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.
Obviously, you should take the time to read through the document you are going to submit to be sure it is fair representation of your writing style. You also will want to review for spelling and grammatical mistakes. Yes, it may be challenge to find a document completely free of mistakes but at least make sure they are not excessive.
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.
Selecting the correct writing sample can be a determining factor in whether you get a job or not. Spend the time to review multiple examples of your work with a critical eye towards style and spelling or grammatical errors. While it is possible your best work may not be good enough but at least you know is was the best you could offer.
The single most important thing to keep in mind when interviewing at a law firm is to understand how the law firm will make money when they hire you.
It sounds shallow, but law firms exist to make money. Hiring you to sit in an office and wait for work to land on your desk is a horrible strategy. Make the decision to hire you an easy one for the firm.
Will you bring clients? Will you solve a problem (i.e., handle existing work that is not being done)? Will you fill some internal hole in the law firm’s legal team that will assist the firm attract or support clients? Whatever it is, being able to understand and articulate the business case for hiring you is the first step.
The next step is to be able to articulate why YOUR solution is better than all other solutions.
Okay, so you have decided to test the market to see if there is a better job option for you. Maybe you can’t tolerate your boss or coworkers; or perhaps you have reached your professional limit at your current job and need a new platform to grow. Whatever your reason, since you have committed to exploring other jobs, why not make the most of it by considering multiple opportunities.
I understand that the market is still tight but some people will have the opportunity to weigh multiple options if they so choose. Having options is important because you are more likely to find the right fit and get the most from an offer.
For some people, their only basis of comparison is the job they are departing when considering another employer. Yes, even having a limited comparison is helpful, but think how much more effective that becomes when you add a few more opportunities to consider. The one place you are considering may be an improvement, but you should make sure that it is truly the best option for you – not just better than your current job.
The other reason it can be beneficial to consider multiple job opportunities is leverage. While the threat of staying at your current job can be used, there is obviously a reason you are looking and most people (including potential employers) know that accepting a counteroffer is often a recipe for disaster. Whereas employers are more likely to put forth their best possible offer when they know there is competition for your services. In fact, some employers are so competitive (can’t stand the thought of losing to a rival firm, etc.) that they might even pay above market if necessary.
So if you are truly ready to take the plunge in the job market, do yourself a favor by considering multiple job opportunities to make the most of situation.
I wanted to pass along a couple of thoughts on cover letters. Maybe the most common error that I see on cover letters is that they simply rehash the details on the resume. If you are simply going to walk me through the resume, then please don’t send a cover letter. It’s not necessary.
Use the cover letter to EXPLAIN how your experience relates to a specific position. ARTICULATE in a brief statement or two how your particular experience can immediately assist an employer. Simply telling me where you worked and what skills you gleaned from the position (repeated for each position) is not helpful.
Also, like resumes, these documents should be sent in PDF format for two reasons. First, sending them in any other format invites formatting errors. Secondly, and maybe more importantly, sending the cover letter in a format other than a PDF allows the recipient to see how you’ve modified the document (and with a simple control-Z command they can see where else you have applied).
Another thing to keep in mind is that in today’s digital age, it shouldn’t be hard to figure out who is seeing a cover letter. At our company, there are only two people and they are both guys, so I often wonder how much homework someone has done when they address a cover letter to “Sir/Madame”. Although opinions differ on this, I believe that if you don’t know who you are sending your cover letter and resume to then you should not address it to anyone, but instead jump right into the body of the letter without the formality of “Dear Hiring Partner” or “Dear Sir/Madame.”
Finally, please keep the cover letter short. You need to sell yourself, but if the letter is text-dense and long, it’s a daunting task to read the entire letter (when there are 19 other letters/resumes on my desk). Please be concise and summarize why you are a good fit for the position in a couple of paragraphs.
Are you beholden to other attorneys for supplying your work? Do you wish that you had more control over your practice? Would you like more options for a change in employment? Not surprisingly, the key is building your own client base.
Now more than ever business generation is critical to building a successful law practice. The times of inheriting institutional clients are fading as businesses are charged with finding quality legal services at a competitive price. Attorneys are forced to adjust their approach the practice of law accordingly with an emphasis on generating business and keeping that business.
Yes, this is no small endeavor but like many things in life, the fear or anticipation of business generation is much worse than the actual effort. You may not consider yourself an outgoing person but keep in mind that many of the people that you will be connecting with are not either. Often times it is more a matter of letting someone get to know you versus hard-selling them on your skills as an attorney. The key is to take it one relationship at time and stick with it. It may take time for your efforts to bear fruit but the more relationships you cultivate the more the work will come in on a steady basis.