July 12, 2006
Spotlight on Law Librarians: Jennifer S. Marshall
Jennifer S. Marshall
Senior Reference Librarian
Reed Smith LLP
In law school, I didn't dress up in a suit and interview with the big firms when they came to campus. I didn't scour Martindale-Hubbell listings figuring out different firm sizes and specialties. I didn't spend one of my summers working at a big firm nor did I clerk for a Judge to see the other side of the bench. I didn't contact my law school's alumni to hear about their experiences working in various firms. And, I didn't spend late nights working on law review articles.
I had no intent of working in a big firm and my activities during law school reflected that. I was active in the public interest group. I was in a Dispute Resolution program and received my Certificate in Dispute Resolution as well as my JD. I spent time sitting in on various mediation sessions conducted by professional mediators where domestic violence may have existed in the relationship, and I wrote a major paper on this. I volunteered at a local domestic violence organization serving on a domestic violence hotline. I occasionally visited the local prison to meet with women who were incarcerated for killing their abusers. I moved to New York City for a summer
mainly to live in New York for the summer! But, while there, I interned at the Environmental Protection Agency and played on an environmental softball league. And, on most Monday nights during my three years of law school, I went to the local yarn store and spent a few hours knitting with a group of women; I was the only legal leaning person in the group, so this can't be justified as a good networking opportunity.
Needless to say, I was not a traditional law student.
With this alternative orientation, I took my law degree and had a satisfying career at a non-profit conflict resolution organization. I was there for four years and then started to crave more learning and growing opportunities in my career. After reflecting that research had been my favorite part of law school, and after meeting a librarian who worked in a public library and raved about her job, I went to Library School, got my Masters in Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree and then was off on another career search.
When anyone asked me at any point during library school about my career and personal goals, I would have said that I didn't want to be a law librarian and I didn't want to date a lawyer.
I had visions of being a news librarian. While I was in library school,I did an internship at National Public Radio in DC and loved doing research for my favorite NPR journalists whom I had listened to for years on the radio. My eyes would light up excitedly when Mara Liasson, Scott Simon or Daniel Zwerdling's name would flash on my phone indicating a call for research help. I took pictures of the NPR building, gave tours to my parents and anyone else who visited, and I still proudly wear my NPR black fleece jacket. Being a law librarian just didn't have that kind of glamour in my eyes.
After a few unsuccessful months of trying to become a news librarian and after a few months of working in a thoroughly unsatisfactory medical environment, I was willing to broaden my goals. I went in search of mentors who saw my resume and asked whether I had considered becoming a law librarian. After resisting and resisting, I eventually gave in. And, luckily, I got a job offer from a law firm that looked good, so I decided to give it a try.
Fast forward to today. I'm now almost two years into my career as a law librarian and I love it. The work I do is just as diverse as what I did at NPR. I don't only retrieve legal decisions. I welcome young attorneys and summer associates into the career and teach them how to be efficient researchers. I locate individuals and companies using powerful databases and intelligent sleuthing. I strategize with our marketing staff and research various companies. I locate practice handbooks and hand them off to grateful attorneys. I find obscure definitions from outdated dictionaries and give them to patent attorneys who are trying to understand a word's meaning at a particular point in history. I move the library forward with intranet projects. I do research for people across the firm, locally, and anywhere including Hong Kong and Washington, DC. The common theme each day is that I learn something new. Other than that, each day is different and interesting. As I often say to friends who ask about my career, it's a cool gig.
And, for those of you curious about the personal side of my life, I'm also now happily dating a lawyer. We didn't meet at work, but that's a whole different story.
Reprinted with permission: Jennifer S. Marshall, From Law School to a Big Firm With Some Non-Traditional Steps Along the Way, San Francisco Daily Journal (March 16, 2006).
Editor's Note: The Spotlight on Law Librarians feature is edited by Lee Peoples, Law Librarian Blog Contributing Editor and Associate Director for Faculty, Research and Instructional Services, Oklahoma City University Law Library. Please feel free to recommend a colleague for this feature to Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org
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