by Billy Hinshaw, former Assistant, INALJ Minnesota
previously published 12/18/13
So You Want to Be a Law Librarian?
Law librarianship is a great career avenue for those who either a) are library professionals interested in legal work, or b) are former attorneys or legal professionals seeking an alternate career. Regardless of background, law librarians use their knowledge of legal resources and searching behavior to assist with legal work in a behind-the-scenes context.
As one can deduce, law librarianship focuses on legal research and resources, such as legally-themed monographs and journals, legal treatises (multi-volume expositions on a single area of law), case reporters (print or electronic records of case opinions), and legal databases (i.e. LexisNexis or Westlaw). In terms of Library of Congress classification, this is anything with K as the starting letter. Law librarians work in any number of places. Many work in the private sector, stewarding the textual resources of a law office. Others pursue jobs in academia as librarians at a law school, and the government also hosts a multiplicity of positions in federal, state or county law libraries.
There are pros and cons to this field of librarianship, much like any other. As David Lat writes in the Above the Law blog, law librarians, on average, tend to make more than their public or academic counterparts. Law librarians are also valuable resources that can facilitate the practice of an attorney, saving the attorney time, and the attorney’s client(s) money. On the other hand, with the emergence of electronic databases and the over-saturation of the legal job market, law librarian positions are more difficult to find. The biggest danger with law librarians (especially those who work with the general public and have attended law school) is legal advice. Law librarians must be careful to provide access to resources, but not to tell anyone how to use it or otherwise provide assistance that can be construed as legal advice. A library user may visit a law library and be quick to ask for advice, but librarians must remind them that they cannot provide legal advice, since such activity is against the law.
Finally, although many law librarian positions require or prefer a JD, others only require an MLS or MLIS, and so many library professionals who have never been to law school, but have a keen interest in the law, apply and become law librarians. Moreover, law students and practicing attorneys in the digital age have a greater necessity to learn and utilize proper information literacy and research skills. This is something that librarians at a law school or a law firm can help to develop and facilitate, given their advanced knowledge of information seeking behavior. If you are interested in law librarianship, but don’t want to be a lawyer, this may be up your alley!
If you would like more information about law librarianship, you can visit the website for the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), where you can get more information about AALL, read the Law Library Journal, and view their joblist to get an idea of what these positions require. If possible, conduct an informational interview with a law librarian in your community. Also, make sure you read INALJ’s interviews with current law librarians Joe Noel, Kristen Hallows, Brian Huffman, and Leanna Simon.
Billy Hinshaw is a student in the MLIS program at Saint Catherine University in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and is currently a class-action clerk at Nichols Kaster, PLLP in nearby Minneapolis. After grad school, he plans to pursue work in technical services or digital librarianship, and also is an avid researcher in library history. When neither at work or at school, Billy enjoys reading history books, listening to music, playing guitar or piano, and following most professional sports, especially the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Wild, and Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
* Formerly titled So You Wanna Be a Law Librarian?