What Should I Use For A Writing Sample?

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There’s no perfect answer — but here are a few guidelines, from veteran recruiter Abby Gordon.

In addition to your resume, representative matters sheet, and J.D. transcript**, as a lateral litigation associate candidate, you will need to include a writing sample with your application materials. Candidates often ask me for guidance on what type of writing to use.

Unfortunately, there is no perfect answer, as each reader is different. But here are a few guidelines:

  • There must be absolutely, positively NO typos or grammatical errors in the writing.
  • The writing should be very clear and not convoluted. Do not confuse complex writing with good writing. Stay away from overly academic writing.
  • The closer the writing is in terms of style and industry focus to something you’d be writing in your new position, the more helpful it will be in terms of assessing your abilities. That being said, good writing is more important than subject matter.
  • You must be able to say honestly that you were the primary drafter of the work, with limited edits/revisions from others. But everyone understands it’s unrealistic if you’re producing work you did for a firm that NO ONE else has given any input.
  • Most firms are looking for something in the 8-15 page range — give or take. I wouldn’t get hung up on exact length unless the firm specifies. If needed, you may send something longer and direct the reviewer to a specific 8-15 page section.
  • Be sure the writing is redacted for any confidential information, if necessary. In particular, redact the client/parties’ names and any other key identifying items. It’s often best to play it safe by using a brief, motion, or other writing that has been filed publicly — if you don’t have to redact, the writing is likely to flow better. But client memos are just fine if properly redacted.
  • Be sure you can talk about the subject of the writing articulately (after refreshing your memory at least). Be prepared to discuss the writing and the matter in an interview.
  • Some decision-makers will give the writing sample more weight; others will not read it at all. We don’t always know the reason why a candidate is not selected for interviews, but I’d be shocked if the writing sample makes or breaks it. Don’t overthink it!

My best advice? Go with your gut. What do you feel (not think) is the best example of your best writing?

** Generally, when applying to a firm as a lateral associate, you will need to provide a resume, representative matters sheet (a “deal sheet” for corporate associates), a J.D. transcript, and a writing sample for litigation candidates. Very few positions will also require an undergrad transcript. For more senior positions, a business plan might be helpful. Of course, it’s also essential to convey to a firm your reasons for wanting to make the move, but when applying through a recruiter, it’s the recruiter who drafts the cover note; you do not need to draft a formal cover letter.

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. This post is by Abby Gordon, Senior Director at Lateral Link, who works with attorney candidates on law firm and in-house searches, primarily in Boston, New York, and Europe.