The purpose of a reference is to round out and confirm the results of an interview.
Employers use references to make sure candidates are not overselling themselves, not misrepresenting reasons for leaving jobs, and most of all, to make sure the people they hire will fit in with their organization.
References fall into three levels depending on their relationship to you. The objective is to provide the most reliable and authoritative people in your portfolio. They should be able to give a solid view of your skills, capabilities and potential, along with a statement or two about your character and work habits.
Level one references are your bosses and the attorneys you have worked with on a regular basis. These are the most important references on your list. The absence of people in this category implies that you had a less than desirable relationship and may have left on poor terms. If asked why they are not included, you should be able to explain why.
Level two references are non-lawyers and include colleagues and people on your team or in your department. These individuals should be people that you do not have a social relationship with. They should be people who you have worked with and not just other people at the firm.
Level three references are personal references and include your friends, family and other people who do not work with you. Some employers may ask for personal references, but they are not as common. A list that includes a predominance of people in this category will throw up red flags immediately.
There are companies and firms that will not give a character reference but will only provide your dates of employment. They do this for liability reasons. Even if you provide the name of your boss, it is likely the call will be switched to human resources. If this is the case you may want to contact any attorneys who have left that employer, or maybe provide a colleague and explain why.
References should be as current as possible. Select people from your last five years of employment. If you have been at one employer for a long time, consider attorneys who have left the organization. Always ask your references if they can be contacted.
A reference list should include three references, including the name, title, email address, phone number, relationship to you, and when and where you worked with the person. Reference letters can be provided when you submit your list.
Your reference list is part of your career advancement portfolio. Keep it updated and refresh it along with the rest of your documents regularly.