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Quick Tips: Choosing a Writing Sample

While you’re plugging away at work this summer, you might want to take some time to think about writing samples.  Many students and recent graduates have questions about choosing a good writing sample.  Read on for quick tips and suggested resources on this topic.

1.       The best writing samples are written as part of a legal work experience, including internships and externships.  If you are using a sample from work, be sure you have your employer’s permission to use the document as a writing sample and redact any sensitive information.  If you are a first year student, employers understand that you may not yet have completed a legal internship or externship; therefore, a legal memoranda or brief from Legal Rhetoric is acceptable.  Just be sure that your writing sample includes legal analysis.  Unless the topic is highly relevant to the position you seek or you are certain that an employer is interested, it is generally best to stay away from submitting scholarly or academic work.

Always be sure the writing sample reflects your own work.  It is best to avoid any document that was substantially edited or drafted by someone else.

2.       Keep it short and follow the employer’s instructions! How short is short?  If the employer doesn’t specify a page limit, try to keep your sample in the range of 5 to 10 pages.  If your sample is too long, use an excerpt and provide a brief explanation in the cover page.

3.       If you don’t have a writing sample from your legal work experience, consider writing a memorandum on a topic of interest to you and/or the potential employer.  To explore potential topics, conduct an informational interview with an attorney well-versed in the subject.  In addition to gathering valuable input for your memo, this sort of interaction offers the additional benefit of expanding your professional network!

Employers expect your writing sample to be flawless and free from any grammatical or spelling errors.   Use short and succinct sentences to ensure that your sample is easy to read.  While OCPD can provide advice on the length, style, and type of sample you should use, we don’t provide a critical review of the content.  Contact the Legal Rhetoric Department for a formal writing sample review.

For additional guidance on writing samples, check out the following resources.

The OCPD Writing Sample Web Page and Judicial Application Writing Sample Tips

The Legal Rhetoric Program’s “Writing Resources for Upper Level and Professional Writing”

This great video by Julie Brooks from the CEB Blog on “The Secret to Better Legal Writing.”

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