Handling Pro Se Patrons
Free Legal Resources
Types of Law Libraries
You may encounter legal reference work in ANY library!! You may find the occasional legal reference question at the desk of a busy public library, or as a regular part of your traffic at a specialized law library. Many special libraries have a connection to law, including corporate, court, state, county, law firm, and academic.
Law librarians do legal reference in varying proportions to other work in a law library, but many librarians in other libraries also encounter questions from their patrons that involve the law to some degree.
At the Legal Reference Desk: Top 4 Issues
- Pro Se patrons, aka the self-represented litigant in the library.
Among the many challenges that such patrons present to librarians, are concerns on the part of the librarian or the library about the unauthorized practice of law (by the librarian). Unauthorized practice is prohibited in all 50 states, but the definition of "practice" is somewhat vague. Librarians should know the law in their state, and more importantly, the policy of their library.
The University of South Carolina has implemented a traveling librarian program, to educate public librarians about handling legal reference questions. They have a brochure that offers suggestions for dealing with self-represented litigants.
- Legal research services
In many law libraries, the librarian performs research for a client, e.g., the lawyer, the judge, or for faculty in academic institutions. Some law school libraries run very large and successful programs where librarians supervise students who do research for faculty. In others, the librarians handle research requests ranging from preparing annotated bibliographies on an issue to assembling a package of research on a topic. And in a law firm, most of a librarian's work could be termed research, as opposed to reference.
- Legal reference
Reference work with legal materials is complicated by the complexity of the law and the interplay between primary sources of law and the many secondary sources of commentary and analysis that are crucial to an understanding of the law on any given topic. Legal reference work includes instruction on the use of legal resources such as statutes, caselaw digests and databases, regulations and other sources, and recommendation of secondary sources.
- Non-legal reference
A growing percentage of reference questions in law libraries are actually not about the law, but are related to business or statistical information, or other government documents. This drift is especially noticeable in the law firm environment, where special law & business consulting firms have spun off.
What About the JD?
One of the first questions I hear from graduate students in LIS is whether it's possible to enter this field without a law degree. In a word, YES! According to the most recent American Association of Law Libraries' (AALL) Biennial Salary Survey, only 27% of respondents had both the MLS and the JD degree. There are several good articles on this questions, as well. Keep an eye on the AALL's Career Hotline (rss) for job postings and descriptions.
Law library jobs that do require the JD tend to be in academia, especially in management. And since law librarians are recruited from law practice and law schools in addition to library schools, many law librarians find their "fit" within the profession after giving law practice a try. So the market for law librarians has remained relatively well-stocked with dual-degreed applicants for those positions that require both degrees. But if you're interested in law librarianship, there are plenty of opportunities for work in firms or other settings, that don't require the JD.