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Don’t choose a career because it ‘sounds cool’ — but do cool things after you’ve chosen it

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In the latest post in the ‘If I knew then what I know now’ series, City University law librarian Emily Allbon explains why she did the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) to better understand the students she works with as she developed Lawbore, the online learning portal she founded.

Staggering as it may seem(!), law librarianship wasn’t something on my radar as a child. Even as an undergraduate I’m rather ashamed to admit I never really thought about the lot of those behind the enquiry desk — how did they get there and what did they actually do behind the scenes?

Like many who do English Lit I didn’t really know what was going to come next. I liked reading, debating and writing but didn’t really know how this transferred to the real world. My first step into law was as a graduate library trainee at the rather wonderful Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) in Russell Square. Here was where I found my spark for law…

The IALS has collections of legal materials from all over the world and their users can be academics, students or practising lawyers — no such thing as a typical enquiry. I found I loved the treasure hunt lure of legal research — the warm glow of tracking something down using techniques you have added to your armoury of skills over time. I qualified via an MSc Information Science at City University and a brief job hunt resulted in two offers: one from Deutschebank as an information officer and one at City as law librarian.

I tormented myself for days over this one — imagining myself swanning around in my glamorous suit, coolly meeting deadlines to save the day with that vital piece of information for the bankers. I was convinced that the corporate world would be far more exciting and challenging than “dusty” academia. Had I known then of the opportunities ahead I would have saved myself some angst. My first bit of advice is not to go with something because it sounds cool. Some law students I come into contact with have similar aspirations — being a commercial lawyer often seems a far more exciting, alluring prospect than other options. This decision can be made without very much delving around in the detail at all. Luckily I snapped out of it, taking the lower-paid, but ultimately more varied role, and almost 13 years later here I still am. I would never have had the freedom to develop services creatively, as the law school has allowed me to do here at City.

Following on from this, it’s important not to allow yourself to get hemmed in by a job or limited by what those around you are doing — be yourself and keep pushing to innovate even if you face indifference from others. If I knew back then how pivotal online engagement would be within higher education — and indeed within the legal profession — I would have started my work with Lawbore even earlier (it launched in 2002). I had no idea that this would be the element of my work which would make the most impact and lead me onto so many other streams of interest around learning and teaching. This sounds cheesy but if you believe in something, go for it. If I had my time again I would certainly spend less time worrying about the naysayers.

My final piece of advice is around those you are assisting — your clients (for me, this translates as my students and academic staff). Don’t underestimate the importance of getting to know them and work with them. I completed the GDL to give me a head start on this back in 2006 (this article should read “If I knew then what I knew now I would never have done the GDL — absolute hell!”). Doing the course, without a doubt, influenced the way I developed new resources, with the experience of the study as important as the academic content. Even now I spend a lot of my time listening — to students and the legal community — with the cogs in my brain whirring around trying to work out how I can use technology to engage students in their subject and make legal research a less terrifying a prospect.

Emily Allbon is the law librarian for academic programmes at City Law School, City University London. She is the founder of online legal learning portal Lawbore.