Working as a legal librarian

 15 May 2012

Helen Marshall works in the knowledge and information team at the law firm Harvey Ingram LLP. 400 staff are spread across the head office in Leicester and the four other offices in the Midlands.

The legal profession relies on up-to-date and accurate information to research and prepare cases.
The legal profession relies on up-to-date and accurate information to research and prepare cases.

The legal profession relies on up-to-date and accurate information to research and prepare cases. Many law firms have library staff although, nowadays, they are sometimes known by a different name.

The job of a legal librarian

"As well as providing books, we manage current awareness among the staff. Staff flag up areas of interest and we keep them informed.

"This might be tracking the passage of a piece of legislation through Parliament or monitoring an important case as it goes to appeal. Staff also pick things up on the grapevine which we then circulate to others with an interest.

"In fact, we do not have a central library area. Nor do we have an issues desk. All the books are in the team areas or partners offices where they can be accessed constantly.

"Some teams have a trainee who researches cases. More difficult questions are referred to our team which includes a professional support lawyer. We might be asked to find cases or citations on particular topics. We use online legal databases such as PLC or LexisNexis.

"Most of our reference books are in loose leaf format so amendments can be added as needed. We have over 60, most in multiple volumes, so there’s a lot of updating to do.

It’s a tedious, clerical job, but it has to be done. I know the importance of legal information being up to date – a case could stand or fall on the accuracy of the information."

Becoming a legal librarian

"I started to look into librarianship, following a suggestion by the university careers service. Doing work experience at the British Library at Boston Spa started me thinking about the legal aspects of the work.

"Don’t be afraid to approach people, for work experience or later on. Most people are willing to help."

"After I graduated, I worked as an information assistant at BPP Law School in Leeds. I loved the mix of corporate and academic work.

"I studied for an MA in Information and Library Management at Loughborough. One of the outside speakers on the course was from Harvey Ingram LLP (and is now my boss!)

"While he was there, I asked him for some work experience. This resulted in a two-week (unpaid) internship. After my course, they offered me 12 weeks paid work, undertaking a knowledge and book audit.

"I got to know the stock, everyone in the firm and the layout and set up of each office. While I was there, they offered me the job I do now."

Building professional links

"I was member of CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) but as I specialised, I switched to BIALL (British and Irish Association of Law Librarians).

"I serve on the PR and Promotions Committee which is committed to publicising BIALL across the profession. This includes visits to library schools – I’ve been back to speak on my course at Loughborough.

"ALLICE (the Association of Law Librarians in Central England), provides a local forum. We share professional practice and career concerns through meetings and social events as well as via our blog.

"I value these professional links as I build my career. My boss encourages my memberships as they’re a good source of contacts for research and resources.

Developing a librarian career

"I value these professional links as I build my career. They’re a good source of contacts for research and resources."

"I think I’d miss the legal world if I moved away from it – and I’d start to lose my speciality.

"I like being able to use my librarianship in a corporate environment. But who knows? At the moment, I’m just glad to have a job.

"I’d say to anyone starting out, be enthusiastic and eager to learn. And don’t be afraid to approach people, for work experience or later on. Most people are willing to help."


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