Practical Considerations for Law Librarianship as Career

Is a career in law librarianship right for you? The Findlaw blog asked this question to highlight law librarianship as an alternative to a traditional legal career.

The post asks Like books? Like the law? Worried about the crushing debt of a J.D. or the soul-sucking hours of a young associate? Maybe it's time to consider being a law librarian. 

For law firm librarians, these are precise questions to consider. For academic law librarians, however, salvation from the crushing debt of a J.D. is generally out of the question (save for independent wealth or  an increasingly rare full scholarship). The majority of academic law librarian positions require both a J.D. and a Master's of Library Science (or similar variation).

Law firm librarian positions, on the other hand, generally require just the M.L.S. And with the cost-savings associated with avoiding the J.D. degree, the starting salary of $62,000 noted in the Findlaw post offers a decent cost-benefit analysis.

As noted in a recent AALL Spectrum article, that may not be the case for academic law librarians. To be a law librarian in the twenty first century (with the increasingly required JD), expect to have $100,000 to $180,000 in student loans, but do not expect your salary to keep pace with your debt ratio. According to an October 2015 New York Times article, the average law school graduate’s loan debt is $140,000. The American Bar Association puts the average school loan debt from those graduating from state law schools at a more modest $84,000. Master’s degrees in librarianship or information science are not necessarily a bargain either. Tuition alone for the information schools at Drexel, University of Texas, University of Washington, University of Illinois, and University of North Carolina ranges between $32,000 and $55,000 to complete the degree. 

Currently, newer law librarians can expect to make between $50,000 and $80,000 until they become senior managers, according to AALL’s Law Librarianship by the Numbers 2014 report

Aside from the monetary concerns, however, you'd be hard pressed to find a career with higher satisfaction. As noted in the Spectrum article, for the law librarians we spoke with, day-to-day job satisfaction was incredibly high. Getting paid to help others, confront intellectual challenges, and solve problems is rewarding.

Because the work of law librarians is so varied, it is intellectually stimulating and never gets boring.   Law librarians perform tasks such as researching, analyzing, and evaluating the quality, accuracy, and validity of sources; teaching and training; writing; managing; and procuring and classifying library materials.

For example, in roughly 3 hours this morning, I helped multiple professors with course management system issues; researched, retrieved, and organized a variety of cases on religious discrimination; received clarification on public performance rights for a documentary; prepared a monthly newsletter for the law library; prepped research instruction; and worked with my research assistants on faculty research. My work will be as varied tomorrow morning.

For anyone with an intellectually curious mind, you truly can't beat this profession.

But the other practical considerations can seem overwhelming at times. The strict hours and the need to relocate for work make balancing family a challenge. And ever-shrinking budgets with the call to do more with less money is a real concern.

Anna Russell & Ingrid Mattson, the authors of the AALL Spectrum article, would like to keep this conversation going. To that end, they request that you take a short, five-minute work/life balance survey at bit.ly/JF17survey.

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