Other than my resume and cover letter, what other documents do I need to provide for my application to law firms?
The resume and cover letter are usually the first documents that candidates think of when applying to a law firm. But recruiters are likely to ask you to provide two other types of documents that are also frequently requested by law firms: (1) transcripts for your law school, undergraduate school, and any other graduate study; and (2) a writing sample. Sometimes firms will request additional documents that are unique to that firm. The following is a discussion of these “other documents” that are used in law firm applications. The discussion does not include documents or information that may be provided to firms later in the process. All of the documents discussed herein should normally be provided in electronic form, attached to an email for easy access and reading.
Transcripts are normally essential. Grades count, although less so as you become more senior and your experience takes on increasing importance. You usually do not need official transcripts – copies will do. You will typically need them for every school you attended after high school, although some firms will be satisfied with just the law school transcripts. The transcript also needs to be readable. This is not always easy. For some reason, certain universities do not make readability a priority when designing their transcripts. One issue that often arises with transcripts is the candidate’s final GPA. Sometimes the transcript makes this clear. But other times the final GPA is difficult to find, or cannot be found at all as some schools either do not keep track of GPA or they do so with their own unique alien system. There is little you can do about this, of course. But to the extent you can “translate” your GPA and/or class rank into English you should consider doing so on your resume, especially if your grades are good. If they are not so good, then perhaps leaving them surrounded by a little mystery is the best policy.
Writing samples can vary by practice area. For litigators, it is usually a brief. For judicial clerks, it is often a judicial opinion. For IP candidates, it may be a patent application or technical article. Whatever it is, it needs to be written by the candidate with a minimum of editing by others. It also needs to be: (1) fairly brief; (2) readable and understandable; (3) relevant to the practice area in which you are seeking employment; (4) perfect in terms of spelling, grammar, etc.; and (5) the document that best demonstrates the high quality of your legal writing.
Lastly, individual firms will sometimes request additional documents that are unique to them. This is more common for IP candidates. For example, I have seen requests for IP candidates to answer technical questions (some of them are out there, like preparing a patent application for a crossbow or for a buggy to operate on Pluto), summaries of recent experiments and even answers to technical “tests.” But occasionally, firms seek additional information from other types of candidates as well.