Become a Legal Information Professional
What are the educational requirements to be a law librarian?
The overwhelming majority of those working as law librarians have a graduate degree in library and information science. Most jobs require a master's degree from an American Library Association (ALA)-accredited institution. The names of the degrees vary: MLS, MLIS, MSIS, for instance, but all reflect an appropriate entry-level educational requirement for careers in the law librarianship profession.
Do I also need a law degree?
About one-third of all law librarians also have a law degree (JD or LLB) from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA), but fewer than 20% of the law librarian positions being filled require both degrees. Most positions require an MLS or its equivalent. Some, mostly law school libraries, also state a preference, or even a requirement, for a law degree.
Typically, directors of law school libraries have faculty status, so they must have law degrees. In addition, many reference librarian positions in law schools require a law degree. On the other hand, there is rarely a law degree requirement for law librarian positions in law firms or corporations, or in county, court or other government law libraries.
Several schools offer a joint JD/MLS degree, where a student can earn a law degree and a library degree simultaneously. Check with each individual school for its requirements. Most of these joint degree programs require at least four years of study.
What if I have a law degree but no library degree?
If you already have a law degree, but no MLS, should you invest in another 1-2 years of professional education? Surveys of recent job postings indicate that a law degree alone will qualify you for few professional positions in any kind of law library. There are some exceptions, especially if you are interested in eventually obtaining a library degree. The best advice is to obtain an MLS. You will be qualified for many more positions in law libraries, and you will be much better prepared to assume the challenges of librarianship in tomorrow's environment.
So, to qualify for almost any professional position in a law library, you must have an MLS or its equivalent. You may want to consider also earning a law degree. Armed with both JD and MLS degrees, you will be qualified for additional professional positions in law librarianship.
Where can I obtain the education to be a law librarian?
There are many fine ALA-approved institutions that offer a master's degree in library and information science. Some offer courses in law librarianship and/or joint JD/MLS degree programs. You may be interested in the top twenty library schools as ranked by U.S. News, which also ranks the top three programs in law librarianship.
Almost all library schools offer classes in general librarianship competencies, such as reference and research services, research instruction, library management, collection management, and organization and classification.
What kind of classes should I take?
For a career in law librarianship, you will also need some subject specialization in the law. Subject competencies in law include an understanding of the legal system; knowledge of the legal profession and its terminology, including legal abbreviations and citation systems; knowledge of the literature of the law, including the legal documents issued by the various branches of government; and an understanding of the legal requirements and ethical considerations of the legal profession.
Law librarians must have skills in legal research, legal bibliography, the organization of legal materials, law library administration, and knowledge of legal information systems. Most graduate programs also offer coursework on technology's role in organizing and accessing information, and in the latest online technology and library information systems. A good foundation in technology is essential for law librarianship. Law librarians should also be familiar with online databases, such as Westlaw and LexisNexis. Law librarians must be able to help patrons obtain desired information in any format and to facilitate access to library materials via online cataloging and classification.
In addition, internship and fieldwork opportunities offered by a library school are an important consideration. Check out the school's placement or career services department. How will they help you get a job after you earn your degree? You may also want to look at the course offerings in other academic departments of the university you are considering.
How long will it take me to earn an MLS?
Some masters programs in library and information science may be completed in one calendar year with full-time attendance, but the number of academic credit hours required for a master's degree varies from school to school. Some programs may take as long as two years, and may require a thesis and/or fieldwork. Most schools permit part-time attendance, and many have online education opportunities. No two library science online education programs are exactly alike, as they may offer various methods of delivery.
What are the admission requirements for library school?
Admission requirements vary from school to school, but most schools generally require a bachelor's degree and a minimum grade point average (usually a B). Many programs also require a minimum score on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Some have no test requirements or will take test scores from alternative examinations, such as the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) or the Miller Analogies Test.
Many schools require letters of recommendation, and some hold personal interviews or request a statement of educational objectives from the applicant. Be sure to check with each school for more specific information about admission requirements, especially application deadlines.