Welcome to the Family

On Firmer Ground is delighted to welcome Michael Charlton, Law Librarian for Dr K C Mildwaters LLP, to its board of editors.  We have asked Michael to introduce himself  . . .

“Michael, I need to know what obligations Albanian law puts on contractors.”

That is today’s first request. A researcher who knows exactly what she wants, but has no idea where to find it, has only one place to turn. Well, ok, two places; but I pride myself on the fact that she comes to me rather than Google. The badge is right, Librarians are the original search engine – and a well trained librarian is still the best.

After completing an MSC in library and information studies at The Robert Gordon University I spent a year serving my time as a library assistant with Dundee City Council. At this time the idea of working in law hadn’t occurred to me; I had an undergraduate degree in Economics and a love of political philosophy – I though an ideal job would be working in an academic library in one of these fields. The offer of a job as librarian with Dr Mildwaters changed all that – legal research opened up to me, and it was fascinating.

For two years now I’ve been working as a solo librarian for Mildwaters Consulting. Originally the partners believed that they were getting someone to log in serials, look after the books, and keep the catalogue up to date. It wasn’t long before they found out that what they were getting was a librarian.

One of the huge advantages of having a librarian on staff is that librarians are skilled in effective and efficient search strategies. The sources of law are vast and ever expanding; a librarian has the specialized knowledge to mine these sources, both print and electronic, for relevant information. Law librarians can weed out the unnecessary and the irrelevant, and ensure the swift dissemination of that which is needed. This is especially important in the area of current awareness where the sheer volume of information can prove intimidating to a young lawyer keen to keep up with what is important but worried that not reading everything will leave them out of the loop. A law librarian’s professional judgement is frequently the best defence against information overload.

An important part of a law librarian’s role is training in research and information literacy. As Ted Tjaden wrote last year: “Even if we assume that the ease of access to online information means that lawyers will be doing more on their own, they (and particularly students) would still need or benefit from some basic training and most law librarians are the best situated to conduct such training.”

Finally, I want to regale you with a story which is unlikely to be unique, and shows why a librarian is important. A certain member of the firm, who, to hide their blushes, shall remain nameless, emailed me a few months ago. They were in West Africa visiting with clients and needed an article from a journal; the email read:

Michael,

I was reading a book last night and there was a footnote to an article/book I would like to read.

The article relates to the use of technical experts in unitization disputes – although it may be more generic than that and refer to a method of dispute resolution in general.

I gather the procedure is also referred to as ‘final offer arbitration’ and it is used extensively in the US in labour disputes.

Would you please see if you can track it down.

Needless to say, they got the article and I got the kudos; and it was mainly thanks to librarians on email lists who helped me identify, not just the article but also the book where the article had been quoted! A law librarian can take this sort of request, analyse the important pieces of information, seek expertise from colleagues, and come back with the right answer. From my basement in Dundee I can put the firm in contact with knowledge and experience from around the world. Librarians are like a family, helping each other, teaching each other, supporting each other. Perhaps it is this aspect which is the most important for firms – when you hire a librarian, you don’t get just one, you get the family.

 P.S. For those who are interested, the answer to the question at the top can be found in The Petroleum Law (Exploration and Production) Nr 7746 date 28/7/1993 Article 6.

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3 thoughts on “Welcome to the Family

  1. Kudos on finding the needle in a haystack. But I have a question? Why didn’t the attorney send the full citation or all information available from the footnote? And I think my first question to the attorney would have been, can you send me the full footnote information?

    • Those would have been my thoughts had I not known the attorney, and the situation. He had arrived in Nouakchott, Mauritania that afternoon, the book was at his office in Rugby, England where he had been working the day before, and I was at the library in Dundee, Scotland.

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