by Robyn Hagle, MLIS
Are you tired of too much theory? Do you want more hands-on research experience? Are you looking for a unique intellectual challenge? Are you interested in being a librarian with a specialty? Look no further! Law librarianship might be for you.
As the UW Information School Liaison for the Law Librarians of Puget Sound (LLOPS), it is my job to bridge the gap between iSchool students interested in law librarianship and the local law library community. As a current MLIS student who has completed all of the law librarianship courses and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, I am obliged to share with you my experiences and encourage you to consider pursuing the law librarianship curriculum at the iSchool.
Right away I must dispel the rumor that being a law librarian requires a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. Yes, certain positions within the world of law librarianship require both a MLIS and a JD, but not all. For over a year now, I've been browsing online job listings for law librarians. This is what I've found. The vast majority of law library director positions (i.e. the director of a law school library) require both degrees. The majority of academic law librarian positions (i.e. a law librarian who works in a law school library) require both degrees. However, the majority of law firm librarian positions (or other corporate law library positions) do not require a JD. In addition, city, county, and state law libraries rarely require both degrees. There are plenty of career prospects for law librarians who do not possess a JD, and frequently these positions require the most in-depth research.
Perhaps you (like me a year ago) have not yet found a niche within librarianship. Prior to taking the law librarianship courses, my interest in other iSchool courses was waning. The thought of knowing just a little about a lot of different topics was unfulfilling to me. I realized I wanted to be a librarian with more in-depth subject knowledge - a librarian with a specialty. Law librarianship was exactly what I was looking for.
The sequence of law librarianship courses begins every Autumn quarter and continues through the next Summer quarter. The sequence is one of the few of its kind, both in the iSchool curriculum and other MLIS programs. In just one year, it is possible to learn how to conduct legal research and write legal memorandums; how to use and evaluate legal materials, and in turn instruct and provide assistance in the use of those materials; become familiar with the far-reaching scope of the law; and begin to develop in-depth subject knowledge that will last a lifetime.
The law librarianship curriculum at the iSchool is made up of 4 courses open to all MLIS students. The courses, instructors, and quarter offered:
LIS 591-Legal Research I taught by Mary Hotchkiss (Autumn)
LIS 592-Legal Research II taught by Mary Hotchkiss (Winter)
LIS 593-Selection and Processing of Law Library Materials taught by Penny Hazelton (Spring)
LIS 594-Law Library Administration taught by a different law library director each summer. (The instructor for Summer 2006 will be Jean Holcomb, the former director of my current employer, the King County Law Library. Jean is one of the most positive, dynamic, and knowledgeable people I know. She is a legend in the law library world and will be a wonderful person to take this course with.) (Summer)
If you decide to take one (or all) of the law librarianship courses, you will find yourself in a classroom with students from the UW Law Librarianship program. In addition, the two legal research courses are cross-listed with courses at the UW School of Law, which means you will likely be one of only a handful of iSchool students amidst many law students. The intellectual challenges I faced during legal research were in no small part because of the caliber of the students I was learning alongside. If you like a challenge, this is it.
A large part of what makes the law librarianship curriculum at the iSchool so special are the people involved. Upon first meeting with my advisor, Penny Hazleton who is the director of the Marian Gould Gallagher Law Library, a Professor of Law, and the director of the UW Law Librarianship program, I felt confident I had found a field that would be challenging and fulfilling. As Professor Hazelton puts it, ""Law librarianship gives librarians a chance to make a difference in access to justice for all citizens. Jobs in law firms support pro bono cases, jobs in academic libraries help law students develop interests in public services, and jobs in public law libraries help citizens who are working on their own cases (pro se). You CAN make a difference! If you are interested in working as a librarian in a library where you support the work of highly intelligent, analytical people, law librarianship is for you!"
Professor Hazelton graciously accepted me as a mentee, made me feel welcome, and has continued to support my interest in law librarianship and offer expert advice. Professor Hazelton's class on the selection and processing of law library materials was the perfect combination of content from LIS 522, 526, and 582. The assignments were engaging, practical, and fun. Plus, Professor Hazelton is another legend. In the law library world, if you say you are from the University of Washington, people ask if you know Penny Hazleton.
The well-loved, former Academic Dean of the UW School of Law, Mary Hotchkiss, teaches the legal research courses. Professor Hotchkiss is one of the most capable, effective, and humorous instructors of my life. Her abilities as a teacher are unparalleled. She educates her students on just about every major Washington state-specific and federal legal resource available and still manages to be funny, frequently sharing amusing anecdotes during class time. The skills developed in Professor Hotchkiss' courses, while specific to legal research, will easily translate to any type of librarianship, especially business or special librarianship. I cannot imagine another course where you learn (and use) so many different resources, develop a totally new style of writing, and are so thoroughly entertained and engaged.
Throughout the sequence of law librarianship courses, I was introduced to many other members of the local and distant law library community. Each was welcoming and supportive. But more so what I noticed was that each of them seemed to be among the brightest and most interesting people I have met. Law librarianship is a fun and exciting field. And if you're going to be a law librarian (whether you have a JD or not), it is a well-known fact that the University of Washington is one of the best - if not the best - place to study law librarianship. You have the opportunity to take advantage of a unique curriculum in law librarianship while you are a student at the iSchool. With 29 credits of electives to spend, why not try at least one law librarianship course and see what you think?
If you are interested in pursuing law librarianship as a MLIS student, contact Penny Hazelton (email@example.com). If you have questions about my experiences with law librarianship, please don't hesitate to contact me(firstname.lastname@example.org).