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Guide to Legal Writing Samples

published April 22, 2022

By Author - LawCrossing
Published By
( 150 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.
A law firm job search is a stressful event. Applying with the right resume and cover letter, anxiously waiting whether you will hear back from the firm, going through the interview process, and getting interviewed in several rounds all require meticulous preparation in hopes of hearing positive feedback and getting an offer. However, there is one aspect of the application process many attorneys underestimate, and it often costs them their chance - legal writing samples.

Why do Candidates so Easily overlook a Writing Sample?

As a legal recruiter with over two decades of experience in the legal industry, I have helped hundreds of lawyers find their dream legal job after unsuccessfully applying for months on their own. One of the most common mistakes attorneys make and often costs them the job is underestimating their legal writing sample.

Many interviewers do not focus on writing samples during the interview, which leaves attorneys assuming that a writing sample is only a formality, and it does not matter that much. That is not true. Most employers and interviewers focus on writing samples after the initial interviews when they have already excluded most candidates. What happens then is that even if they like an attorney or a law student, if their writing sample is full of typos, mistakes, and confidential information, they cannot make them an offer.

Many attorneys also do not want to get into reviewing their legal writing samples because they are afraid they will find serious mistakes that will take them a lot of time to go over it. They send in the first sample they see and hope for the best.

If you want to increase your chances of getting your dream job (or do not want to ruin them), read on and find out what to consider when choosing and reviewing your perfect writing sample.

Proofreading Is Key


One of the most important aspects of submitting a writing sample is that it has to be completely error-free. It is not enough to proofread it once; you have to check and polish it until you are sure that the sample is spotless.

Polishing the sample means checking for typos, extra spaces, and spelling. Formatting is also important - headings, indentations, fonts, and bullet points must be consistent within the document. Apart from formatting and spelling errors, you also have to ensure that the content is alright. You have to make sure that the cases you cite fit and support your propositions and are substantive enough.

One of the best proofreading tips I can give you is to print out the sample and review it by hand. Also, leaving enough time for reviewing is necessary. After reading something over and over, you will start overlooking easy mistakes. Slowing down and reading the text from the end to the beginning can also help. Another tip is that if you think you have reviewed the sample enough and it is ready to be sent, review it one more time. You would be surprised how many mistakes you can still catch.

Once you are sure that everything is spotless and you want to send your application with your writing sample, you should always send it as a PDF. When you are sending it as an editable document, any typographical errors (that do not necessarily have to be a mistake) get highlighted or underlined, which disrupts the reading experience.

How Long Should a Writing Sample Be?

If the job post sets a specific limit for the sample length, you should always go by that. If the limit is not set, writing samples that have eight to 20 pages are usually the best. They provide enough substance for the employer to evaluate your argumentation, persuasiveness, and analytical writing skills. If the sample is specially packed with analytical reasoning and arguments, it can be a bit shorter than the eight pages; however, more than eight is preferred to provide enough content and legal analysis to evaluate.

Does There Have To Be an Introduction To Provide Context?


When providing the sample, you might conclude that the excerpt needs context for the readers to know what you are writing about. It is usually the case.

An introduction or an overview sets the scene and explains the subject matter of the writing sample. It helps understand everything important and should help make sure that the reader does not miss any important information. It should be placed at the beginning.

Apart from explaining the context, the introduction should also inform the reader about whether any confidential information has been redacted or altered and whether someone collaborated on the sample or went over it to polish it.

Readers Have To Know the Writing Is a Sample

Another important thing to keep in mind is that the readers should always know that you provide them with an excerpt and not a complete document. If this is not clear, it can cause unnecessary problems. The best way to do this is by including a header (or a footer) on every page with a clarification of what the document is. It could be, for example, "[YOUR NAME] - Writing Sample." If confidential information has been redacted from the document, also include the word "redacted" in the footer/header.

Can You Use Filed Documents With Confidential Information?


It is quite common to use documents you have filed in court as a legal writing sample; however, this must be approached carefully because of confidential information. When doing so, you should always check your local rules to see if there are any specifications regarding this issue.

When using a filed document, local rules and statutes should be your sources on what information is and is not confidential and what needs to be redacted or changed. You can also seek out an ethics advisor in your bar association to consult on what needs to be redacted if you are not sure.

How To Redact Confidential Information


There are two main ways how you can redact information in a document. You can either change the names into something very generic, such as XYZ or ACME, or blackout the confidential information with a black highlight.

When you choose to black the information out, you have to be very careful when sending the writing sample by email. You should never send the document as a Word document, as the black highlight can be easily changed. Sending it as a PDF is also not ideal, as there are simple ways to change PDFs into editable Word documents. You can avoid this by printing out the document with blacked-out information, scanning it, and sending it as a PDF.

You should avoid using markers to redact information. However, if you do not have access to the document in electronic form and you do not have other options, use new markers with sharp edges.

Collaborative Documents

Most documents created throughout your career will be made in collaboration with others or at least with edits by partners or senior associates. Although writing samples should be your work, sometimes you cannot avoid sending in something other attorneys made changes to or collaborated on.

If that is your case, you should always detail what parts you have written or what parts were edited by someone else in the introduction. You can also indicate what parts were not written by you in the sample itself, for instance, by crossing out parts that were not written by you (strikethrough).

I do not recommend sending in published articles as they have been heavily edited. Only send them in as a last resort or if the firm specifically asked for them.

What Writing Sample To Choose:


The legal writing sample should demonstrate your analytical and persuasive skills, not only your writing skills. Including the facts within the text through analysis shows much more of your skills than including a facts section. Choosing a sample with a lot of relevant citations demonstrates your research skills.

Your persuasive and analytical writing skills are often demonstrated in letters you have sent to the opposing counsel or other similar materials. Law firms often appreciate such a realistic example of your legal skills.

Law firms want to see samples that are as recent as possible. Sending in something you have written in law school when you graduated years ago does not reflect that positively on you. Also, your skills are constantly improving, so you would be doing yourself a disservice by sending in something you wrote years ago.

If you are in a transactional practice area, you might be wondering whether you need a writing sample. Generally, firms want to see transaction or deal sheets from these attorneys, so you need to approach them as the writing sample and make sure they are error-free and reflect well on your writing and persuasive abilities.

When in Doubt, Proofread Again

I cannot stress the importance of proofreading enough. The content of your sample can be wonderful; however, when it is in a poor state and full of mistakes, you will not be up for consideration. Especially not in major law firms.


Writing samples are often easily overlooked by attorneys and law students who think that things like their resume or cover letter are more important. That is not necessarily true. Legal writing samples demonstrate your analytical and persuasive writing skills but also show your attention to detail, proofreading skills, and organization skills. It is a way into how your mind works and how you present information and yourself. These are all things law firms assess before making their hiring decisions, and they carry a lot of weight in these decisions. As a legal recruiter, I have seen several attorneys lose their potential jobs only because their writing samples were poor quality and full of typographical errors and other mistakes. Spending that extra hour or two on proofreading and polishing your writing samples can do a lot, so do not underestimate it.

published April 22, 2022

By Author - LawCrossing
( 150 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.