New public law librarians (MLS & MLS/JD) and new public law library employees usually have to tackle questions of Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL) and the dreaded “Forms” questions very early in their employment (or careers, if they are in it for the long haul*).
(Non-Oregon new public law library employees reading this blog post can locate similar resources within their own state’s public law librarian world.)
FIRST AND FOREMOST:
1) Your law library’s services: You absolutely, positively must discuss these issues thoroughly with your supervisors, your judges, your county counsel (or other supervising officer), and, assuming they participate in the management or guidance of your law library, your local bar association, legal aid directors, and your board members. I also highly recommend you put a couple of these people, especially one of your judges, on your “speed dial” for help with any of your questions while you are learning the public law library ropes or when you get a request that needs specific guidance from “above.” (These questions will arise throughout your career – even the most experienced among us call upon our colleagues and judges for advice on how to respond to some of our patrons’ questions.)
2) You cannot, you must not, assist anyone by recommending or completing specific forms without first consulting with the people listed in item 1, above – or taking advice from an experienced public law librarian OCCLL members. (See the links below, with tips from educational programs on the “forms” and related subjects.)
3) You should also include talking to an experienced member of the Oregon State Bar (OSB) Unauthorized Practice of Law committee in the course of learning about and determining the types and levels of service your law library is going to provide.
SECOND, BUT EQUALLY IMPORTANT:
1) There isn’t a single public law library service UPL or related issue that is a matter of first impression. Professional law librarians who serve the public and manage law libraries have been discussing and reading and writing about these past, present, and future public law library issues for decades. So, ask them – they love to talk about these issues and will happily share their experiences and tips, with you!
2) I recommend asking experienced public law librarian OCCLL members who have grappled with these issues for many years to present a program on these issues at your OCCLL meetings – or another scheduled meetings. This is how we all learned – from our experienced colleagues! (I remember a fabulous law library budget training session offered by an experienced Oregon law librarian when I was a newly minted Oregon public law librarian.)
THIRD, DO YOUR HOMEWORK – IT’S REALLY FUN! (If it’s not fun, you’re in the wrong profession):
1) If you are in the public law librarian profession for the long haul* and want to educate yourself on issues of UPL and effective and appropriate law library service to members of the public, there are many, many (many!) resources that have been developed over the decades by professional law librarians dedicated to training new public law library employees on how to provide the best possible legal research assistance to their patrons. (Note: Do not confuse legal research assistance with legal assistance. Only licensed attorneys or judges can provide the latter.)
2) There is a large and body of literature about the unauthorized practice of law (UPL) in law libraries and about managing a public law library. There are statutes, books, articles, organizations (AALL GLL section, SRLN, and other long standing networks of public law librarians who have been talking for decades about these issues).
3) If you are new (less than 5 years) to working in or managing a public law library, whether you are a former lawyer, public librarian, library assistant, paralegal, or simply a new public law librarian (dual degree or otherwise), please explore the following resources, some of which we prepared for training programs presented to public library employees and new public law librarians and paralegals. The links below are only a tiny fraction of A2J resource list. I’ll link to more in a future blog post.
These particular materials are at the Washington County Law Library website. (Other OCCLL members will have additional UPL and legal research training resources). If links fail, please notify the Washington County Law Library:
LAST: THE 21ST CENTURY LAW LIBRARY: a little homework:
1) Just as there is a large body of literature on public law librarian service to the public, there is an almost equally large body of literature on the future of public law libraries and A2J.
2) Before you join the discussion, catch up on the information that currently exists, whether it’s reading the reports by, or talking to, members of AALL Government Law Library section or the SRLN Law Librarian Committee or following the websites and blogs written by active lawyer and law librarian members of the many Access to Justice organizations, state and nationwide. Start by talking to your OCCLL member colleagues who are active in the A2J world, i.e. members of AALL or SRLN. You will not find a professional Oregon law librarian in any of these groups who is not willing to talk your ear off about the subject, the literature, and how you would be welcome to participate in the public law library A2J world.
So, good luck, happy reading, and welcome to the profession!
*Long haul law librarians: these are law librarians and law library employees who love their jobs and never stop reading and learning about their profession and related professions.