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Legal Information and Reference Resources for West Virginia Libraries: For Library Staff

Resources to help library staff and media specialists help their communities with thorny legal information questions.

Advice vs. Information

“Legal Information” vs. “Legal Advice”

Librarians may help patrons find legal information on a given topic but may not answer legal questions or provide legal advice. 

  • Librarians may help patrons find legal information.
  • Librarians may not answer legal questions or provide legal advice.
    Some examples of legal advice include (but are not limited to):
    • Interpreting any part of the law or legal procedure
    • Applying the information to a person’s situation
    • Recommending what action a person should take
    • Selecting or filling out forms
    • Predicting the outcome of a case

(Sources: https://www.txcourts.gov/media/1220087/legalinformationvslegaladviceguidelines.pdf & https://hirealawyer.findlaw.com/do-you-need-a-lawyer/what-is-legal-advice.html )

 

Keep the Focus on What You Can Do

In legal reference, it’s better to keep a reference interview focused on the things librarians CAN do.

Librarians can:

  • help patrons find resources and information. 
  • demonstrate how to use a resource.
  • educate someone about what is in a resource.
  • suggest visiting a court or law library.
  • direct someone to legal professionals.

(Source: https://mdcourts.gov/lawlib/using-library/for-librarians/legal-reference-training/PLR-distinguishing-between-information-and-advice )

 

Paraphrasing the Question

Another useful tactic for librarians approached with a legal question is to paraphrase the question. When librarians fall back on, “I’m not a lawyer," it raises a barrier that can unnecessarily block the information patrons need. 

The Thurgood Marshall State Law Library in Maryland recommends a four-part method for public librarians to rephrase questions in order to redirect the reference interview back toward legal information and away from legal advice: 

  • Step 1.) Listen to the question.
  • Step 2.) Identify the nugget of the question. What information is the patron really trying to find?
  • Step 3.) Change the perspective. You’re not trying to solve the person’s problem (aka providing legal advice). You’re directing them to information they can discuss with a lawyer or use to help themselves. 
  • Step 4.) Knowing all this, rephrase your response. The Marshall law library recommends preparing some scripts in advance. One potential script begins with, “Okay, I understand you need information about…”

(Source: https://mdcourts.gov/lawlib/using-library/for-librarians/legal-reference-training/PLR-rephrasing-the-question)

 

More About Legal Reference 

Legal reference is a much larger topic than the scope of this tutorial. If you would like to learn more, the following links lead to some very good introductory information for non-law librarians: 

And here are two webinars on the topic: 

 

West Virginia State Law Library

Legal Reference Resources and Support

Legal Reference Training

West Virginia Library Commission
1900 Kanawha Blvd East | Culture Center, Bldg. 9 | Charleston, WV 25305
In-State Toll Free : (800) 642-9021 | (304) 558-2041
WV.gov