Law Firm Librarianship: Issues, Practice, and Directions

Gillian Hallam ( > Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia)

Library Management

ISSN: 0143-5124

Article publication date: 10 November 2014




Gillian Hallam (2014), "Law Firm Librarianship: Issues, Practice, and Directions", Library Management, Vol. 35 No. 8/9, pp. 689-691.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

“What do law librarians do?”. Law librarianship represents a highly specialised area of the library and information services (LIS) profession. While many law librarians work in academic law libraries, government department libraries, parliamentary libraries, court libraries or community legal centres, others are employed by private law firms. This book – aimed at educators, students and practitioners revisiting the foundations of law librarianship – seeks to present “a timely, comprehensive and practice-oriented view of law firm librarians and the professional environments that shape them”. The key ideas therefore focus on the context, tools and skills required for effective practice in private law firm library. The author, John Azzolini, is referred to as “a reference librarian at a leading global law firm in the USA”.

The tone of the book is personal and descriptive, drawing heavily on the author ' s own experience. It opens with a brief introduction (Chapter 1) to lead into an extensive discussion of the professional issues relating law librarianship (Chapter 2). In this chapter, the author explores the tasks, skills and attributes that may be considered integral to professional practice in a law firm library. Chapter 3 outlines the structure and culture of the multinational law firm, particularly in terms of the regulatory and business developments that are currently impacting on the way law firms operate, including corporatisation and legal process outsourcing. In discussing the law firm library itself (Chapter 4), the author pays attention to the library as a business unit within the parent organisation. The business model of the law library is examined in detail: the imperative to demonstrate value to stakeholders, the budgetary priorities and the importance of contractual arrangements with legal publishers. The library as an information unit is then explored, with consideration given to collection management, service issues, training, copyright requirements and the opportunities for embedded librarianship. Chapters 5 and 6 are more succinct, providing an overview of the world of legal publishing and the characteristics of the online databases available in the USA. The book concludes by highlighting some of the emerging technological and business trends that law librarians need to monitor.

Each chapter has its own abstract and keywords, an index is provided, and an extensive list of references is presented to support further reading. The format and presentation is typical of Chandos Publishing, with a large font and ample white space on the pages. However, it is felt that the sequencing of the chapters does not flow as smoothly as it might. The exploration of skills and traits of the law librarian early in the book results in some duplication of issues when the author examines the law firm environment, for example the concepts of practice groups, billable time and client centrality. It may perhaps have been better to contextualise the law library profession with an analysis of the macro (law firm) and micro (law library) environments, to consider the characteristics of legal information, again at the macro (legal publishing) and micro (legal information resources) levels, and to then relate these factors to the knowledge, skills and attributes required by law librarians themselves.

Much of the narrative emphasises the changing world of law firms, but the tenor of the book is up-beat and positive. The challenge of legal process outsourcing, for example, receives a balanced appraisal, with the author preferring to adopt “a wait-and-see attitude” with regard to the potential for law library services to be moved off-shore. The discussion is underpinned, however, by the expectation that the successful law librarian will understand the financial imperatives of legal practice and constantly scrutinise the value proposition of the library as a business entity. While the book is written primarily for the US market, efforts have been made to consider law firm developments in other English-speaking countries and reference is made to the relevant professional bodies in the law library community, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and the UK.

Azzolini ' s text provides a good overview of the field to the reader who wants to find out what a law firm librarian actually does, portraying a forceful career contextualised by economic and technological change. It is argued that members of the law library profession will remain “a dynamic and resilient profession” if they can proactively guide and influence the information agenda in their organisation. The lawyer ' s imperative is to be a lawyer: the goal is to devote time to providing expert legal advice to the client. The business efficiency argument is clear: by providing lawyers with high-quality legal information services that satisfy their knowledge needs, law librarians actually enable lawyers to practice as lawyers.

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