You might think that a flawless academic record and a perfect personal statement would be enough to convince a potential law school that you're their ideal LLM student... But you'd be wrong. You also need to provide one or two references. A reference is essentially a personal statement, but written by someone else. A referee will (ideally) sing your praises and explain why you deserve a place on an LLM.
What types of references are there? What reference is best for an LLM application?
In general, there are three types of references you could provide, depending on what you're applying for. These are academic, work or personal references. You might be able to get a glowing report from your mum, but your law school won't be too impressed.
This kind of reference is probably one you won't need when applying for an LLM. If you're applying for a job where your employer is looking for someone with a specific character, this would be a possible type of reference. These references tend to come from someone who has a respected position in a community or who works in a respected position. Perhaps one day when you're a lawyer you'll be asked to provide a personal reference for someone...
A reference from a past or your current employer is the most common reference you will need to give, as you'll need to be able to provide one for every job you apply to. For an LLM, it would be best for you to provide a reference from any legal work experience you have, such as any vacation schemes you may have done. You could get a reference from any part-time work or jobs you may have had, but it would be important that your referee tailors what they write with a legal profession in mind. Your law school probably won't be too interested in how good the microfoam on your flat whites are, but your referee can explain how you can stay calm under pressure and have great communication skills.
An LLM is a highly intensive academic course, so perhaps the best kind of reference you could provide would be from a tutor from your undergraduate degree. It's important you ask a tutor who knows you and your style of learning best – you might really like one of your lecturers, but if they have never dealt with you on a one-to-one basis it's unlikely they'll have anything to say.
Who should I pick to be my referee?
It's important that you pick someone who knows you well, regardless of what type of reference you're getting. While you might like to put an impressive name at the bottom of your references, getting a leading expert in an area of law you know nothing about and who doesn't even know how to spell your name won't add much to your application.
You'll also need to pick someone reliable and who is fairly good with words. If your referee is someone who is usually very busy, it might be better asking someone who has a bit more time, as writing a good reference takes a lot of work. It's also important that you ask well in advance of your application deadline, as it's most likely that your referee will have a lot of other things that need doing.
How do I ask for a reference?
There's no real etiquette for asking for a reference – you should be asking someone you're reasonably comfortable with, so you probably won't need to write a formal letter. If you're getting an academic reference, it might be a good idea to request a face-to-face meeting to go over your transcript and remind your referee of your achievements. Your reference might also be improved if you buy them a coffee, or significantly improved by a cocktail – but please don't try and bribe them.
A reference is a great way to prove that everything you've said in your personal statement is true, so make sure you've got yours sorted!