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5 Tips to Becoming a Successful Law Librarian

published April 10, 2023

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( 219 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
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A law librarian is a professional in the legal field who manages, organizes and provides access to legal documents and resources. Law librarians help legal professionals, paralegals, students, and other interested individuals to stay informed of the latest developments in the field of law. Law librarianship is a specialized field that requires both high academic achievement and experience working in a library.

To become a law librarian, it is essential to gain a sound understanding of library science and the legal system. It is recommended that individuals interested in the field pursue advanced library science degrees, such as a Master's degree in Library Science (MLS) or a Doctorate in Library Science (DSL). These degrees equip individuals with the professional skills and knowledge necessary to excel as a law librarian.

In addition to earning an MLS, a law librarian should also have a thorough knowledge of the legal system, legal research techniques, and the fundamentals of constitutional law, civil law, evidence law, tax law, and other legal subjects. To become a law librarian, individuals should also pursue continuing education to stay abreast of legal developments.

Professional experience, such as internships, teaching, or working in a law library, is also essential to becoming a law librarian. An internship in a law library provides experience in cataloging and organizing, as well as providing reference services. Teaching provides a valuable opportunity to gain experience in legal research, while working as a librarian teaches a law librarian the practical skills necessary to be successful in the field.

In addition to the professional qualifications discussed, individuals should also cultivate certain soft skills to become a law librarian. Good organizational and communication skills are essential, as well as an ability to work independently, show initiative, and quickly adapt to changing technology. Law librarians must also possess a keen sense of accuracy and an understanding of confidentiality.

Becoming a law librarian requires dedication and hard work, but the rewards are worth it. Law librarians are well-remunerated, and the job offers a good degree of comfort and satisfaction. With the right qualifications, effort, and experience, anyone can become a law librarian and provide vital assistance to legal professionals, students, and other interested individuals.

What is a Law Librarian?

A law librarian is an expert in legal resources and an important part of a law firm or legal department. Their primary job is to provide information and resources to attorneys and related legal staff. They are responsible for developing and maintaining an extensive collection of legal materials, including books, journals, treatises, opinions, and other legal documents. Additionally, law librarians provide research assistance and advice on legal resources and law-related topics.

Education/Certification Requirements for a Law Librarian

In order to become a law librarian, one must typically have a master's degree in library and information science, with a concentration in law librarianship, from an American Library Association-accredited school. This program of study provides the necessary skills to locate, organize, and manage legal information. It also requires a mastery of library sciences and research techniques, such as legal citation and document retrieval. In addition, many law libraries require candidates to become certified in law librarianship by the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL). This certification is offered in three areas: legal research, legal bibliography, and legal technology.

Skills and Knowledge Necessary to be a Law Librarian

To be successful in this profession, a law librarian must possess a wide range of skills and knowledge. These include a thorough knowledge of legal materials, including books, articles, databases, and other resources. Additionally, they must be able to understand and apply rules of legal citation and be familiar with the structure and organization of the court system. They must also understand the specialized subject matter of the resources they manage and be aware of current legal trends and issues. They should be comfortable using technology, including computer networks and databases. Finally, strong communication, research, and organizational skills are essential.

Job Responsibilities of Law Librarians

Law librarians are responsible for the overall management of a law library. This includes purchasing, organizing, and maintaining a collection of legal resources. They must also use their knowledge of legal materials to help attorneys, legal staff, and other patrons with their research needs. Additionally, they may prepare instructional materials, compile bibliographies of legal resources, and provide advice on legal topics. Law librarians may also teach legal research classes, assist in the training of library staff, and manage the library budget.

Law librarians work in legal settings such as law schools, private law firms, and government libraries. Pursuing a career as a law librarian can be undertaken through several different educational routes. Some of the degrees obtained by law librarians include M.L.S., M.L.I.S., M.S.I.S., M.L., and M.A. in L.S.B. These may be required for careers in the law librarianship profession. According to the Task Force to Enhance Law Librarianship Education, 85% of those working as law librarians have graduate degrees in library science. In addition, most employers require master's degrees from an American Library Association (ALA)-accredited institution.

A Career as a Law Librarian

''A law librarian should have an analytic mind that allows them to break down a legal reference problem into key concepts that can be searched using print and electronic resources. Familiarity with the legislative process and court procedure is crucial to providing high-quality reference service,'' said Herb Somers, International/Foreign Law Librarian at the Jacob Burns Law Library at George Washington University Law School in Washington, DC.

Mr. Somers started out as a government documents librarian. After 9 years in the field, Mr. Somers decided to attend law school. After graduating, he took his first position at George Washington. Two years later, he entered the international and foreign law librarian position where he currently works. ''My experience with international organization documentation and my law school coursework in international law and international business transactions was very useful in this position,'' Mr. Somers said. ''My career as a law librarian has been extremely satisfying.''

Nearly 30% of all law librarians also have J.D. or L.L.B. degrees, preferred by employers to be from law schools accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA), according to the Task Force. Less than 20% of the law librarian jobs being filled require both degrees, the Task Force said.

Work experience in a law library setting is often as important as having a law degree. Brian L. Baker serves as Director of the Charles N. and Hilda H.M. Mason Law Library at University of the District of Columbia's David A. Clarke School of Law and is also Assistant Professor of Law at the school. He began as a library messenger for the Law Firm of Morgan Lewis and Bockius in the early 1980s, where he sparked an interest in the librarian profession. He took a position at American University's Law Library as a government documents assistant and attended night school to finish his B.A. after having been out of school for almost a decade. He then went on to obtain his M.L.S. and J.D. ''It was a long strange trip, but I have ended up where I hoped, and I love it.''

Many schools offer joint J.D./M.L.S. degrees, which typically are at least 4 years of study. Having both J.D. and M.L.S. degrees will better qualify a student for more positions in law librarianship. However, beyond the degrees, becoming a law librarian means having a number of skills and traits.

''Patience, knowledge, and a mind that can work like a thesaurus. You need to constantly be flexible in your thinking in order to do the deep analysis that may be required,'' advised Mr. Baker. ''You need to be able to operate in a less structured environment. More often than not, your research will be complete in a few hours or by the end of the day. You need to be ready to start fresh the next day, possibly working in a completely different area of law.''

Mary Ann Keeling, J.D., M.L.S., is a Law Librarian for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, in Washington, DC. After graduating with a bachelor's degree in communications, she taught 8th- and 9th-grade English. She went on to attend law school, and it was during her 3 years of study that she was ''thoroughly taken with the skills the reference librarians displayed.'' Following graduation, she attended an ALA-accredited library graduate program.

She said breaking into her first job was difficult. ''I had worked gainfully in other fields, but to get 'library experience' and a job, I accepted temporary and non-law library jobs: a prison librarian, late-evening telephone reference. But after 10 months, I interviewed for a law library position, was offered, and I accepted. After 14 years, I haven't looked back since!''

Ms. Keeling recommends practicing an attitude of helping others as an important quality of a law librarian. ''Plus, for researchers, the following traits: persistence, logic, curiosity, ability to work with others under less-than-ideal circumstances due to work pressure, sense of humor, and interest in law.''

Robert E. Riger is Executive Director at Miami- Dade County Law Library. He became a Law Librarian in the late 1970s and received his M.S. in Library & Information Science with a specialization in Law Librarianship from Brooklyn's Pratt Institute. Mr. Riger has worked at almost every type of Law Library—county, nonprofit, academic, and law firm—and served as a consultant. Throughout his career, he has seen changes in new library and information technology take form. ''The three major changes that I have seen in my career are obviously the rise of the Internet as a resource; the shift from one centralized database terminal and printer to desktop access for all end users; and, for public law librarians, the shrinking of public funding for law libraries.''

There is always the concern about re-organization or downsizing, said Ms. Keeling. This is due to factors like budget, and the perception that electronic desktops will replace the information professional. She said to ''maintain cutting edge,'' one has to always ''reinvent oneself.''

The introduction of electronic resources to the legal profession has indeed changed the way librarians work. ''Now, not only are we choosing an information resource that answers the question at hand, but we must also be able to choose an appropriate format for our patron when a choice is between a print and electronic resource,'' said Mr. Somers.

Mr. Baker added that technology has changed the way and speed in which research is done. As a result, law librarians are on duty often late into the evening, and, with the dawn of email, they are always within reach. ''Law Librarians are now always 'on,''' Mr. Baker said.

As the others, Ms. Keeling said all in all she thoroughly enjoys the challenge of working with various patrons and is ''very satisfied'' with her career as a law librarian. ''I can't imagine doing anything else.''

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published April 10, 2023

( 219 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.