When it come to legal job interviews, the No. 1 rule is to be prepared. Thorough preparation ranges from working on sample questions, drafting your own questions for the firm or organization, printing out your resume in advance, to having a writing sample on hand. Not all employers will request a writing sample, but it is still important to have one ready for those who do. Below are some guidelines on how to best prepare your legal writing sample before interview day.
1. Bring it to the interview.
It's true that everything is a click away these days. But if a partner or head of a legal organization requests your writing sample during an interview, you don't want to pull out your phone and try to email it mid-interview. You should have a printed version ready to hand over on the spot. Being prepared will signal that you are organized, reliable, and able to plan in advance.
2. Take time to choose and polish your sample.
A writing sample can set you apart both for its content and presentation (think grammar and editing), so be sure to select the one that best showcases your skills—and then make sure you polish it. If you’re still in law school, use a writing sample from a class. The sample should be well written, free of errors, and fewer than ten pages long. Your legal writing instructor can help steer you toward your strongest piece. If you’re a second-year student, you may be able to use something from your summer internship, but you must get permission from your summer employer, and you may have to redact any confidential information. Once you select your strongest sample, make sure that you review it for typos and grammatical issues. (Note that some employers may want to see an unedited version of your sample, meaning it does not incorporate substantive revisions from your professor or supervisor.)
3. Know it inside and out.
Most employers will want to engage in a discussion about your writing sample. Be sure to choose a writing sample that you’ll be able to discuss in a relaxed but knowledgeable way. Some job applicants get so caught up in providing a well-written sample that they forget that they actually need to be able to discuss the contents in detail as well.
4. Prepare a cover sheet.
Include a cover sheet with your writing sample that provides necessary background information about the sample—that it’s from a class (give the name of the class and a brief overview of the assignment) or an employer (provide a brief overview of the sample’s background and state that you have received permission to use the sample). You should also detail the extent of editing by a third party (if any) and whether the sample was culled from a larger document. If you use a sample from your professional work, be sure to change the names of parties (in a lawsuit, contract, etc.) along with any other identifying information.
A writing sample provides a chance to demonstrate your writing, editing, and analytical skills. Take time to select your strongest piece and be sure to review it thoroughly before your interview and print it in advance in case your prospective employer requests it.
There is one question you can always expect during your legal job interview: Do you have any questions for us? Preparing thoughtful, well-researched questions for this part of your interview is a great way to show your interest in the legal employer and that you have done your homework.
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