Top-notch writing skills are crucial in the legal industry, especially for lawyers and paralegals. If you are applying for a legal position, employers will frequently request a writing sample. Furnishing a poor writing sample can destroy your chance of landing the job. On the other hand, an excellent writing sample can help you get a leg up on the competition.
It is a good idea to build a portfolio of writing samples during school and your early years of practice. This portfolio should include your best work in a variety of genres.
Below are five common mistakes applicants make in submitting writing samples.
Poor Writing Sample
A poorly written sample that contains fundamental errors in grammar, word choice, sentence construction, or other quality problems is a red flag for employers. Below are a few issues to watch:
- Sentence clarity
- Word choice
- Redundancies and/or inaccuracies in the text
- Tone and voice
- Content organization
- Flow and transitions
- Sentence structure
- Gaps in content
Have a mentor, professor, co-worker, or other trusted professional to review your writing samples. If your writing skills need work, take a few writing classes or hire a tutor to help you improve your writing.
While applicants give much attention to creating an error-free resume and cover letter, their writing samples often receive a less meticulous review. We have seen many writing samples with typographical errors – many of them published online, in law review journals and legal publications or filed with the court. A single typo is enough to instill doubt in the reviewer and eliminate you from consideration.
Make sure your writing samples match the employer’s request and the needs of the position. If, for example, you are applying for an associate position, don’t submit your senior term paper on psychosocial behavior. Instead, submit a sample that demonstrates that you can perform the job for which you are applying. For example, if you are applying for a position as an associate in the firm’s litigation department, submit a brief, motion, or memorandum of law. If you are applying for a position as a corporate paralegal, submit a resolution, escrow trust agreement, or related transactional document.
Failure to Follow Instructions
Always follow the job ad or potential employer’s instructions for submitting writing samples, particularly with respect to:
- Type of samples: Make sure that the type of sample you submit (i.e., brief, correspondence, motion) matches the employer’s request in terms of format, style, and content. If you don’t have a relevant sample in your portfolio, draft a new writing sample to fit.
- The number of writing samples: Don’t submit too many or too few samples. If a number is not specified, a good rule of thumb is two samples (one at a minimum and three samples max). Busy employers rarely have time to read more than three writing samples.
- Length of writing samples: Follow the employer’s instructions regarding the length of your samples. In the legal field, writing samples tend to be longer (5-10 pages) to enable employers to evaluate your ability to make a persuasive legal argument and analyze points of law.
- The manner of submission: Some employers may want samples submitted as e-mail attachments while others prefer that they appear in the body of the e-mail or are mailed to their address.
Disclosing Confidential Information
Writing samples in the legal profession require special care due to attorney/client privilege, sensitive information, and confidentiality concerns. When submitting writing samples from a past or present case or transaction, even if that case is closed or terminated, it is important to remove the names of all parties, names of clients, and any other sensitive or confidential information. To preserve the flow of your content, you can substitute fictitious names, facts, and information.