Whether you are applying for a law course or to a training contract, you will most likely be asked to provide a reference; an external opinion of your personal and professional competence to support your application.
What is the difference between a referee and a reference?
A referee is a person who knows you, either in a professional or a personal capacity. A reference is an account of your personal or professional behaviour, provided to a prospective employer by your referee. A reference could be a written document that outlines your abilities. The employer may contact the referee to ask some specific questions over the phone.
So references and referees are different, but they're certainly linked!
Who should I get to be my referee/s?
In a perfect world, it would be someone who thinks you're the best thing since sliced bread—like your mum or your best friend. But as much as you'd probably have a glowing, five-page account of the day you took your first steps, or that time when you intercepted the drama on the group chat—using your nearest and dearest as referees doesn't exactly scream professionalism. Instead, consider these:
Reach out to your personal tutor, or a faculty staff member that knows you well, to see if they would mind acting as a referee. Quite often universities have a system in place where they keep a record of extracurricular and academic achievements. This means that they'll always be on hand to provide you with a good reference.
You could also try to pick someone who holds a respected position within the community, such as a youth worker. They will have to have known you for quite a long time; three years or more is preferable. Employers are likely to seek a personal referee if they want a character reference—an evaluation of your conduct in personal situations.
Ideally, this should be someone you have worked with on a professional and law-related basis: a solicitor who you shadowed or someone who you reported to within a firm or office. Don't worry if you haven’t got law-related referees to include in your application. If you've got work experience in a sector other than law, or if you've had a part-time job, you will be able to use a supervisor from either as a work referee.
How do I get someone to be my referee?
This is the golden rule of referencing: make sure you ask them first. Not only is it polite to check it's ok before sharing your referee's contact details with a prospective employer, it also could work massively in your favour. A referee that knows they are a referee will have time to prepare a glowing account of you, and will know you as a polite, courteous person who asked first. On the flipside, a person who only finds out that they're a referee when the recruiter calls to ask about you is going to be surprised at best, and hacked off at worst.
If you are applying to work at a company you’ve worked at before, it is advisable to put a different reference. They will have an internal referencing service!
Selection & Assessment