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 your writing sample falls within 5-10 pages, single- or double-spaced text is fine (though be sure to check if an employer expresses a preference on this). If your writing sample goes above 10 pages in length (e.g., if an employer specifies a higher page count for applicants’ writing samples), it will generally make sense to double-space the document. If all of your potential writing samples are much longer than 10 pages, and absent particular employer instructions to the contrary, 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. When requested, a list of references should include the contact information for two or three individuals who can recommend you for employment based on their direct 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. Law school faculty who know you through class participation, conversations outside of class, or research or other independent work that you have performed for them, are ideal. First-year students most typically use their small group professor as their one YLS faculty recommender for 1L summer applications.

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

As compared to a list of references, 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.

Sample List of References


Some employers will request a transcript as part of the interview process. YLS provides official transcripts that can be ordered through the Registrar’s Office at https://transcript.law.yale.edu/Account/Login. There is usually a one hour turnaround time. Note that transcripts will not be processed for those with holds on their account. 

First-year students may wish to include the following information in their cover letters to employers: “For your information, first-term courses for first-year students are graded on a credit/fail basis.”