Working in the Legal Sector

When considering a possible career as an Information professional in the legal sector, most people will want answers to three ‘w’s: What? Where? Why? So on this page we provide answers to:

What is a Legal Information Professional?
Where do Legal Information Professionals work?
Why should I become a Legal Information Professional?
What training do I need?
Where can I find out more?

What is a Legal Information Professional?

Legal Information Professionals can work in many different areas of the law. They may be academic law librarians, information officers in a law firm, librarians in a court service or government department, knowledge managers or document and record managers.

Legal Information Professionals find material and information from a variety of sources. These include: electronic online databases (for information ranging from legislation to company or financial information); print resources such as text books, reference books and law reports; journals and other documents both internal and external to the organisation in which they work.

The Legal Information Professional has a vital role within their organisation and must be able to combine many skills. They need to have an excellent grasp of current affairs, a working knowledge of IT and how to exploit it, and an interest in the law.

They also need good communication and people skills. Management skills (such as project management, budgeting and staff management) are a key to their career progression.

Where do Legal Information Professionals work?

Academic Institutions

Universities which run law courses for students often have legal subject librarians and may make their legal collection available to local firms. The major research collections are at Squire Library (Cambridge), Bodleian library (Oxford), Trinity College Dublin and the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (London). Read about a day in the life of librarians working in academic institutions: City Law School, City University – law librarian (Rachel Scott Halls); Bodleian Law Library – legal research librarian (Kate Jackson); and Bodleian Law Library – acquisitions librarian (Lindsay Robinson).

Law Firms

Over 150 law firms in Britain and Ireland employ Legal Information Professionals. They may work as small one-person units or within large teams, either in a physical library space or embedded in the teams they support. Law firm library and information centres often provide commercial as well as legal information and Legal Information Professionals’ roles often combine knowledge management of in-house data with library management. For an idea of what law firm librarians get up to, read about a Day In The Life of Sidley Austin’s information officer (Grant Hood) and Mills & Reeve’s library/information services manager(Sue Kendall).

Freelance/consultant

Freelance law librarians and consultants are a pretty disparate group. They may work for one or two law firms exclusively; for academic institutions or commercial businesses; take on one-off projects for clients in legal or other organisations, run libraries or work on contract with larger information consultancies. Freelancers are (currently) doing everything from looseleafing to building taxonomies, organising conferences, database design, editing publications, sales representation, CPD training – and much more.

National Government

Parliament, Government departments and the Court Service have law libraries. The largest are at the Home Office and the Supreme Court. Sarah Wheeler provides insight into working at the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

Libraries for legal professionals

These include the Law Society library for solicitors, the four Inns of Court libraries for barristers, the Advocates library in Edinburgh. They provide a resource for their members, but some also provide a commercial service to law firms and the public. Angela Schofield writes about her role in the Advocates Library in Edinburgh.

Industry and Commerce

Nationwide a lot of companies have legal libraries or information centres employing Legal Information Professionals. For example, read about Fiona Fogden who made the switch from traditional librarian to work for supplier, Linex Systems (now Vable).

Why should I become a Legal Information Professional?

Legal Information Professionals can find jobs all round the country within academic institutions, the Court Service, Government and the UK network of law firms.

Salary package

Though salaries vary, most properly reflect the professionalism, status and key role Legal Information Professionals play and are competitive with other professionals. The BIALL annual salary survey (available to members) is a valuable benchmarking resource that breaks down salary levels by location, type of workplace, job title and various other categories.

Challenge

Not all information is easy to find. It demands a thorough understanding of the information sources and how best to access them. It relies on personal ability and a willingness to work to tight deadlines with a sense of determination.

An interesting and diverse career

Opportunities exist to explore all aspects of information provision from pure research to library service management. There are openings in many different types of organisations and with a remarkable spread of subject matter.

Responsibility

Legal Information Professionals often have sole responsibility for their departments and collections or may be part of a small team. They are relied upon to provide the right information and to train others in information retrieval.

What training do I need?

Qualifications can be attained by attending a library and information management training course offered by the schools of librarianship and information studies at Universities. These courses provide the basic training in this career and there are often opportunities to pursue particular subject interests during the course. There is currently no formal qualification in legal information management. Grants or bursaries may be available for full-time students and interested applicants are advised to apply to the relevant schools of library and information science.

There are often pre-qualification traineeships available for a period of a year with various firms and other organisations. These provide an excellent opportunity to see if working as a Legal Information Professional is for you.

BIALL offers a number of courses for Legal Information Professionals. These include a one day introductory course and short courses on a range of relevant topics. A one-year evening course in law for librarians is run in association with the University of Westminster. Please see Events and Training for more information.

How do I find Legal Information work?

For general information on pursuing a career in Legal Information see BIALL’s Career Leaflet.

Library Association websites

The BIALL Job Board lists vacancies relating specifically to the legal sector. Jobs are advertised by members and non-members of BIALL. There is an option to create an RSS feed to make it simpler to stay up to date with new vacancies. BIALL members are also alerted by email when new jobs appear on the job board.

CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, publish CILIP – Lisjobnet which carries all jobs advertised in the monthly CILIP Update magazine. The jobs advertised are not sector specific. Lisjobnet also has a section listing graduate trainee positions, some of which are from legal organisations.

Recruitment agencies

Specialist library, knowledge, and information professional recruitment agencies help fill permanent, temporary and fixed term positions at all levels. Recruiters have sector specific knowledge and can help with finding work in the legal sector.

Email distribution lists

LIS-LAW – E-mail list for legal information professionals. Some subscribers post information about job vacancies in their organisation.

LIS-LINK – E-mail list of academic librarians. Some subscribers post information about job vacancies in their organisation.

Library job websites

INALJ UK section

Jobsforinfopros

Lisjobnet.com

General job websites

You could try searching for jobs on general job websites like indeed, totaljobs, Neuvoo, Jobbydoo, Gigajob or Jobmanji.

Newspaper job sections

The Guardian

The Independent

Times Higher Education Supplement

Social media

LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook offer opportunities to follow organisations and recruiters to stay up to date with current vacancies.

Where can I find out more?

Online

Pursuing a Career in Legal Information, BIALL.

Law Librarian Job Responsibilities – The Role of the Law Librarian in the Law Firm, Corporation and Law School (2016)
Working as a Legal Librarian – CCSkills (2012) Interview with law librarian Helen Marshall, about working as a legal librarian.
Information officer – what is one? (None sector specific description).
From shelf space to cyberspace (2006) ‘Despite the digital revolution, the role of law firm librarian is as important as ever’. By Susan Doe, courtesy of The Lawyer.
Law Library Careers: Improving the Transition to Legal Information Work Ruth Brown, Dr Derek Stephens, Legal Information Management, Vol.4(1)March 2004, pp 19-22
A guide to the Irish legal system by Dr Darius Whelan.
Current Awareness “Produced for Legal Information Management by Katherine Read and Laura Griffiths at the IALS Library. Legal Information Management’s Current Awareness column provides a classified list of newly published books and journal articles of specific interest to law library and legal information professionals. Full bibliographic details are given for all items listed. “

Books

BIALL Handbook of Legal Information Management, 2nd ed. Editor: Worley, Loyita. Publisher: Ashgate Publishing, 2014 ISBN13: 9781409423966

Effective Legal Research. 4th ed. Author: Philip Thomas and John Knowles Publisher: Sweet & Maxwell Ltd, 2016 ISBN13: 9780414051911

Finding Legal Information Author: Pester, D. Publisher: Chandos, 2003 ISBN13: 9781843340461

Legal Information: A practitioners’ handbook. 2nd ed. Author: Peter Clinch and Jon Beaumont Publisher: Wildy, Simmonds and Hill Publishing, 2013 ISBN13: 9780854901234

The New Information Professional Author: Myburgh, S. Publisher: Chandos, 2005 ISBN13: 9781843340874

The Role of the Legal Information Officer Author: Harvey, T. Publisher: Chandos, 2003 ISBN13: 9781843340485

Taking Charge of Your Career : A Guide for Library & Information Professionals Author: Ptolomey, J. Publisher: Chandos, 2009 ISBN13: 9781843344650

Using a Law Library. 2nd ed. Author: Clinch, Peter. Publisher: Oxford University Press, 2001 ISBN13: 978184174029

Chandos Information Professional Series

Aimed at the busy academic librarian, and information professional, books in this series explore contemporary theory and practice in Library and Information Science.

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