A rough rule of thumb is that legal job candidates should have three or four references. However, I recommend that you try to build a stable of at least five or six “core group” references. Given the intensely competitive legal job market, you are likely to find yourself applying for multiple positions, and you don’t want to have to return to the same reference well over and over again. As enthusiastic as your references may be, they might begin to feel less so the more times they are contacted by prospective employers. If you want your references enthusiastic and engaged, you should try to ensure that they won’t be imposed upon excessively. Moreover, after they have been contacted multiple times and realize that you do not yet have a new job, even the most committed references might begin to have doubts about you, which is not conducive to continued enthusiasm.
Another reason for going modestly overboard on the number of references is because of a tactic that an increasing number of employers use when checking references. Attorney A relocated to a new city and provided the names of three partners for whom he had worked at his prior law firm to a prospective employer. The employer called each of the three references and, at the end of each conversation, asked each one if they could provide him with the names of three other individuals in the firm whom he could contact about Attorney A. By providing more than the customary number of references, you may be able to obviate this employer tactic. It gives you more control over the reference check.