Law librarians are legal information professionals who have education in librarianship and the law. They may work in various settings with law libraries, including but not limited to, law firms, law schools, courts, government organizations, and legal departments of associations, organizations and businesses. Their job involves assisting lawyers, students, staff and patrons of the library in using legal and business resources. They may also educate others.
In order to become a law librarian, you need a Master of Library Science (MLS) or Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree from an American Library Association (ALA)-accredited college or university. Optimally, you should choose a degree program that offers a concentration in law librarianship.
Recently, there has been an unprecedented increase in the use of technology and artificial intelligence in the legal profession, including within law libraries. Many AI products can now do the work of human legal researchers. Some may wonder if law librarians, too, will be replaced. According to experts, the opposite is true. Law librarians are needed now more than ever, as technology has increased the responsibilities of information professionals. Law librarians must also be legal technologists, specializing in technology that is used on a daily basis in legal organizations. Law librarians understand the importance of technology in advancing the legal profession, and are often screeners of new technology within law firms and organizations. They must also act as guides, interpreters and ethicists for legal researchers as they go about performing the duties of their own jobs.
If you have a love of the law and a desire to become a librarian, consider working in law librarianship. We will now explore the ins and outs of a career in law librarianship in further detail.
Education for Law Librarianship
While a J.D. (Juris Doctor) degree is not necessary in order to become a law librarian, some law librarians do have a law school background. Generally, however, they need an MLS or MLIS that includes specialized law librarian coursework. Some schools do offer a joint J.D/MLS degree, in which students earn a library degree and a law degree simultaneously. Schools that offer these, as well as MLS with specialty in law librarianship, can be found using the ALA’s searchable database. Programs are available online, in-person, and in hybrid mixture formats.
Within the specialty of law librarianship are also a variety of specializations providing more enhanced job opportunities. They include, but are not limited to:
- Foreign/international law
- Government documents
- Computer-related services
- Library administration
- Special collections (archives, antiquarian books)
Each law librarianship program differs from the next. Usually, you can expect to take the following types of specialty courses:
- Government Data and Information Sources– Because law librarians often must help others find obscure government documents and statistics, this course teaches students methods of and tools for doing so.
- Information Technology Tools and Applications– Law librarians use many electronic and online resources in their jobs. This course focuses on technology and Web 2.0 skills, which will prove to be highly useful for law librarians.
- Instructional Strategies for Legal Information – This course helps students to develop knowledge and skills for instruction suited for working in law libraries. It includes creation and design of a legal research course syllabus, using appropriate classroom technology, and giving effective presentations.
- Management Skills in Law Libraries – This course discusses organizational structure, personnel, communication skills, project management, supervision and training, all of which are important management skills needed to work in a law library.
- Research and Writing in Law Librarianship – Students in this course will select a topic in law librarianship, research that topic, write a major paper, and present that paper. This will be done in conjunction with a faculty advisor.
In addition, many law librarianship programs offer practicums, in which you can gain valuable, real-world experience working within an actual, real-life law library setting. The contacts that you can develop in a practicum can be priceless as you set upon making a career as a law librarian.
Law Librarian Job Description
The exact role of a law librarian is highly dependent upon their practice setting. Most law librarians follow the AALL’s Principles and Standards for Legal Research Competency in the performance of their jobs. These include:
- Possessing foundational knowledge of the legal system and legal information sources
- Gathering information through efficient, effective research strategies
- Critically evaluating information
- Applying information effectively to resolve and issue or need
- Distinguishing between ethical and unethical uses of information, and understanding the legal issues associated with the discovery, use and application of information
According to the AALL, law librarians perform a variety of tasks, including but not limited to:
- Researching, analyzing and evaluating the quality, accuracy and validity of sources
- Disseminating information to facilitate accurate decision making
- Teaching and training others
- Procuring and classifying law library materials
- Data analysis
- Legal research
- Information management
- Knowledge management
- Legal research instruction
- Business development
Jobs for Law Librarians
The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) offers a career center in which openings for law librarian jobs nationwide are posted. Law librarian jobs may not always be advertised in that way. Other titles that those with education as a law librarian may have are Electronic Services Librarian, Law Professor, Law Library Director, Reference Librarian, Competitive Intelligence Analyst, Research Analyst or Specialist, and Chief Knowledge Officer.
A search of jobs for law librarians online found openings such as:
- Senior Research Analyst, Harris Beach PLLC – Rochester, NY- Conduct business and non-legal research on behalf of attorneys, professional staff and clients. Train legal staff on legal research strategies and resources. Requires MLS with 5 to 7 years of law library experience.
- Access & Operations Librarian Teaching Assistant Professor, University of Illinois College of Law – Champaign, IL – Requires a J.D. and a MLIS with one year of law school library experience.
- Library & Information Services Manager, Shutts & Brown LLP – Florida – Operational management of law firm’s international library and information services department. Requires undergraduate degree in library science with 3 to 5 years’ experience.
- Law Librarian for Digital Initiatives and Research Services, Emory’s MacMillan Law Library– Atlanta, GA- Develop, maintain and promote Emory Law’s institutional repository. Requires J.D. and MLS/MLIS with no experience.
- Law Librarian, Court of Appeal, Fifth Appellate District – Fresno, CA – Direct library programs, accomplish library’s goals and objectives, assist with special projects as assigned. Requires MLS and three years’ law library experience or undergraduate degree and five years’ law library experience.
Organizations and Resources of Interest to Law Librarians
These organizations and resources are of interest to law librarians, as well as to students who are considering becoming a law librarian:
American Association of Law Libraries (AALL)– The AALL is the only national association that promotes the profession of law librarian and keeps law librarians at the forefront of technological and industry advancements.
Special Libraries Association (SLA)– The SLA provides networking, educational, and leadership opportunities for librarians everywhere who work in special libraries, including law libraries.
Curated Content for Librarians – Aspen Publishing offers curated content for law librarians, including Digital Reserves, a Digital Bookshelf, learning libraries and more
The Avalon Project – This website of Yale Law School’s Lillian Goldman Law Library features a variety of documents in law, history and diplomacy