Law Librarianship

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Law librarians work in many different settings. They can be found in academic law libraries, in state- and county-level public law libraries, in court houses, government agencies, private law firms, and other environments. Their patrons range from the general public to law students, to attorneys, and possibly judges. Some law librarians have a JD (juris doctor), or law degree, but it is certainly not necessary to work in the field. According to the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), fewer than 20% of law library jobs require both an MLIS and a JD. Some positions, especially reference positions, list it as a desired, but not required, qualification.

We invite you to watch a webcast about the law librarianship career path presented by career law librarian Jean L. Willis.

Law Librarianship

Within the profession there are a number of sub-specialties. Law librarians may be government information librarians, legal catalogers, technical services specialists, web design experts, information resources managers, research specialists, competitive intelligence analysts, business development market researchers, or many other job titles and areas of specialization within law librarianship.

Law librarianship is similar to other library career paths in a number of ways, but there are some significant differences. For example, depending on the job responsibilities, law librarians search for and organize information, as do librarians in other settings. A difference, however, is the types of sources they consult while trying to locate relevant legal cases, statutes, and treatises. Once a law librarian has found the necessary legal information, it’s further necessary to ensure it is up to date, i.e., that it hasn’t been overturned. Sometimes surprisingly difficult to locate, the law is also constantly changing. Therefore, law librarians must work to ensure they have the most current, relevant information whether performing reference work, doing collection development, cataloging, or performing other job responsibilities.

To learn about the field and begin to determine whether a career in law librarianship is right for you, start the process by talking to people in the field. Join professional associations like AALL and one of its 30 local chapters (such as NOCALL [Northern California Association of Law Libraries] and SCALL [Southern California Law Libraries Association] and/or SLA (Special Libraries Association), and its more than 50 special interest groups (such as the SLA Legal Division and the Solo Librarians group). Membership rates for students are often substantially discounted, and these associations provide great opportunities for you to network, conduct informational interviews, intern and/or volunteer.

Core Theory and Knowledge

  1. Understand the structure of the United States legal system, as well as those of relevant state and municipal systems, and the documents associated with them.
  2. Based on your employer’s focus, understand the relevant regulatory environment.
  3. Understand how to organize information and how to make it findable. Understand legal cross-referencing systems, legal taxonomies, and legal terminology.
  4. Understand user perspectives, the search process, and how various files and technologies impact search strategy.
  5. Understand relevant free and fee-based online legal databases, search strategies, and resources.
  6. Be able to effectively teach students, colleagues, and others how to use these resources, and help them find needed information.

Coursework

Although the SJSU iSchool program does not have an official “law library track” or specialized degree focusing on law librarianship, there are specific classes that are especially helpful to prepare you to become a law librarian. Also, if you are a minority student interested in pursuing a career in law librarianship, be sure to check out the AALL George A. Strait Minority Scholarship webpage, which provides the details of this scholarship available to “American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.”

Note: These are courses you should consider. If you do not take all of these courses, it does not mean that you will not be able to pursue a career in law librarianship.

Required Courses:

Foundation Courses:

The elective courses listed below have been helpful to other law librarians who have completed the iSchool program in the past. They are included because they help prepare students for job duties in a law library environment. AALL has prepared a list of competencies for success as a law librarian. You might want to look at those competencies to help you select appropriate coursework. The competencies, revised in 2017 and now known as the Body of Knowledge, can be found at: https://www.aallnet.org/about-us/what-we-do/policies/public-policies/competencies-of-law-librarianship/

Additional Resources

Professional Associations:

AALL – American Association of Law Librarians

NOCALL – Northern California Law Libraries Association

PLLIP- Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals

SANDALL – San Diego Area Law Libraries

SCALL – Southern California Association of Law Libraries

SLA – Special Libraries Association

SLA Legal Division

Further Readings:

AALL – Law Library Careers

International Studies and Legal Work Lead to a Career in Law Librarianship, by Jessica Pierucci, ‘16 MLIS

LLRX-Law and Technology Resources for Legal Professionals

So You Want to Be a Law Librarian (INALJ)