandum or brief, a Moot Court brief, or a Law Review or Journal article. If the application is for a judicial clerkship, then an unedited memorandum or brief should be used rather than a journal article.

How long should it be?
Generally, the writing sample should be no more than 10 pages long. If the writing sample is much longer, use an excerpt and include a cover page explaining what the excerpt is taken from.

Can I use something I wrote for a former employer?
Yes, however, always gain permission from the former employer first. All names of clients and other identifying information should be redacted by using fictitious names or crossing out the original names. Applicants should also include a brief cover page noted that the sample is being used with permission.

What if I don't have any good writing samples?
If you are not pleased with your memorandum from your first year writing course and do not have any other samples of your legal writing, you can always revise your original until you think it is a better representation of your current writing ability. Also consider writing an article for an outside publication or entering a writing contest. Getting published or winning a writing contest is not only a great way to prove to an employer your strong writing skills, it also demonstrates initiative and your genuine interest in a particular field.

Do employers really read writing samples?
While some employers confess they only read the first page to an applicant's writing sample, just as many say they read the entire piece. With this in mind, take care that your writing sample is free of typos and is a good representation of your writing abilities. Excellent writing is an essential skill to becoming a lawyer and writing samples will always be an important piece of the legal job search process!

For further reading on this topic:

Strauss, Debra M. "Building a Successful Application."Behind the Bench: The Guide to Judicial Clerkships. The BarBri Group, Inc. 2002 (Available in the CSO.)

Walton, Kimm Alayne. "Handling Writing Samples."Guerrilla Tactics for Getting the Legal Job of Your Dreams.Harcourt Brace. 1995 (Available in the CSO.)

Wojcik, Mark E. "Get Published." Student Lawyer. October 2008 (Vol. 37, No. 2)

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