Susan Davis, who has just started a statewide business called Law Library On Call LLC, began her legal career as an attorney with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
She moved to Connecticut and was a "full-time mom" for years before earning a library degree from Southern Connecticut State University. In her last semester, she took a job in the library at Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, and worked in the firm's Hartford offices until being laid off earlier this year.
Davis has bounced back with her New Haven, Conn.-based startup business, which offers the skills of a full-time law librarian on an a la carte basis. Those include legal research, vetting expert witnesses, training associates in legal research, and negotiating with research tool vendors. The Connecticut Law Tribune Senior Writer Thomas B. Scheffey spoke recently with Davis about changes in her profession.
Q: In the past 10 years, has the law librarianship field changed substantially?
A: Very much. When I started, it was mostly paper research. Some of the very biggest firms had access to Lexis and Westlaw, but not all of them. The paper part of law libraries is shrinking. When I left Updike, the paper component of the library was one-third of the size it was when I came a decade before. Online research is easier to do, and it saves expensive space.
Q: Does the digital age reduce the need for a law librarian?
A: Not really. You need to find what materials are best suited to the people who need the information. And a lot of the research is done by the law librarians. If people need to find out about something, they frequently need someone to serve as a guide. In recent years, I've started referring to myself as a legal information specialist. I don't think "librarian" adequately describes what we do anymore.
Q: Who needs your services more -- new lawyers or older lawyers?
A: Different needs. Generally older lawyers in the firm know what they want, but not the best place to find it. Younger lawyers graduate without enough knowledge of the print resources, especially in a small state like Connecticut. There are a lot of treatises you're not going to find online.
Q: I heard a senior lawyer complain that new attorneys don't experience thinking broadly about the law because research has become more precise -- that important related topics are never considered.
A: People can now search by key words, and they think that by plugging those in, they'll get all they need. That's not necessarily so. Often young associates will just look for "the case" and not see the issue in its broader context of several related cases.
It's the older partners who ask to have cases Shepardized -- not just to make sure it's valid law, but to see where the case was cited, whether there were law review articles on that issue, the statutory links. They were digging in deeper.
Q: Lexis and Westlaw both offer a lot of optional "bells and whistles" features. Do you help firms decide what they need?
A: One of the things I do is negotiate these contracts. Most firms don't need both services, and often have broad access to one and limited access to the other. Figuring out what you need is a major issue. I went to a Lexis lunch, and they were explaining a great new enhancement. And the law librarians were thinking, how much does it cost every time you use it? But it's all negotiable in the end. You figure out what you need, and then you start dickering.
Q: Some of the changes make lawyers' workloads lighter, I'd think.
A: Literally. When the tax codes went digital, it stopped an almost constant job of filing pages and pages of updates. I can't tell you what a happy day it was when we went digital with the standard federal tax reports.
Q: Do you have to be on the scene, or can you work by computer?
A: With a password, I can do much of the work online. I'm probably more cost-efficient in using Westlaw or Lexis. And on a project where a client is being billed, I can do it more efficiently, probably, than a lot of people.