Almost every legal employer or recruiter will obtain at least one reference prior to offering you a job. Therefore, it is vital that legal job seekers (secretaries, personal assistants, legal administrators etc.) seriously consider who they choose as their referee(s)!

It’s simple right? You pluck the person from your previous legal role who is willing to provide you with an impressive reference that highlights you as the best person for the new job! Unfortunately, for many job seekers it’s not so easy…

I recently phoned a partner of a Top Tier Law Firm, on behalf of a legal secretary to take a reference. Naively, I expected the man on the end of the line to be willing to provide the reference for his ex-personal assistant (who was supposedly loyal to him for over three years). But I witnessed an (it’s obvious where this story is going) “I am not willing to provide a reference as she left unexpectedly and did not show me any courtesy or respect upon leaving”. Still holding the phone, all I could think was – what a perfect lesson for all future job-seekers.

So, where does this leave you when asking for a reference?

Here are a few VERY simple tips to score that legal job and fill that vacancy:

1.       Select a more senior staff member (lawyer, associate, senior associate and barrister)!

WHY: They can accurately attest to your work ethic and highlight your specific qualities, with a perspective that’s respected! Employers will expect someone to be qualified to speak about you.

      2.       Select an employer you worked for less than three years ago!

WHY: It’s difficult for someone to recall your exact duties, role and responsibilities if you worked with them decades ago. So, choose an employer you worked for in recent years who can accurately recall details about you and remember more than just your first name.

      3.       Select an ex-employee of your employer (who is more senior)!

WHY: Firstly, they are already on your team. They’ve left the company so can recognisably understand your desire to do so too. In addition, they have no obligation to tell your employer you are planning an escape.

      4.       Ensure you have worked with your referee for over six months (unless you were temping)!

WHY: A valid amount of experience working with this referee will (hopefully) imply the referee knows you well enough to provide the desired information. It suggests an equitable level of rapport was achieved which will likely enhance the quality of information gathered in the reference.

      5.       Ensure (please ensure!) you let your referee know that they are required to provide a reference before they are required to do so (and, while you’re at it, why not make sure they are actually available and know what type of role you are going for)!

WHY: Regardless of the strength of your relationship, don’t make it a surprise. Give them time to mentally prepare a reference for you and allow them to avoid an unexpected or abrupt phone call. Allow them time to consider what there is about you that would be good for the job you are hoping to get.

      6.       Finally, for the few of you out there in this era who have only ever worked at the same law firm, consider you can be made an offer ‘subject to successful reference checks’!

WHY: You can be made an offer by your future employer ‘subject to successful reference checks’ – that means that once you have the new offer (and have decided to accept it) you will be expected to be able to attain references from your current supervisors (as they will now know you plan to leave).

Never underestimate the power of an easy to attain, positive and credible reference. Simply obey the aforementioned tips when choosing your next referee and guarantee you get your dream legal job over your less-prepared-peer.