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Choosing the right referee for your LLM reference letter

Your LLM reference letter is a crucial part of your LLM application pack and plays a major role in the admissions board’s decision. You may be asked for academic or employment references, depending on whether you are doing your LLM straight after your first degree, or you have worked in between and are now returning to postgraduate education. An employment reference will most certainly be needed if your first degree was not in law but your work experience is relevant to your chosen LLM program. Below are some general tips.

Choose someone who knows you well

The most important point cannot be over-emphasised: your chosen referee should know you well but of course should not be related to you. Choose a referee who has had a chance to observe your work ethic, see the quality of your work and knows about your professional aspirations. You might be tempted to choose the highest ranking person at work or at your alma mater but a reference from that person could be counter-productive if they provide a vague reference because they don’t really know you. Pick someone who can write about you with conviction
because they know your capabilities.

Make sure they provide a professional email address

Your referee should provide a professional email address. If it’s an academic reference then the email address should be that of your referee’s academic institution. Likewise, for an employment reference the email address should be a work address. References using your referee’s personal email address such as gmail, hotmail, yahoo etc, are not likely to be taken as seriously.

Start looking for a referee early

The task of finding a suitable reference is a time consuming one so start the process very early. As soon as you have made up your mind to do an LLM, the next thing on your to-do list should be identifying and approaching potential referees. If you need two references, shortlist at least five you will approach (if not more.) That way you won’t be disappointed if some of them are unwilling or unable to provide you with a reference or are simply unavailable.

Be persistent

You might have to be a polite nuisance to get what you want! Book an appointment to see them face-to-face and discuss the LLM course and institution you’ve chosen, explain why you think you’re suited for it, and why you’ve chosen them to as a potential referee. This is a good opportunity to remind your referees of some of your achievements that they could include in their reference. Ask if they’d mind if you sent them email reminders from time to time, and then right after the face-to-face meeting send a thank you email with bullet points of your achievements. Send a polite reminder every month until your references have been written.

Make their life easier

Make life easier for your referees; they are very busy people who are doing you a favour so you could type out everything they need to do and leave them a copy as a guide: what should your LLM reference letter contain? Who should it be addressed to? Are there any special requirements, for instance should it go out on the institution’s letter headed paper? What is the latest date that it should be sent out? How should it be submitted – online or by post? If it’s online, try to navigate the online system yourself first, to gauge how complicated it might be in case you have to guide your referee when it’s time to submit .Remind them that they should only provide their professional email addresses. Plus, provide specific examples of your achievements for your referees so that they can back up each claim they make with evidence of your suitability.


Unless the institution you are applying to specifies who they expect to see a reference from, choose a tutor who has assessed your work. If that’s not possible, choose a lecturer or course convener. Naturally you should choose a tutor or lecturer from the class you excelled in!

Take a copy of your transcript into your initial face-to-face meeting with your potential referee, and leave a copy with them if you can so they can refer to it. After your meeting, follow it up with the thank you email summarising what was discussed at the meeting and of course send them those monthly email reminders.


It goes without saying that your employment referee should be your line manager or head of department if your line manager is unavailable and your HoD is familiar with you and your work. Take a copy of your CV to your meeting, along with an attached cover note, highlighting your key skills, professional experience, achievements and how they relate to the LLM you are applying for. The cover note will save your referee the trouble of having to trawl through your CV, but having your CV in hand means they could also look through it for more information if they need to. After your meeting send a thank you email with a soft copy of your CV and cover note attached and follow up with polite reminders from time to time.

Best of luck with your LLM application.


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