Law Librarianship – The Career That Lets You Be Teacher, Lawyer, and Librarian. Why Pick Just One?

February 9, 2015

Law school blog 5Kofi Annan once said “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.” This pretty much sums up my view on education, the law, and why I decided to become a law librarian!

My interest in librarianship began when I was a teenager growing up in France. As a member of my high school history club, I spent every Thursday evening researching at my local library.  I loved the library atmosphere and enjoyed the company of the librarians, who, in my opinion, had the answers to everything. When I moved to the United States to attend college, I worked summers at the school library. There I learned the basics of library work and developed a profound appreciation for the dedication and expertise of the reference librarians. I loved absorbing knowledge – knowledge gleamed from the books in the library and knowledge acquired by talking to friends, co-workers, and professors who frequented the library.

It was not until I began law school at the University of Minnesota, however, that my interest in library science fully blossomed.  I completed an Advanced Legal Research course with one of the law school librarians and for the first time I considered that librarianship may be the perfect profession for me. While I thought about being an attorney, public speaking was never my favorite activity. In addition, while working on truancy and runaway cases at the University of Minnesota’s Child Advocacy Clinic, I discovered that while I absolutely loved working with our clients and trying to help them, I also found myself frustrated when our clients did not follow our advice.

After passing the bar, rather than finding a job as an attorney, I decided to pursue my interest in librarianship by enrolling in the Master’s of Library and Information Science program at the University of North Texas. While working on my Master’s, I interned at the law library at William Mitchell College of Law, in St. Paul, Minnesota. After graduating from library school, I spent a year working as the St. Paul branch librarian for the 8th Circuit U.S. Courts Library. While I enjoyed working with federal judges, law clerks, and members of the public, I missed the academic environment I had come to enjoy as a law student and later as an intern at William Mitchell.

I decided to apply for a research librarian position at the University of St. Thomas School of Law and I have worked there since 2008. At St. Thomas, I teach legal research to first-year law students and do research for professors, students, and members of the public. I alert professors to new articles and cases that may be of interest to their work, and I help with collection development. Professors teaching specialized courses also often request a research session for their upper-level students and I teach some of those. These are all common tasks for academic research librarians. In addition to these common duties, law librarians are often asked to complete other tasks if they have a special skillset. For example, because of my French background, I translate materials and interpret during client interviews for St. Thomas’s immigration law clinic. I love the variety my job provides – no two days are the same – and I love that I get to help people who genuinely want my help and who usually use that help effectively. I am never bored – how could I be when I am surrounded by bright students and professors who challenge me every day?

If you are thinking about law librarianship as an alternative career, consider the following questions: Do you enjoy the hunt for a good case? Did you love your legal research and writing class in law school? Do you enjoy academic pursuits? Do you like constantly learning new things? Are you service-oriented? Do you enjoy being in a collaborative environment rather than a competitive environment? If you answered yes to these questions, law librarianship may be a great fit for you.

Law librarianship includes work for various constituencies, including law schools, law firms, and government to name the three major ones. In the law school context, law librarianship provides a great mix of teaching, researching, and other responsibilities. The academic environment means the work hours are usually flexible (they may include some evenings and weekends), you get generous vacation time and benefits, and the stress is low compared to practicing law. The pay is also competitive (but don’t expect to make as much as a lawyer practicing law). I love my job and cannot imagine a more fulfilling and rewarding career!