Law Librarian

A law librarian is a legal professional responsible for managing and maintaining legal information. As their name suggests, they usually work for libraries – at law schools, law firms, federal courts, municipal courts, colleges and universities, and legal departments for business, government and other organizations.

The primary responsibilities of law librarians include (1) research, analysis and evaluation of the accuracy, quality and validity of information, (2) training other legal professionals, and (3) organizing, classifying, maintaining and finding law library resources and materials.

There are two categories that law librarian jobs usually fall into. These include public services and technical services. Law librarians filling positions in public services deal directly with people on a daily basis. They answer questions, help people find answers to legal questions, educate, and more. Law Librarians involved in technical services don't spend as much time working directly with people as those working in the public service sector. Instead, they focus on managing electronic access to information and library materials. However, many positions – especially those with smaller organizations – require law librarians to fulfill both technical and public service roles. Within the field of law librarianship there a several roles and titles. These include:

  • Instructional Services Librarian
  • Cataloger
  • Reference Librarian
  • Knowledge Manager
  • Foreign and International Librarian
  • Access Services Librarian
  • Systems Librarian
  • Records Manager
  • Acquisitions Librarian
  • Government Documents Librarian
  • Archivist
  • Electronic Services Librarian
  • Rare Books Librarian
  • Director

Daily Duties of a Law Librarian
Generally speeking, law librarians manage, maintain, organize and retrieve legal information. Some of the routine, daily duties a law librarian may perform include the following:

  • Put together and manage a library budget
  • Answer questions about legal information and help people find legal reference materials
  • Plan and conduct training classes for library patrons
  • Help library patrons learn how to use a library's electronic database
  • Have meetings with judges, attorneys, university faculty and other legal professionals.
  • Recommend and implement new information management technologies
  • Write articles
  • Supervise the performance of other library employees
  • Return books to their shelves and maintain a uniform system for organizing library reference materials
  • Manage vendor relationships
  • Manage electronic content (eg. files, databases, microfiche, etc.)

Education and Training Requirements
While law librarians aren't required to pass the bar exam, some public service and administrative positions at universities and a law firms require candidates to complete a Juris Doctor degree. Positions in technical services and the majority of positions at firm law libraries do not require a juris doctor degree. Law librarians are however required to earn a master's degree in library science (MLS) from a school that provides an American Library Association-accredited program. The vast majority of law librarians have a graduate degree of some sort in library and information science, even though the names of the exact degrees may vary (e.g., MLS, MLIS, MSIS, etc.)

While a law degree isn't required for most law librarian positions, about 33% of law librarians have a law degree (JD or LLB) from an ABA accredited program. However, very few positions (less than 20%) require candidates to have a graduate degree in both law and library science. Several schools now offer a joint JD/MLS degree for students who want to earn a library science and law degree at the same time. Most JD/MLS degrees are four-year programs.

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Even if you only enroll in a law librarian program, you'll still want to take coursework with subject specialization in law. A knowledge and understanding of the law, legal system, legal profession, legal documentation, literature of the law, and law ethics are necessary for a law librarian to become extremely proficient at their profession and reach their full potential.

Even among accredited law librarian programs not all schools are equal. Before enrolling in a program we recommend that candidates review the breadth, depth and scope of a school's educational offering. A great way to do this is by comparing the syllabi for many of the courses offered by a school against the syllabi of the Conference of Law Library Educators (an esteemed group of well respected law librarians and eductors). Any worthwhile law librarian program will help students develop skills in legal research, the organization of legal materials and resources, legal information systems, legal bibliography, and law library administration.

While credit hour requirements for a master's degree in library and information science will vary from school to school, many programs can be completed in just one year of full-time study. Some MLS programs require two years of full-time study, as well as fieldwork and the completion of a thesis. In addition to full-time programs, there are several law librarian programs uniquely designed for working students. These programs can be completed on a part-time basis. Additionally, several schools now offer distance education programs for students unable to attend a campus-based program.

The minimum entry requirement to most MLS programs is a bachelor's degree and minimum 3.0 grade point average from an accredited undergraduate program. Some programs also require applicants to pass the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). However, a few schools will accept the LSAT or Millers Analogiest Test as an alternative to the GRE. Letters of recommendation, personal interviews and statement of education objectives may also be required for admittance consideration.

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