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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

April 19, 2016

I’m a transactions lawyer and an employer has asked me for a writing sample as part of my job interview process. Is it ok to send contracts as writing samples?

Julie Q. Brush

In the world of legal hiring, it’s near impossible to know every facet of a candidate’s true qualifications within the span of an interview process. Furthermore, less than optimal interviewing dynamics can waste precious time and further compromise employer insight. One strategy employers rely on to provide a window into a candidate’s lawyering prowess is…the writing sample: a real world, real circumstance document that showcases real work. The overwhelming majority of writing samples are requested of litigators with standard pleadings as the sample norm. But an increasing number of transactions lawyers are asked to provide examples of their work product as well. And without back-pocket pleadings or other creative legal writing narratives to rely on, many are left wondering what kind of samples suffice.

The nature of a transactions practice involves reviewing, drafting and negotiating contracts. And it is the vehicle in which lawyers showcase their lawyering abilities. So it is the most readily accessible…and appropriate professional work product candidates can provide to a potential employer. But there are some rules of the road to ensure you preserve confidentiality and provide a relevant and effective representation of your work:

Ask for Guidance.

You’re going to have one chance to make a good impression with your writing sample, so don’t assume what employers expect to see…ask them. Because if you’re mind reading is wrong, it’s game over. In order to receive the proper guidance, ask the following questions:

  • How many writing samples would you like?
  • What type of writing sample do you prefer? Would a standard contract work for you?
  • If so, is there anything specific you’d like to see the contract address? Is there any type of contract you’d like me to avoid?
  • When would you like to receive the writing sample(s)?

By getting your order upfront, you will maximize your chances of acing this part of the interview.

Choose Wisely.

Once you have your marching orders, choose an agreement that will best exemplify your skills and meets the expectations of this potential employer. It should be your own work (as opposed to a primarily collaborative effort) and should be a contract you have drafted/negotiated recently. If required to provide more than one example, deliver a variety of samples to review. In addition, some agreements are too sensitive or confidential to use…even if redacted – and could put your career at risk. So be mindful of this and stay away from such temptations.

Redact All Material/Confidential Information.

If the agreement is public information you do not need to redact it. But if you do choose something that has not been published and/or needs to remain confidential, removing all hard data is a must: Party names, possessives, plurals, numbers, specific deal points…the works. Some advisors recommend blacking out sensitive information with a black marker. But visually, this looks terrible and can make the document distracting and disjointed to read, not to mention, annoy the reader. Instead, replace party names with generic monikers (i.e. Company A, Corp. X, INDIVIDUAL). Once this has been complete, triple-check the document to ensure all of the important information has been redacted (the Find/Replace function is a useful program for this exercise) and remove all metadata. Remember, you are also being judged on your attention to detail in this exercise. So the slightest oversight will compromise your candidacy.

Once your redacted writing sample is complete, provide a note to the employer in an email or separate letter providing color on the documents you have submitted. In addition, if applicable, communicate that the your writing sample has been redacted. Then, send it in PDF format so it cannot be changed or revised.

Reaching the point of a writing sample request is often a good sign for a candidate in the hiring process. And for the transaction lawyer, a redacted contract is an appropriate form of writing sample to provide. But there are other steps to take and issues to consider in order to increase success at this stage of the process – as you are not home free. So cross your T’s and dot your I’s and you’ll find yourself in a strong position to close the deal.

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