During the interview process, many law firms will ask candidates to provide a writing sample. This is especially true of junior to mid-level associate positions. Undoubtedly, this has caused angst for many a candidate. Not only can it be a matter of selecting the correct type of writing sample, but also trying to figure what style of writing is preferred by the potential employer.
If you have practiced as an associate at a law firm, you are likely aware that partners have different preferences when it comes to writing and you learn to adapt to their individual style. So how do you know what type of writing style a potential employer seeks? The key is to not make assumptions and just stick with a sample that best suits your style. Presumably, this is the style that you are most comfortable with and are likely to choose when drafting initial assignments at the new firm. Of course, if your default style is too far afield then gravitate towards a sample that reflects more traditional legal writing if are comfortable with such style going forward.
It often happens that associates have few examples of written works that reflect their true style. Many assignments begin with an existing document that was prepared by someone else, which is then tweaked for that particular assignment. It may also be the case that another attorney either co-writes or has significant input on the document that might otherwise be used a sample. If either case applies to you, and you have no other sample that would be appropriate, then submit one that you worked on with assistance (with full disclosure) and submit another sample (even if slightly off the mark) reflecting your true writing style.
While the ultimate objective in the interview process is securing a job offer, it is a mistake to purport to be something you are not or otherwise unwilling to be – whether during an interview or providing supplemental material such as a writing sample. It is best to pick a writing sample that accurately reflects your ability and let the employer decide if it suits their style or gives them enough to work with to make it a successful hire.