Library Science

How to Become a Law Librarian

How to Become a Law Librarian
The specialized field of law librarianship is composed of information and library science specialists working in law firms, and law school, corporate, and government law libraries. Image from Pexels
Beth Friedland profile
Beth Friedland September 30, 2022

To become a law librarian, you need to earn a Master of Library and Information Science or an MLIS in Law Librarianship. Less than a quarter of law library jobs require both an MLIS and a JD.

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Law librarians are skilled information science professionals with expertise in the legal system. They advise, analyze, research, and evaluate legal information for attorneys, academics, students and the general public. Law librarians know how to find the information students, teachers, and law professionals need—and are an invaluable resource in the legal field.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the library and media information field will grow 9 percent by 2030. It’s a wide-ranging industry with careers in academia, government, public service, and the private sector. The specialized field of law librarianship is composed of information and library science specialists working in law firms, and law school, corporate, and government law libraries.

The law librarian’s role varies depending on the needs of their employer. For instance, in academic law libraries, law librarians are the point people for students, faculty, and public patrons using library resources for research. Whereas in law firm libraries and government law offices, law librarians are focused on providing legal research specific to the company or department. This includes assisting with special legal projects and analyzing government documents.

In addition, many law librarians manage their law library’s information systems, website, and social media presence. And all law librarians are information systems professionals responsible for the library’s information management, including cataloging and classifying library collections.

This article explains how to become a law librarian and covers:

  • Educational requirements for a law librarian
  • Career paths for law librarians (and how much they earn)
  • What is a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree?
  • Top schools offering a Master of Library and Information Science degree

How to become a law librarian

If you already hold a Juris Doctor (JD), the most direct path to becoming a law librarian involves earning a Master of Library and Information Science degree in Law Librarianship. Otherwise, you can become a law librarian by pursuing an MLIS and specializing in this area through your choice of electives.

In addition to holding bachelor’s and master’s degrees in information and library science, many law librarians worked as <a href=”https://www.zippia.com/law-librarian-jobs/
target=”_blank”>reference librarians, where they sharpened their research, curating, and organizational skills. Others participated in internships at law firms or in government law libraries.

Educational requirements for a law librarian

According to the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), the majority of law librarians hold both a bachelor’s degree and a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS). Roughly a third of law school librarians also hold either a Juris Doctor (JD) or a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from an American Bar Association (ABA)-accredited law school. However, fewer than 20 percent of law library positions require applicants to possess both an MLIS and a JD or LLB.

The University of Washington offers a one-year, ALA-accredited law librarianship MLIS to qualified candidates who’ve already earned their JD. The course of study for this intensive degree program consists of three academic quarters followed by a three-week fieldwork study at a law library or legal information organization.

Their curriculum includes courses in general library and information science (like Concepts, Services, and Issues for Information Professionals and Design Methods for Librarianship), as well as law library-specific competencies, including:

  • Instructional Strategies for Legal Information
  • Legal Research Method
  • Research and Writing in Law Librarianship
  • Information Ownership & Control: Copyright
  • Management Skills in Law Libraries

Students complete this program with an in-depth understanding of the legal system and library and information science.

Career paths for law librarians (and how much they earn)

Law librarians typically command higher salaries than non-specialized librarians. Their average income is around $71,000. Salaries for specific law librarian roles include:

  • Reference and research librarians in corporate and law firms: $85,000
  • Academic law librarians: $75,000
  • Government law librarians: $67,000

Law librarians in leadership roles at law firms, law schools, and government libraries see a substantial increase in salaries:

  • Academic law library director: $159,000
  • Law firm or corporate library director: $124,000
  • Government law library director: $97,000

What is a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree?

A Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree prepares students for careers in the world of information services. Information specialists work in libraries, of course, as well as health care organizations (hospitals and research facilities), corporate and government offices, specialized libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions.

How long does it take to earn a Master of Library and Information Science degree?

It takes about two years of full-time study to earn an MLIS degree from an ALA-accredited college. Part-time students complete their MLIS coursework in three or more years.

What is the MLIS curriculum?

The American Library Association establishes the standards and guidelines for programs offering degree programs in library and information science. Core education competencies taught in MLIS programs include:

  • Information resources
  • Organization of recorded knowledge and information
  • Technological knowledge and skills
  • Reference and user services
  • Research
  • Continuing education and lifelong learning
  • Administration and management

The curriculum at the University of Washington features courses on:

  • Information Behavior
  • Design Methods for Librarianship
  • Concepts, Services, and Issues for Information Professionals
  • Organization of Information and Resources
  • Research, Assessment and Design
  • Management of Information Organizations
  • Information Technology
  • Ethics

MLIS specialization

MLIS graduate students typically integrate specialized courses into their coursework to gain expertise in specific areas that support their career goals. Specialization options include:

  • Information literacy and instruction
  • Data librarianship and management
  • Information architecture
  • Introduction to spatial thinking & GIS
  • Academic libraries
  • Archives and records management
  • Child and youth services
  • Digital libraries

Top schools offering a Master of Library and Information Science degree

According to U.S. News & World Report, the top schools offering ALA-accredited MLIS degrees are:

You can learn more about law librarianship and other library careers by visiting The Special Libraries Association (SLA).

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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