Writing Samples

In an initial application, include a writing sample only if specifically requested. Many employers will request writing samples later in the interview process. Nearly all judges require a writing sample with the initial clerkship application materials. The best course of action is to have a writing sample ready at every stage of the interview process in case it is requested.

Legal employers typically seek legal analysis in writing samples; therefore, a memorandum or brief is preferred over a research paper. In addition, less outside editing is better, which is why previously published pieces are not automatically at the top of the list. Although the topic of the writing sample is generally not much of a concern, if you have a sample that relates to the employer’s work, you may wish to use it. The ultimate criterion, however, is the quality of the writing. If you use a document prepared for a prior employer, obtain the employer’s permission and make sure you have made all necessary modifications and redactions to preserve client confidentiality.

Although there is no definitive ideal length for a writing sample, 5-10 pages typically demonstrates your writing ability. If all of your potential writing samples are much longer, consider using an excerpt (e.g., one argument from a longer brief) and provide a brief explanatory note in the form of a cover sheet.

A cover sheet is useful to give any necessary background information about your writing sample. For example, if you use a writing project prepared for class, give the name of the class and a brief description of the assignment. If you are using a document prepared for a former employer, explain that you have obtained the employer’s permission and made all necessary modifications.

Writing Sample Cover Sheet Examples


In an initial application, include references only if specifically requested. Many employers will request a list of references at some point in the interview process. Students applying for public interest fellowships and judicial clerkships will most likely need to provide letters of recommendation with the initial application materials.  Consult the Public Interest Fellowships and Judicial Clerkships in the U.S. CDO guides for advice on securing letters of recommendation.

A list of references should include the contact information for two or three individuals who can recommend you for employment based on their personal experience with you as a student (preferably as a law student) or as an employee Employers are most interested in references who can discuss you in terms of the skills important for the position, such as legal writing and analysis, ability to assume responsibility, and interpersonal skills. If you ask law school faculty to serve as references, be sure that they know you from class participation, conversations outside of class, or research or other independent work that you performed for them.

Prior to listing someone as a reference, have a frank conversation to be sure that he/she is comfortable with providing you with a strong, positive recommendation. Take the time to talk with them about your career interests as they relate to the employers to which you are applying. In addition, provide them with a copy of your resume so they can become familiar with your background and experience.

Sample List of References


At some point in the recruiting process, employers will likely request your YLS transcript. Employers request transcripts to view both your grades and your course selections. First-year students who are asked to provide a transcript should explain to employers that grades are unlikely to be available before late January, and that, pursuant to the law school’s grading policy for first term, your transcript will show only credit or fail for each course. You can offer to send your transcript when grades are available, or to send an undergraduate transcript immediately if that would be helpful.

Courses are listed on your transcript as soon as you commence the course selection process. For first-year students, that means that spring courses will be listed on your transcripts starting the first week of December. If you think your course selections may be a selling point to employers, you may wish to hold off on sending transcripts until your spring courses have been selected.

Unless an employer specifically requests an official transcript, you can provide an unofficial transcript. On the back of an official YLS transcript is an explanation of the law school’s unique grading system; therefore, if you send an unofficial version, you may wish to obtain a photocopy of the grading explanation from the Registrar. Requests for either type must be made online. There is typically a 24-48 hour turnaround time. Unofficial transcripts can be photocopied; official transcripts cannot be copied and only 10 may be requested at one time.

For additional information about transcripts please consult the Registrar’s website.