Should I Become a Law Librarian?
Law librarians are professional experts in legal research who use their knowledge and training to assist lawyers, law students, legal clerks and judges in finding the legal resources they need. Duties can include anything from database and reference desk management to document retrieval to teaching legal writing and analysis.
Opportunities for specialization within this field include library administration, international law, government documents, computer services, and special collections. Law librarians work in law schools, business legal departments, and university or government law libraries, among other settings. Work hours can be long, and include evenings, weekends, or even on holidays.
|Degree Level||Master's degree; sometimes Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree|
|Degree Field||Library science|
|Licensure||Some states require licensing|
|Key Skills||Reading comprehension, active learning, interpersonal, and computer skills|
|Salary||$56,880 (2015 median salary for all librarians)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Association of Law Libraries
Getting into this field requires a master's degree in library science. However, some also have a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. Experience is preferred by most employers and some states require licensing. The key skills for a law librarian include reading comprehension, active learning, interpersonal skills and computer knowledge. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for all librarians, including law librarians, was $56,880 in May 2015.
Steps to Getting into this Career
Let's take a look at the steps required to become a law librarian.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
Any liberal arts education should provide a proper foundation for a career as a law librarian. While there is no specific undergraduate major required, those who wish to become law librarians may take courses in English and pre-law subjects, including debate, philosophy, basic Latin, ethics, constitutional law, composition, management information systems and statistics. While in school, a part-time position working in a university library or law library can be beneficial to obtaining basic experience and building a resume. To enter a library science graduate degree program, an individual must first complete a bachelor's degree program. Normally, an applicant with a bachelor's degree in any area of study can gain acceptance into a Master of Library Science (MLS) program.
Step 2: Complete a Master's Degree Program in Library Science
The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) states that the vast majority of law librarians hold a graduate degree in library science. When choosing a master's degree program in library and informational studies, check for accreditation through the American Library Association (ALA). The ALA suggests that students who wish to specialize in a specific area, such as law librarianship, should choose an institution with a curriculum that offers that particular emphasis. Master's degree programs in library science highlight topics including information technology, management, cataloguing, research and reference. Students enrolled in a MLS degree program with an emphasis on law librarianship typically take courses in subjects such as legal research and legal databases in addition to typical MLS coursework.
To be successful in this step, consider joining a professional association. Becoming a member of a professional association for librarians, or for law librarians in particular, gives an individual access to educational and career opportunities within the field. Additionally, many associations have special membership rates for students.
Step 3: Gain Work Experience
Law librarians work in university and law school libraries, law firms or government law libraries. Work experience in a full-time, part-time or internship capacity provides students with hands-on training conducting legal research and analysis, as well as working with legal database programs. Employment postings for such positions are typically listed on websites dedicated to the field, such as the AALL and the Special Libraries Association (SLA).
Step 4: Advance Your Career
The AALL estimates that around 30% of law librarians have a JD in addition to an MLS. While a law degree isn't necessary to become a legal librarian, it is often required for those who wish to attain leadership positions in law school libraries. In these positions, legal librarians may also teach courses to law students in legal research, writing and analysis.
Using computer knowledge, listening skills and law knowledge gained through an undergraduate and graduate program in library science, as well as experience, law librarians can find positions working in law schools, business legal departments, and university or government law libraries assisting lawyers, law students, legal clerks and judges in finding the legal resources.