University of Pittsburgh

Career Services Job Searching Guide: Writing Samples

Many employers request writing samples of candidates. The writing sample should be a polished memo or brief or other legal document without professor's comments, typographical errors or stray marks. With permission, and after protecting confidentiality by blocking out identifying names as appropriate, a memo, brief or other legal document that you wrote for an employer may be used. Both quality and appearance are extremely important. Good writing ability frequently is one of the essentials employers seek in prospective employees; your writing sample, as well as your cover letter, are opportunities to demonstrate talent in this area. If you have two or more samples from which to choose, select the one that most strongly reveals your writing style, ability to organize your thoughts, powers of analysis, clarity, succinctness, and legal reasoning. Obvious rule of thumb: choose your best legal writing to date.

Employers have told us that they prefer writing samples to be no longer than 10 pages. They are looking for clear, concise language and format, although relevancy and interest to the employer can be a plus. Include a cover page with your name (as well as your address and telephone number) and the title. If the writing sample is an excerpt from a longer piece, determine where you need to prepare an introduction to provide context to the reader.

A few years ago most employers asked for the writing sample closer to the time of making the final hiring decision rather than at the beginning of the application process. With a significant increase in the number of applicants for each job opening, there is a trend toward requesting the sample earlier in the application process to ensure that the quality candidates are not overlooked. Students should be prepared to promptly submit a writing sample. First-year students will typically submit a writing sample from their Legal Research and Writing Class. Second and third-year students generally use a writing sample from their employment, externship or other outside legal experience.

Remember, your cover letter is also a writing sample. Employers read your cover letters and they must be grammatically perfect!

Revised 09/28/2011 | Copyright 2011 | Site by UMC