Law Librarian by Day, Law Student by Night

by Elizabeth Graham

Whenever asked about my decision to go to law school I say, “It’s the best-worst decision I’ve ever made.” After nearly two years as an evening JD student, I stand by that assessment. Inevitably, the next question asked is why I chose to go to law school, and let me tell you, that’s a much more complicated answer. The dream of law school took hold long before I knew a career in libraries was even possible. As a political science undergrad, I always assumed law school was in my immediate future. Little did I know, a seemingly inconsequential student library job would drastically alter my professional trajectory. 

Photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash

Even as I write this, a stack of torts cases mock me from the corner of my desk, while an inbox full of work emails plead for responses. Yet despite the inevitable challenges that arise when balancing a full-time job with evening law classes, I don’t for a second regret my choice. Nevertheless, it’s been difficult to strike a reasonable balance between my two competing worlds. In the spirit of honesty, some of these challenges are of my own making and some may even be a bit irrational. For starters, work/life balance has always been something I’ve struggled with throughout my career. 

Prior to law school, I had a mostly manageable workload minus a few late nights here and there, a couple of weekends sacrificed to meet looming deadlines. However, at the end of the day, I enjoyed the work and appreciated the professional opportunities that arose as a result. Then law school happened and everything changed. I no longer had the option of working late into the night because of class. Working during the weekend is almost impossible when there’s a pile of reading due on Monday. But more than anything, I spend most of my little downtime worrying about all the things I’m not doing.

In a program designed for working people, it’s almost impossible for most evening law students to avoid discussing their day jobs. But even if that wasn’t the case, it’d be near impossible for me to hide my secret identity as a librarian. My study group friends often joke that I’m a spy planted by the law school. I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge the kernel of truth there. Clearly, I don’t have specific orders, but I can’t deny having a vested interest in better understanding the needs of law students. That kind of insight is invaluable when assessing library services. At the same time, I’d like to think I’ve become a resource to my fellow students – not to mention a walking billboard promoting library services. 

For the past two years, I’ve also faced unexpected challenges and opportunities navigating relationships with professors. Before law school, I worked closely with various faculty in my role as a librarian. With these established relationships came an increased (and self-imposed) pressure to perform well in class to avoid disappointing people I considered colleagues. What would they think of me if I blundered a cold call or didn’t ace an exam? How would my law school performance reflect on the professional reputation I’d worked so hard to cultivate? Logically, I knew my insecurities were slightly irrational, but it didn’t stop me from consistently worrying about how my law school performance was being perceived by others. Luckily, it hasn’t all been doom and gloom when interacting with faculty. On several occasions, I’ve had professors reach out for my perspective as a student. It’s been immensely rewarding to see that perspective subsequently reflected in their courses. On the whole, I feel very lucky to not only have the insight of someone who is both staff and student but also to be able to share that with interested colleagues. If that means calling a faculty person by their first name during the day and switching to honorifics by night, it seems like a small price to pay for the opportunity in front of me.   

So yeah – life as an evening law student is hard but more important than that, it’s a privilege I do not take lightly. Whether it’s answering library questions during class breaks or providing faculty and administrators with candid (and hopefully useful) feedback, I’ve embraced my dual role as an opportunity to build powerful relationships between the library and the community it serves. I’ll never just be a law student, and that’s okay – it might even be a good thing.


Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.