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Job References: Who To Ask As a Law Student

published May 15, 2024

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Securing job references is a crucial step in any job application process, and this is especially true for law students aiming for positions within and outside the legal sphere. You'll likely need to provide three to four references who can confidently vouch for your qualifications and character. Here’s a guide to choosing the right people to support your job applications.


Understanding the Importance of Job References in the Legal Field


Job references play a pivotal role in the legal profession, serving as a critical bridge between a candidate's academic achievements and their potential as a legal professional. These endorsements provide employers with insight into an applicant's real-world capabilities, ethical standards, and suitability for a position within the highly structured and demanding legal environment.


Role of References in Legal Employment


In the legal field, where the stakes are high and the responsibilities profound, employers scrutinize job references to ensure they are hiring individuals who are not only competent but also embody the integrity and professional standards essential to the practice of law. References from respected members of the legal community—such as professors, practicing attorneys, or judges—act as a powerful testament to a candidate's legal acumen and professional demeanor. These references can effectively differentiate candidates in a competitive job market, highlighting their specific skills, accomplishments, and the unique attributes they bring to a role.


How Employers Evaluate References


When evaluating references, legal employers look for several key elements:

  • Relevance: Employers assess whether the referee has a direct understanding of the candidate's legal skills and professional behavior. A reference from someone who has observed the candidate in a legal setting, such as during a clerkship or internship, is particularly valuable.

  • Specificity: Generic praises are less impactful than detailed accounts of a candidate’s contributions to legal projects, their problem-solving skills, and their ability to handle complex legal issues.

  • Credibility: The professional standing of the referee in the legal community adds weight to their endorsements. Employers consider the relationship between the referee and the candidate to gauge the authenticity and bias of the reference.

  • Comparative Assessment: Some employers also value references that provide a comparative analysis, positioning the candidate’s capabilities in relation to peers, which helps in understanding the candidate’s ranking and potential within a group of high-performers.


Furthermore, employers may follow up on references with direct calls or emails to discuss the candidate's strengths and weaknesses, seeking to uncover not only the capabilities but also how the candidate fits into the team dynamics and the organization's culture. This comprehensive evaluation helps employers make informed decisions, aiming to bring on board individuals who will uphold the firm’s standards and contribute positively to its reputation and effectiveness.


Choosing the Right References


Selecting the right references is a strategic step for law students aiming to carve out a successful career in the legal field. The individuals you choose should ideally bolster your application by conveying your professional capabilities, ethical conduct, and potential to future employers. The process involves careful evaluation of how each reference can contribute specifically towards achieving your career goals.


Evaluating Potential Referees' Relevance to Your Career Goals


Choosing referees whose professional paths align closely with the area of law you wish to pursue is crucial. For instance, if you're interested in environmental law, a reference from a professor specializing in environmental law or an attorney known for their work in this field would be highly beneficial. These references are likely to carry more weight because they suggest that you have not only learned from experts but also that these experts endorse your abilities in this specialty. Here’s how you can evaluate their relevance:

  • Identify Alignment: Consider how well the referee's expertise and professional network align with the niche you are targeting.

  • Professional Impact: Think about how influential the referee is within your desired sector. References from well-respected and recognized figures can significantly enhance your credibility.

  • Relevant Experience: Assess whether the referee has directly observed your skills and work ethic in contexts that mirror your career goals, such as relevant internships, clerkships, or legal projects.


Assessing the Strength of Your Relationship with Potential References


The effectiveness of a reference is not only determined by the referee's stature but also by the strength and authenticity of your relationship with them. A strong reference is typically one that can provide detailed insights into your capabilities and character. Here's what to consider when assessing your relationship:

  • Interaction Depth: Reflect on the depth of your interactions with the potential referee. Have they seen you in action in a variety of situations, especially under pressure or handling complex tasks?

  • Feedback Received: Consider the nature of the feedback you have received from them. A referee who has provided consistent, constructive feedback is likely in a good position to provide meaningful insights about your strengths and areas for growth.

  • Willingness to Endorse: Gauge their willingness to support your career aspirations. A hesitant referee might not provide the robust support you need. It’s often a good idea to ask directly if they feel comfortable and enthusiastic about giving you a strong endorsement.


Ultimately, selecting the right references involves a blend of strategic thinking and personal insights. By choosing referees who are not only prominent figures but also genuinely supportive of your career, you position yourself as a strong candidate equipped with endorsements that highlight your best qualities and readiness for the legal profession.


Law School Professors as References


For law students, professors are often the cornerstone of building a strong set of job references. Their academic insight and industry connections can significantly influence your early career opportunities. This section will guide you on why to choose law school professors as references, how to select the right ones, and the best way to approach them for a reference.


Why Choose Law School Professors?


Law school professors are pivotal references because they can provide a detailed evaluation of both your academic performance and your potential as a legal professional. Here’s why they are invaluable:

  • Expertise in Law: Professors are experts in their respective fields, and their endorsement can underscore your intellectual prowess and competence in specific legal domains.

  • Observation of Skills: They have observed you in various capacities, from how you handle complex legal theories in class discussions to your analytical skills in writing papers or participating in moot court.

  • Professional Network: Professors often have extensive networks within the legal community and can help open doors through their recommendations.


Selecting the Right Professors


Choosing which professors to ask for a reference involves thoughtful consideration. Focus on the following criteria:

  • Relevance: Select professors who teach courses that align with your career interests. If you're aiming for a career in corporate law, a professor who taught you business law or corporate finance would be ideal.

  • Interaction: Opt for professors with whom you’ve had significant interaction—those who can comment specifically on your contributions, strengths, and potential.

  • Impression: Consider professors under whom you've performed exceptionally well or with whom you’ve engaged in meaningful projects or extracurricular activities like journals or clinics.


How to Approach Professors for References


Approaching a professor for a reference requires professionalism and respect for their time and commitments. Here's a step-by-step approach to ensure a positive interaction:

  • Preparation: Before you ask, prepare your request. Have your resume updated, and be ready to articulate your career goals and why you believe they are a suitable referee.

  • Timing: Approach them at a convenient time, ideally during office hours or via a scheduled appointment, avoiding busy periods like exam seasons.

  • Formal Request: Make your request formally and politely, either in person or through a professional email. Clearly state why you are requesting a reference from them specifically.

  • Provide Context: Share what job or opportunity you are applying for and why their reference is crucial. Offer them your resume or a summary of your law school accomplishments to refresh their memory of your achievements.

  • Guidance: If they agree, provide them with guidance on what the employer is looking for in a candidate. You might also want to discuss specific projects or papers you worked on under their supervision that they could highlight.

  • Gratitude and Follow-Up: Always express your gratitude for their time and assistance. Afterward, keep them updated on the progress of your applications and outcomes.


By carefully selecting and respectfully approaching law school professors for references, you can secure powerful endorsements that enhance your job applications and help pave the way for a successful legal career.


Legal Practitioners and Industry Professionals


Legal Practitioners and Industry Professionals

Gaining references from legal practitioners and industry professionals can significantly enhance the credibility of a law student’s job application. These references are invaluable as they come from individuals who are actively engaged in the practice of law and can attest to a candidate's readiness and suitability for the rigors of legal work.


The Value of Practitioner References


References from practitioners provide several unique advantages:

  • Practical Experience: They can speak to your practical skills and your ability to apply legal knowledge in real-world scenarios, which is crucial for employers seeking job-ready candidates.

  • Professional Skills: These references can also highlight your professional demeanor, ethical conduct, and ability to interact effectively with clients and colleagues.

  • Industry Insights: Practitioners may offer insights into your adaptability and enthusiasm for the profession, which are key traits employers look for in a potential hire.


Engaging with Legal Professionals During Internships


Internships are a prime opportunity for law students to connect with legal practitioners who can later serve as references. Here’s how to make the most of these opportunities:

  • Demonstrate Professionalism: Always display a high level of professionalism, from punctuality to how you handle confidential information.

  • Take Initiative: Show eagerness to learn and willingness to take on tasks. Ask thoughtful questions and seek feedback to improve your understanding and performance.

  • Build Relationships: Establish a rapport with your supervisor and other legal staff. Networking within the firm or organization can lead to more opportunities and stronger references.


Soliciting References from Legal Practitioners


Asking a legal practitioner for a reference requires careful timing and consideration. Here’s how to approach this:

  • Choose Wisely: Select a practitioner who has directly supervised your work and can comment on your specific contributions and capabilities.

  • Timely Request: Make your request well in advance of when you need the reference, and preferably at the end of your internship or soon after, while your performance is still fresh in their mind.

  • Respectful Approach: Arrange a meeting or a formal conversation where you can discuss your request in detail. Be respectful of their time and express genuine appreciation for their consideration.

  • Provide Supporting Materials: Offer a copy of your resume, a reminder of the projects you worked on together, and information about the job or school program you’re applying for. This helps them tailor their reference to be more effective.

  • Guidance and Feedback: If they agree to be your reference, discuss any key points they feel should be emphasized based on their observations of your work. Also, inquire if they need any additional information to provide a strong reference.


By effectively engaging with legal practitioners during internships and thoughtfully soliciting their support as references, law students can significantly bolster their job applications. This demonstrates not only their academic knowledge but also their practical skills and professional readiness, all of which are crucial for a successful transition into the legal profession.


Peers and Classmates in Special Circumstances


While professional and academic references are generally preferred in the legal field, there are specific situations where peer references can also play a valuable role. These references from peers and classmates can offer a unique perspective on a candidate’s interpersonal skills, teamwork, and day-to-day reliability—qualities that are important in any legal setting.


When is it Appropriate to Use a Peer Reference?


Peer references are most appropriate in circumstances where other, more traditional references are not available, or when peers can provide unique insights into abilities that are not showcased in professional settings. Here are some scenarios where a peer reference might be appropriate:

  • Leadership in Student Organizations: If you held a significant role in a student organization, a peer who worked closely with you can speak to your leadership skills, ability to manage projects, and how you handle responsibilities.

  • Group Projects and Collaborations: For roles that require substantial teamwork and collaboration, a peer who has collaborated on a group project with you can attest to your cooperative skills and contributions to achieving group goals.

  • Legal Competitions: If you have participated in moot court, mock trials, or other legal competitions, peers involved in these activities can vouch for your advocacy skills, preparation process, and ability to perform under pressure.

  • Volunteer Projects: Peers involved in volunteer work with you can provide insights into your commitment, ethical standards, and community involvement.


Maximizing Peer References: Best Practices


To ensure that peer references contribute positively to your application, follow these best practices:

  • Select Peers Wisely: Choose peers who have interacted with you extensively in meaningful and relevant capacities. They should be individuals who can speak credibly and positively about your qualities and experiences.

  • Professionalism: Encourage your peers to approach the reference professionally. They should be prepared to discuss specific examples that highlight your skills and contributions, rather than just general praises.

  • Preparation: Provide your peers with a brief of what the job entails and what the employer is looking for. This can help them tailor their reference to align with the job’s requirements.

  • Verification: Make sure your peers are comfortable and prepared to be contacted by potential employers. Providing a heads-up about the potential contact can help them prepare to respond promptly and professionally.

  • Contextualize the Reference: When submitting a peer reference, it might be helpful to explain the context in which the peer is able to provide their insights. This transparency helps potential employers understand the angle and relevance of the peer’s testimony.


By carefully selecting and preparing peers to serve as references under appropriate circumstances, you can effectively use their testimonials to enhance your application, providing a fuller picture of your capabilities, character, and how you are perceived by your contemporaries.


Mentors in Legal Education and Beyond


Mentors, whether they are professors, practicing attorneys, or other legal professionals, play a significant role in shaping a law student's career. Their guidance not only aids in navigating the complexities of legal education but also in transitioning into professional roles. As references, mentors can provide a deep and nuanced perspective on a law student's abilities and potential, making their endorsements particularly valuable.


Role of Mentors as Job References


Mentors are distinguished from other types of references due to the depth of their relationship with the mentee and their comprehensive understanding of both the mentee's character and career aspirations. Here's how mentors can serve effectively as job references:

  • Personalized Insight: Because mentors typically observe a student's growth over time, they can offer personalized insights into how the student has evolved professionally and academically.

  • Credibility: Mentors often have established reputations in the legal field, which lends credibility and weight to their recommendations.

  • Advocacy: A mentor who has taken a keen interest in a student's career can be a powerful advocate, highlighting not just the student's skills and achievements but also their resilience, ethics, and dedication.


Cultivating Mentor Relationships for Long-term Benefits


Building and maintaining a strong mentor relationship is crucial for long-term professional development and networking. Here are strategies to effectively cultivate such relationships:

  • Regular Engagement: Maintain regular contact with your mentor, sharing updates on your academic progress and professional experiences. This continuous engagement helps keep the relationship active and meaningful.

  • Seek Advice and Feedback: Regularly seek your mentor’s advice on various decisions and challenges you face in your legal career. This not only benefits you with valuable insights but also keeps your mentor engaged and invested in your success.

  • Offer Reciprocity: While mentorship often benefits the mentee, offering something in return can strengthen the bond. This could be in the form of helping with research, assisting in organizing events, or sharing articles and news that might be of interest to your mentor.

  • Express Appreciation: Always express gratitude for your mentor’s time and advice. Acknowledging their role in your achievements can reinforce a positive and mutually beneficial relationship.

  • Professional Updates: Keep your mentor updated on your career and any new developments. Regular updates can make it easier for them to provide relevant and up-to-date references when needed.


In summary, mentors provide a unique and compelling reference due to their deep personal knowledge of a mentee’s capabilities and character. Law students should aim to build strong, lasting relationships with their mentors, as these connections can provide not only valuable references but also ongoing career guidance and opportunities in the legal profession.


Administrative Staff and Legal Clinic Supervisors


In the journey of a law student, administrative staff and legal clinic supervisors often play crucial but sometimes overlooked roles. Their perspective can provide a different dimension to your job references, focusing on your practical abilities, work ethic, and interpersonal skills within the administrative and operational sides of legal work.


Overlooked Yet Valuable: Administrative and Clinic Staff


Administrative staff and clinic supervisors interact with law students in environments that are rich with real-world legal tasks and responsibilities. Their references can be especially valuable because:

  • Practical Skills Assessment: They observe students in practical, hands-on roles, offering insights into their ability to manage caseloads, interact with clients, and navigate the daily workings of a legal office or clinic.

  • Work Ethic and Reliability: These individuals often see how students handle the less glamorous aspects of legal work, such as paperwork, scheduling, and compliance with office protocols, which are crucial for any practicing lawyer.

  • Interpersonal Dynamics: Given their roles, administrative personnel are particularly attuned to a student’s ability to work collaboratively with staff, communicate effectively, and respect the contributions of every member of a team.


Guidelines for Asking for References from Administrative Personnel


When considering asking administrative staff or clinic supervisors for a reference, keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • Professional Approach: Approach them in a professional manner, respecting their time and duties. Ideally, schedule a time to discuss your request rather than catching them off-guard during busy periods.

  • Explicit Permission: Clearly explain why you value their specific perspective and how it relates to the position or opportunity you're pursuing. Ensure they are comfortable and willing to provide a reference for you.

  • Provide Context: Provide them with your resume and a description of the job or school program you are applying to. This helps them tailor their reference to your goals and the requirements of the position.

  • Specifics: Encourage them to focus on particular skills or incidents that exemplify your qualifications. Remind them of specific situations where you demonstrated key skills, which can help jog their memory and result in a more detailed and supportive reference.

  • Preparation: Offer to provide any information or documentation they might need to craft their reference, such as a list of tasks you handled under their supervision or significant achievements during your time in the clinic or office.

  • Follow-Up: After they agree to be a reference, keep them informed about the progress of your applications and express your gratitude for their support. Maintaining a good relationship is key, as you may need their assistance again in the future.


Volunteer and Community Service Coordinators


Volunteering and community service are integral components of personal and professional development for law students. Not only do these activities enhance legal skills in a broader societal context, but they also offer opportunities to obtain valuable references from coordinators and supervisors who can attest to a candidate's dedication, character, and community involvement.


Utilizing Volunteer Positions to Obtain References


Volunteer positions provide a unique platform for law students to demonstrate their commitment, skills, and versatility. Here’s how you can utilize these experiences to secure impactful references:

  • Engage Fully: Show genuine commitment and enthusiasm in your volunteer role. Active participation and a willingness to take on additional responsibilities can leave a strong impression on coordinators.

  • Demonstrate Skills: Use these opportunities to showcase your legal skills as well as soft skills like communication, teamwork, and problem-solving. These are qualities that coordinators can highlight in their references.

  • Build Relationships: Develop a positive relationship with your volunteer coordinator or the leader of the organization. Regular interactions and a strong rapport make it easier to ask for a reference when needed.

  • Record of Involvement: Keep a record of your contributions and achievements within the volunteer position. This documentation can be helpful for your reference to recall specific details of your involvement.


How Community Service Reflects on Your Legal Career


Community service not only benefits the community but also significantly enhances your legal career in several ways:

  • Ethical Foundation: It reinforces your commitment to ethics and justice, central tenets in the legal profession, showing potential employers that you are driven by values beyond just career advancement.

  • Diverse Experience: Community service often exposes you to a wide range of issues and populations, providing you with a broader understanding of the societal impacts of law and enhancing your ability to empathize with clients from various backgrounds.

  • Leadership Skills: Many volunteer roles require leadership and initiative, allowing you to develop and demonstrate these critical skills in a real-world setting.

  • Networking Opportunities: Engaging in community service can connect you with professionals in the legal field and related sectors, expanding your professional network.


When incorporating references from volunteer experiences into your job applications, be sure to articulate how these roles have prepared you for a career in law and why they make you a well-rounded candidate. Employers value candidates who show a strong sense of community involvement and ethical responsibility, making these references a powerful addition to your professional profile.


From Classroom to Courtroom: Leveraging Academic Projects


Law school provides a myriad of academic projects that simulate real-world legal challenges, offering students a chance to bridge theoretical knowledge with practical application. Effectively leveraging these experiences can enhance a law student's credentials and provide solid reference points for future job applications.


Academic Projects with Legal Professionals


Many law schools offer projects that involve collaboration with legal professionals, including attorneys, judges, and legal scholars. These projects might include moot court competitions, client counseling sessions, and collaborative research projects. Here’s how to leverage these opportunities:

  • Engage Actively: Actively participating and taking on substantial roles in these projects demonstrates your commitment and ability to handle complex legal tasks.

  • Seek Feedback: Always ask for feedback from the legal professionals involved. This not only helps in improving your legal skills but also shows your openness to learning and growth.

  • Professional Relationships: Use these projects as a chance to build relationships with legal professionals. Their firsthand observation of your legal acumen can translate into powerful endorsements.


Turning Classroom Achievements into Reference Points


Classroom achievements provide concrete examples of your legal capabilities and academic excellence. Here’s how to transform these achievements into effective reference points:

  • Document Your Work: Keep a thorough record of all significant projects, papers, and presentations, particularly those that received high praise or awards.

  • Highlight Specific Skills: When discussing your classroom achievements, highlight specific legal skills you demonstrated. For instance, detail your use of legal reasoning in a difficult moot court case or your analytical skills in a complex research paper.

  • Use Professors as References: Professors who have overseen your academic projects can provide specific examples of your work ethic and intellectual capacity. Be sure they can speak to particular instances of excellence that are relevant to the positions you’re applying for.

  • Create a Portfolio: Consider compiling a portfolio of your work, including legal writing samples, project reports, and any publications. This can be a tangible showcase of your achievements when approaching potential references or employers.


By effectively leveraging academic projects and turning classroom achievements into reference points, law students can create a compelling narrative of their readiness for the legal profession. This approach not only highlights their academic prowess but also showcases their practical skills, making them attractive candidates in the competitive legal job market.


Online Presence and Professional Networking Sites


In today’s digital age, maintaining a strong online presence and utilizing professional networking sites are crucial elements of building a successful legal career. These platforms offer unique opportunities for law students to secure digital references and endorsements, which can be just as impactful as traditional letters of recommendation.


Digital References: A Modern Approach


Digital references, such as those found on LinkedIn or other professional networks, serve as public testimonials to a candidate's capabilities and professional demeanor. Here's how to approach obtaining digital references:

  • Selecting Appropriate Endorsers: Choose professionals who have witnessed your skills firsthand, whether during internships, volunteer work, or during academic collaborations.

  • Requesting Digital Endorsements: When asking for a digital reference or endorsement, be as specific as possible. Suggest which skills or experiences they might mention, and remind them of particular projects you worked on together.


Leveraging LinkedIn for Professional Endorsements


LinkedIn is a powerful tool for law students seeking to establish their professional identity and network. Here’s how to maximize the platform for endorsements:

  • Complete and Professional Profile: Ensure your LinkedIn profile is comprehensive and professional, including a detailed list of your skills, experiences, and academic achievements.

  • Active Engagement: Regularly update your profile with new skills, certifications, and relevant content. Participate in discussions and share articles to increase your visibility and credibility within your network.

  • Skill Endorsements: Encourage connections to endorse your skills on LinkedIn. These endorsements contribute to building a solid professional image and can be influential when potential employers review your profile.

  • Recommendations: Besides skill endorsements, detailed recommendations from supervisors, mentors, or colleagues add depth to your profile. These are narrative confirmations of your professional aptitude and are highly valued by potential employers.


Preparing Your References for Success


Ensuring your references are well-prepared is essential for making the most out of their endorsements. Here’s how to equip them for success:


Providing Context to Your References


It’s important that your references understand the context in which they’re endorsing you:


Role-Specific Details: Explain the specific position you are applying for, including key responsibilities and the skills most valued in the role.

Your Goals: Discuss your career aspirations and how the particular job aligns with your goals. This helps your references tailor their recommendations to suit the job.


What Information to Share with Your References


To further prepare your references:

  • Updated Resume: Provide them with your most recent resume to give an overview of your academic and professional history.

  • Highlight Your Achievements: Point out specific achievements or projects that are relevant to the job you are applying for, which they might mention.

  • Guidance on Key Points: If there are particular traits or experiences you’d like them to emphasize, let them know. This could include problem-solving skills, legal research, teamwork, or leadership.


By strategically using digital platforms like LinkedIn for endorsements and preparing your references effectively, you can significantly enhance your job applications and increase your visibility in the legal field. This integrated approach not only showcases your qualifications but also your adaptability and initiative in managing your professional reputation.


Dos and Don'ts When Asking for References


Asking for references is a crucial step in your career development. Handling this process with professional etiquette is essential, not only to ensure you get the reference but also to maintain good relationships with those you approach.


Professional Etiquette in Requesting References

  • Do: Ask politely and respectfully, recognizing that you are requesting a favor.

  • Do: Approach potential referees in person or by a personalized email, where possible.

  • Do: Give them enough time to write a reference—don't rush them with last-minute requests.

  • Don't: Assume consent; always ask if they feel comfortable recommending you.

  • Don't: Pressure someone to give you a reference if they seem hesitant or unsure.

  • Don't: Forget to provide them with all necessary information about the job or the purpose of the reference.


Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Overlooking less obvious choices: Sometimes the best references come from people not in the most senior positions but who know your capabilities intimately.

  • Not briefing your referees: Failing to inform your referees about the job you're applying for and what skills or experiences might be relevant to highlight.

  • Neglecting to follow up: Always follow up with a thank-you note or email, and keep your referees informed about the outcome of your applications.


Utilizing References During Job Applications


Strategically using references can significantly boost your job applications by corroborating your skills and experiences.


Strategic Use of References in Applications

  • Tailor References: Choose references who can speak to the specific skills and experiences relevant to the job. Aligning your references with the job description ensures they provide the most pertinent endorsements.

  • Provide Guidance: Help your references understand what the potential employer is looking for, so they can emphasize aspects of your work and character that best fit the role.


Aligning References with Job Requirements

  • Highlight Relevant Skills: Ensure that your references know to highlight skills that directly meet the job requirements.

  • Specific Examples: Ask them to provide specific examples that demonstrate your skills and achievements, as this makes the reference more credible and valuable to employers.


Maintaining Relationships After Graduation


Keeping in touch with your references after graduation is key to maintaining a strong professional network.


Keeping in Touch with References Post-Law School

  • Regular Updates: Keep your references informed about your career progress and any professional developments.

  • Show Appreciation: Continue to express gratitude for their support. A simple message during the holidays or a quick update email can keep the relationship warm.

  • Building a Professional Network with Past References

  • Networking Opportunities: Use your interactions as opportunities to expand your network. For example, ask if they can introduce you to other professionals in your field.

  • Offer Help: Networking is a two-way street. Look for ways to assist your references or their connections, which can strengthen your relationships and enhance your reputation.


By adhering to these guidelines, you can maximize the impact of your references throughout your job search and beyond, setting a foundation for a successful and connected career in law.




Choosing the right references as a law student involves strategic planning and thoughtful consideration of each potential referee’s impact on your career. By carefully selecting individuals who can vouch for your legal acumen, professional ethics, and dedication, you position yourself as a strong candidate in a competitive field.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


Q: How Should I Choose Between Multiple Potential References?


Choosing between multiple potential references requires a strategic approach:

  • Relevance to the Job: Assess which references are most relevant to the specific job or industry you're targeting. Consider their professional standing, expertise, and how closely their experience aligns with the job you are applying for.

  • Strength of Relationship: Evaluate the strength of your relationship with each potential reference. The best references typically come from individuals who not only know you well but also respect your work and can enthusiastically support your candidacy.

  • Diversity of Perspectives: Consider selecting references who can provide different perspectives on your abilities and experiences. For example, a mix of academic, professional, and project-based references can offer a well-rounded view of your capabilities to potential employers.

  • Recent Interactions: Prioritize references with whom you’ve had recent interactions. They’re more likely to remember details about your achievements and work habits, which can lead to more specific and supportive recommendations.


Q: What Are the Biggest Red Flags in a Job Reference?


Several red flags can undermine the effectiveness of a job reference:

  • Lack of Specificity: Vague references that fail to provide specific examples of skills or accomplishments can be a red flag for employers, suggesting that the reference may not know the candidate well.

  • Hesitation or Qualification: Any signs of hesitation or qualified statements (e.g., "He is great when supervised closely") can indicate doubts about a candidate's suitability for the role.

  • Inconsistency: References that contradict the information provided by the candidate or other references can raise questions about the candidate’s honesty or the accuracy of their application.

  • Negative Language: Any use of clearly negative language or subtle derogatory comments can significantly damage a candidate’s prospects.


Q:How Can I Ensure My References Are Well-Prepared to Speak About Me?


To ensure that your references are well-prepared:

  • Provide Information: Give your references updated copies of your resume, a description of the job you are applying for, and any other relevant documents like your personal statement or cover letter.

  • Discuss Key Points: Have a conversation with each reference about what aspects of your character, skills, and experiences you would like them to emphasize.

  • Offer Reminders: Remind them of specific projects or results you achieved while working with them, which can serve as talking points.


Q: Can a Bad Reference Ruin My Chances of Getting a Job?


Yes, a bad reference can significantly impact your job prospects, especially if it raises serious concerns about your professionalism, integrity, or ability to perform required tasks. However, one bad reference might be mitigated if it is outweighed by other, more positive references.


Q: How Often Should I Update My References About My Career Progress?


Keeping your references informed is key to maintaining strong, supportive relationships. Update them whenever you:

  • Achieve a significant career milestone or complete a major project.

  • Change jobs or gain a new position of responsibility.

  • Acquire new skills or qualifications relevant to your career.

  • Annually, at a minimum, to keep the relationship active and ensure they are aware of your current career status.


Q: How do I choose a reference if I haven’t worked in the legal field yet?


If you are new to the legal field and don’t have direct work experience:

  • Academic References: Consider law professors or academic advisors who can speak to your legal knowledge, academic achievements, and potential.

  • Volunteer or Extracurricular Leaders: If you’ve been involved in law-related volunteer work or extracurricular activities, leaders or supervisors from these groups can be excellent references.

  • Employers from Unrelated Jobs: Choose previous employers who can discuss your transferable skills such as reliability, work ethic, and ability to communicate effectively.


Q: What should I do if a potential employer wants to contact my current employer, but I haven’t told them I’m looking for a new job?


This can be a delicate situation:

  • Request Discretion: Politely ask the potential employer to delay contacting your current employer until a later stage in the interview process, typically when the job offer is likely.

  • Provide Alternatives: Offer other references first, such as past employers or mentors, who can provide comprehensive feedback on your abilities.

  • Communicate Transparently: If it becomes necessary for them to contact your current employer, have a candid conversation with your boss to explain your career goals and why you are exploring new opportunities.


Q: Can I use a reference from a job that ended poorly?


Using a reference from a job that didn’t end on the best terms can be risky:

  • Assess the Relationship: Consider how strong your relationship was with the potential reference before the job ended poorly. If you maintained a professional rapport despite the circumstances, they might still provide a positive reference.

  • Focus on Positives: Ensure that the reference will focus on your strengths and contributions rather than the circumstances of your departure.

  • Alternative References: If in doubt, it’s safer to choose references from other areas of your professional or academic life.


Q: How can I ensure that my references speak consistently about my strengths?


To promote consistency among your references:

  • Prepare a Reference Brief: Create a brief document outlining key points you’d like your references to mention. This can include specific projects, achievements, or skills that align with the job you are applying for.

  • Coordinate Information: Discuss these points with your references to ensure they understand what aspects of your career you are highlighting.

  • Consistent Communication: Regularly update all your references about your current role, responsibilities, and recent accomplishments so they have fresh, consistent information.


Q: What if my reference is asked a question they can’t answer?


To prevent situations where a reference might be caught off-guard:

  • Prep Session: Before listing someone as a reference, have a prep session to go over potential questions they might be asked. Provide them with a copy of the job description and your resume.

  • Ongoing Updates: Keep your references informed about your career path, current job responsibilities, and any relevant projects you’re working on.

  • Encourage Honesty: Remind your references that it’s okay to admit if they don’t know something. They can always offer to get back to the inquirer after checking certain details or can redirect the question to someone who might know better.


published May 15, 2024

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