Document Type



History and tradition confirms law librarians as formal sources of legal information in the U.S. legal society. Legal researchers in the U.S. refer heavily to and rely on law librarians as well as other traditional sources of information such as print sources and databases. This is because law librarians are approachable and visibly institutionalized within a law library in a legal organization. Law librarians are located at a reference/public services department of a law library in a legal organization such as a law school, a law firm, a court, and a state bar association or in a non-legal organization, and are generally highly approachable by walk-in, appointment, phone, online chatting tools, and emails. This paper argues that legal research and instruction as well as collection development, which has been primarily run by the law librarians, are cornerstones that will sustainably support the existence of law libraries in the future. For novice researchers and new associates, the law librarians, especially reference/research librarians, are the best research starting points for any legal research. This is even more true when new graduates from law schools realize the extent to which they were not ready to practice, especially in terms of research skills. As of 2012, new associates spend about 31% of their time doing legal research. In a recent survey, 18% of attorneys who have worked with recent graduates believe that research is the most important skill, while 41% of attorneys believe that writing is the most important skill. Given the formal status of law librarians in the U.S. legal society and realizing the complexity and importance of legal research, why did outsiders and insiders at the same time begin to discuss our future again? Did technological developments or contemporary critiques of law schools and legal education cause this future discussion? This paper argues that part of the reason for discussions about the future of law libraries is that outsiders do not fully understand the functions of law libraries and law librarians. The first part of the paper is dedicated to introducing and emphasizing the role of law librarians. The paper then introduces who U.S. law librarians are and how they have been uniquely defined and differentiated in the U.S. legal system. A wide variety of law librarians in different legal settings are introduced. The paper also discusses the required qualifications and training to become a law librarian and how they are keeping current with cutting-edge legal and research issues. The second part of the paper discusses what destabilized the current status of law libraries and librarians in the U.S. and what their future will look like. In conclusion, the paper offers the author’s insight on how to cope with the new ‘normal.’

Date of Authorship for this Version



legal research, law librarians

Original Citation

Jootaek Lee, Frontier of Legal Information: U.S. Law Librarians of the Future, 43.2 Int'l J. Legal Info. 411 (2015)