The Writing Sample Prompt

Although there’s no way to know in advance what the subject matter of your writing sample prompt will be, you’ll go in knowing exactly what the format will be and what’s expected of you.

  • Each writing sample prompt sets forth the brief story of a person or company faced with a decision.
  • The decision is always between exactly two options.
  • The decision maker always has exactly two criteria by which to evaluate the options.
  • You are always asked to choose one of those options and make a case for it by applying the listed criteria.

Here’s an example of the type of prompt you can expect to see: Judith Roberts is a third year law student who must decide which of two job offers to accept after graduation. Using the facts given, write an essay in which you argue for choosing one position or the other based on the following two criteria:

  • Judith wants to be able to maintain a healthy work-life balance and have time to take at least one vacation each year with her children.
  • Judith has significant student loans and wants to make enough money to be able to meet her financial commitments. 

The law firm of Crabbett, Painter, and McGill, which primarily represents tobacco companies, has offered Judith a position as an associate attorney at a salary of $120,000 per year. Associate attorneys are considered for partnership after five years. Associate attorneys have a high annual billable hours requirement, but partners do not. The firm does not pay overtime and does not guarantee end of year bonuses.  Associates are entitled to four weeks of paid vacation, but most do not feel they have time to take vacations, and unused vacation time is forfeited at the end of the year.  The public defender’s office has offered Judith a position as an indigent defense attorney at a salary of $40,000 a year. This position would require a 40 hour work week, with any additional hours compensated as overtime at a time and a half rate. On days when attorneys do not have courtroom commitments, they have the option of working from home. As long as Judith works for the defender’s office, her student loan payments will be forgiven, but if Judith works for the office for fewer than five years she will have to repay half of the loan payments that have been forgiven. This position offers two weeks per year of paid vacation, which can be carried forward to the next year. Attorneys who have worked for this office in the past have moved on to lucrative positions at private firms afterward.

Breaking Down the Prompt When you’re working on your computer, it’s easy to make changes as you work. When you’re writing by hand with limited space, as you will be during the writing sample section of the LSAT, more planning is required. Laying out your key points in advance will also help ensure that you stick to the stated criteria. Many prospective law students unconsciously stray from the stated criteria to introduce outside considerations.  And, it will allow you to pace yourself in terms of both time and space. We suggest using a grid to quickly parse your information and get a clear picture of the strengths and weaknesses of each option. Below is a quickly-created grid based on the prompt above: Note that the points you consider important, or your interpretation of the facts and the weight you give each, may be different. There’s no right or wrong answer to a writing sample prompt; there are only right and wrong approaches. When choosing an option to argue for, you should apply only one criterion: choose the option for which you can construct the strongest argument. With that in mind, it makes sense to reserve judgment until you’ve created your grid.

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