Law firms, law schools, businesses’ legal departments, courts, and government organizations with Libraries, employ law librarians to organise and maintain specialized legal collections. While a Law background or degree is not necessary, staff in Law libraries are frequently taught legal research skills, as research is often integral to their work.
The Bodleian also has a Law Library, located at the St Cross Building, home of the Law Faculty. Unusually for Oxford departmental libraries, the Law Library does not lend books out to readers. The Bodleian Law Library holds Official Papers as well as textbooks, law reports, and journals. The Law Library usually recruits 1-2 trainees each year through the Bodleian scheme.
Law librarians and legal information professionals are represented by the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians. Our testimonial comes from a former President of this association, Dunstan Speight, who works as Librarian at Lincoln’s Inn.
Librarian, Lincoln’s Inn, London.
I was very happy to be invited to contribute to this blog as many years ago when the world and I were young, I was also a Graduate Library Trainee at Oxford – at Nuffield College. Since then, my career has been spent in law libraries: two Inns of Court, the Law Society, and two law firm libraries. The libraries, and the work involved, have differed markedly and demonstrate the wide range of work encompassed in law librarianship.
In my present library – Lincoln’s Inn – we provide resources for barristers and Bar students. As you can imagine, barristers working on a case can be under great pressure when carrying out research – often requiring obscure precedents as they seek to build up a watertight legal case and usually under great time pressure. We help source material, ranging from a judgment released that morning to an obscure C16th authority, by way of cases from other jurisdictions, sample commercial agreements, and international treaties. In addition, my colleagues and I also present training courses on legal research methods.
As a library of last resort for barristers, Lincoln’s Inn has rarely disposed of any books, as one never knows what might be required by the lawyers. As we are the oldest law library in the country, this means we have an important historical collection of rare books and manuscripts, as well as the latest electronic databases. The historic collection attracts visiting academics and researchers – an excellent opportunity to learn more about individual items. It also brings with it a host of interesting challenges in ensuring that we maintain the right storage conditions for the collection.
It is a far cry from my previous role as a Library manager in a law firm. Most people are surprised that law firms have libraries. While law firm librarians still need to develop an expertise in legal research sources and skills, much of their time is spent in carrying out business research. Law firms also subscribe to a range of expensive legal and business databases. Negotiating and managing these contracts usually falls to the Library Manager – not necessarily an activity you think about when first considering librarianship as a career.
People thinking about law librarianship often want to know whether you need a law degree to become a law librarian. The answer is that you do not. You do, however, need to have (or develop) an interest in law, an ability to absorb and understand legal terminology, and, most importantly of all, attention to detail. The research you carry out may be contributing to a case where millions of pounds or someone’s liberty are at stake.
One final thought: lots of people say to me: why do lawyers even need libraries and librarians now everything is on the internet? Happily, there is still a place for both. Print is still used (and many older sources are still only available in print), so while print is around there will still be libraries. Even where organisations no longer have a physical library there is still a need for people to apply the core librarian skills of organising and retrieving information. If you doubt this, just watch a trainee carrying out a case search…
If you would like to find out more about law librarianship, feel free to contact me at email@example.com