Profile of a Law Librarian

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Clare Brown

Library and Information Manager

Collyer Bristow provides bespoke legal services to a wide range of businesses and individuals in the UK and internationally.


What path did you take to your current role?

The local library used to employ a couple of students a year from my school as Saturday Assistants. My form tutor decided that it would be a good idea to put me forward as a candidate, and happily, they took me. I quickly realised that no other career would do and the head librarian there put me in contact with The Library Association/CILIP.

As I reached the end of the second year of my Library & Information/English degree at Loughborough University, it was apparent that business and law were my areas of interest. Part of the degree was writing up practical experience so I wrote to a number of law firms to ask for a summer job. Bond Pearce (now Bond Dickinson) in Plymouth was happy to introduce me to law librarianship, and my University was pleased with my report. I firmly believe that this invaluable experience was the reason why in September 1995, I was able to join London law firm Kennedy’s as Library Assistant with such confidence.

Since then I’ve always either worked in small teams or solo roles where I can be in direct contact with the lawyers. Although management roles are financially more rewarding, there is nothing like the challenge of day to day research. As proof of the transferability of our skills, I provided information services to a local government Department for Children and Young People for a few years; though the information was different, the users still required a prompt intelligent response to queries.


Describe a typical day

Typically I start the day by producing a bulletin of the day’s news, cases, legislation, and government press releases. Though much of this is now distributed electronically and delivered directly to the lawyers, I find reading through the newspaper headlines essential.

Once that has been sent out, I then deal with any email requests. This could be anything from assisting with company searches, pitches, database issues, to in-depth research for matters/articles or issues arising out of current affairs. I dash through the admin such as post, circulation, cataloguing, invoices and filing so I can get on with projects.

Projects for September included a CLA audit. We also need to review some databases so that is  time-consuming in the latter part of the year. New trainees also started in September so there was training and inductions to carry out.


What traditional library skills are important to have within your role?

The core skills for legal information professionals are being able to help users find the right information, at the right time, presented in the right way, and for the right price. In twenty years this has remained central to what I do for the lawyers.


What non-traditional library skills are important to have within your role?

Every workplace skill has a place in the librarian’s role. We are organised and practical project managers, we are experienced commercial negotiators, we are technologically aware, we are thoughtful counsellors/mentors, and we are imaginative and creative, which makes us excellent all-round communicators.

However more specific to the legal information role has been a requirement to add value to raw information. It has always been the case that a certain level of filtering is required. For instance, when someone asks for a list of cases on a particular issue, they would be unimpressed if you hadn’t checked through for relevance, importance and currency. But increasingly there is an expectation for you to understand some of the legal and commercial angles which might arise from your research.

As part of an increasingly more knowledge/expert-based role, I have been involved in the creation of legal content for the firm’s new website. Combining my interest and expertise in social media with the firm’s Reputation Management team has created an opportunity to work at the cutting edge of a really new area of law.


Are there any specific software packages or technologies you use on a regular basis within your role?

Thomson Reuters and Lexis Nexis are two big publishers providing the majority of both raw legal information and value added services, so most law libraries will have access to one or the other. However demonstrations of other products are useful and informative. Bailey Solutions remain my go-to company for library management systems and Penlib works really well for small firms.


What is the most rewarding part of your role?

The most rewarding part of my role has been the recognition of my writing skills by the firm. I was named as ‘Star Writer’ in the IT, data and privacy sector by The Lawyer, and given that the other four were lawyers, that is quite an achievement. Sometimes the work we do as information professionals goes unrecognised by other industries, so it is up to us to rise to the challenge and stand out.


What is the most challenging part of your role?

The most challenging part of my role is staying one step ahead of the news, and trend spotting. If I can alert my lawyers to potential developments, they can provide original commentary and, as a result, raise the profile of the firm. However as we are a full service law firm, there are many areas of ongoing interest and keeping abreast of it all can be overwhelming.


What are the career prospects within your area of librarianship?

There will always be a market for legal information professionals but the legal market is changing. Over the next 10 years or so, I believe that the industry will splinter further, leaving a new type of marketplace. There will be the high volume claims firm which will have outsourced all back room services; there will be boutique firms offering specialised services; and big name accountancy, business consultancies, family offices which will increasingly offer legal services; and potentially, local authorities will start offering paid for legal services to the public.

All of these will offer opportunities to information professionals but we have to remain flexible and willing to change with the landscape. As for promotion, corporate/legal information still lacks the opportunity for a progression up the ranks; our role is particularly ‘user’ or ‘client’ facing. However there is still no reason why we cannot become Chief Information / Knowledge Officers or even be made Partner in this new legal world.


Do you have any advice for people interested in pursuing a role in your genre of librarianship?

Academic ability is not important, what matters is your attitude. Mental flexibility, imagination, problem solving abilities, and endless patience, are absolutely essential.

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Profile of a Law Librarian

The Bar Council Law LibraryJohn Duffy

Sub-Librarian (Collection Development & Systems)

Bar Council of Ireland Law Library.

What path did you take to get to your current role?

I graduated from Robert Gordon University in 2000 and began as a cataloguer, working on a short-term contract in Trinity College Dublin. From there I took a temporary position as Assistant Librarian in ITT Dublin, with responsibility for cataloguing, systems and collection development. My next post was a return to being a cataloguer in the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas, but over nearly six years there the role evolved to take in systems, online services, and a large amount of the acquisitions and collection management duties. My job title was “eResources Librarian” when I left.

My current role is a further widening of these duties, with management responsibility for all aspects of what used to be called “technical services”: collection development, systems, and an array of online services, both commercial and developed in-house. I have reporting responsibility for four assistant librarians in this area, as well as a separate team working on digitisation.

Describe a typical day

My work tends to be quite project driven. At the moment a major revamp of the Law Library’s public website is being planned and I’m part of the team working on the design and content for that. I also assist with the routine flow of information through the organisation to our users, such as publishing content to our intranet or indexing digitised judgments.

What traditional library skills are important to have within your role?

The ability to see your service from the user’s point of view is absolutely crucial, and even more so as we move into an era of mobile services where users aren’t necessarily coming into direct contact with library staff or facilities. Designing things intuitively is vital for the library’s survival, and testing where the weak points are with analytics and surveys is also important.

What non-traditional library skills are important to have within your role?

It’s a cliché, but communication is key: within teams, throughout the organisation, and out to the users who are the reason our service exists in the first place. Every librarian should consider communications and marketing as part of their job.

Are there any specific software packages or technologies you use on a regular basis within your role?

I couldn’t live without Notepad: a  surprising amount of web content gets created or processed through it. I stumbled across InfoPath seven years ago and have made great use of it for creating and editing XML data. I was sad to see it has been discontinued by Microsoft. If anyone has any suggestions for a replacement I’d love to hear them!

[Editor’s note: I’ve heard good things about Oxygen which is paid for software.]

Law libraryWhat is the most rewarding part of your role?

Finishing things! Having a project, any project, completed, signed off and operational.

What is the most challenging part of your role?

Keeping all the plates spinning, making sure lower priority work does actually get done and that it’s not all grand projects or quick fixes.

What are the career prospects within your area of librarianship?

Times have been tough lately for the profession as a whole and I certainly don’t envy anyone starting out. The techie and systems side of librarianship can sometimes be undervalued too, by senior management who don’t understand what it is or how it differs from IT support. That said, there’s always a need for good technically-minded librarians. Bide your time, hone your skills, and the opportunities will come.

Do you have any advice for people interested in pursuing a role in your genre of librarianship?

The old saw that nobody wants a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole, is apposite. Always present yourself as being about solutions, improving efficiencies, adding value to services. Never lose sight of what the technology and the processes are for: making life easier for the people who use the information we hold.