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special to he national law journal Elizabeth D. Kenney is the director of libraries at Dechert in New York and a frequent guest speaker in law school advanced legal research classes. We have read and been told that the old days of beautiful, comfortable, completely stocked law firm libraries are gone and are being replaced by electronic, streamlined “convenience store” special libraries where attorneys go just to look something up quickly. The conventional wisdom is that online, compact libraries are much more cost-effective for the firm. That may be true, but there is one big problem with this scenario: Attorneys and administrators don’t always share the same opinion about how a law firm library is used and what types of resources make up the tools of the trade today. How does a firm balance administrators’ cost-conscious drive toward the virtual law library with the legal resource preferences and research habits of a law firm’s fee-earners? Often, there is no neutral forum for an exchange of ideas on this important issue. A potentially money-saving move away from print resources to online services seems particularly attractive these days. The difficulty comes when a firm focuses on one type of format or the other, without doing sufficient library due diligence. Any online transition requires a careful examination not only of the monetary costs involved but of the firmwide rippling that will ensue. Empirical evidence within the industry shows that there are financial, practical, cultural and policy issues that demand attention when making changes to the traditional law library. Being aware of what these are will make for better strategic planning and ease the transition. Clearly, there are many benefits to using electronics. However, firms need to understand that moving too quickly in any one direction could exacerbate complex issues that could ultimately affect the quality of the firm’s work product. As law firms push to make online media their primary legal research source, a new set of considerations regarding their philosophical leanings and “bottom line” mandates is evolving. The considerations While online services may save labor, they are not necessarily cheaper. Start-up costs, server space, software and/or licensing agreements are just part of the expense involved in going virtual. Updating of software, training costs, buying or replacing of hardware, consultations and the higher price of online periodicals can be hidden expenses. Administrators should understand very clearly what it is they are buying and why. Law firms should not fold under the pressure of trying to keep up with other firms. Firms need to review which costs are considered overhead and which are client-chargeable. The administration should be aware that attorneys will be variably dependent on library resources for their work and on the types of formats most suitable for their research. For example, financial services attorneys may be more heavily reliant on the online Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval (EDGAR) services rather than on material found in print in the library. Litigators depend on the compilation aspect of statutes and treatises and many find these superior in print. There is a consensus among litigators and professional law librarians that, currently, online resources should be used in conjunction with, not in lieu of, print products for effective research into any issue of law. There is a belief among litigators that the lawyer who only conducts his research online is not only less efficient, but is doing an incomplete job. Mix it up Today, most effective law firm libraries are a mix of formats. Law firms need print legal resources to be available to legal staff through the library. In some respects, print versions, like digests and treatises, are superior, said Raquel Ortiz, head of reference services at Boston University’s Pappas Law Library. “It depends on the task at hand. Full-text searching is great, but unless you are focusing in on a particular term, you do better time and money-wise, in a book,” said Ortiz. “For some research, books are distinctly better. For example, indexes in books are written by humans. They take into account all the other ways a person might say something, [for example] ‘Lemon Law.’ There may be a formal name for the statute, but most people would look it up by its popular name. An online service would not make the distinction for you, as they are literal.” When making online decisions, firms need to consult with the people who actually do the research. Law firm partners are not necessarily in the best position to make these choices; they no longer spend much time doing research. Associate committees are a better bet. There are definite generational issues connected with the use of electronic services. These issues will likely resolve themselves in time. Attorneys recently out of law school are better equipped for, and much more willing, to work online. Attorneys who have been successfully using manual research methods for years are reluctant to change their practices, and understandably so. It’s a lot of work and tremendously unsettling to have to master new methods of doing what you have been doing well for years. Culturally, firms have always given a scholarly connotation to the work they do. They do not manufacture widgets. Attorneys have been brought up to learn to ply their trade first in their law school library, then in the firm library. Attorneys and staff need to separate clearly their needs from their wants-two very different things. Dialogue needs to occur among the attorneys and then with administration as part of regular business practice. Doing so will clarify the firm’s goals with respect to legal research. Training still counts Training syllabuses for all types of legal research should be carefully constructed within the firm, especially for online research. Law firm librarians and attorneys who regularly do legal research are well acquainted with the costly traps into which improperly trained, unwary online researchers can fall. In How to Research Less and Find More (West, 1996), Theodor Herman lays out other esoteric problems: missing terms, misspellings, opinion structure, ambiguous terms and common words. Not understanding the basics of search can be disastrous to a firm on many levels. Huge online bills are only one part of it. The integrity of the work and firm could be compromised by a lack of adequate training, leading to consequences of which we are all aware. Conversely, with the emphasis on online research training in law schools, are today’s law school graduates as skilled in the fundamentals of legal research as their predecessors? In first-year classes combing legal research and writing, the research syllabus tends to be overshadowed by the writing requirement. And students are not always exposed to all of the options available to research an issue. Because of the cost concerns at law firms and the pressures to go online, it is imperative that law school students be given comprehensive research training that exposes them to as many resource options as possible, including print and online research. Caught in the middle Law librarians, who traditionally inform and advise, often find themselves on the front lines of a pitched battle. They are positioned between management mandating reliance on online technology as dictated by law firm economics and the reluctance of fee-earners to change how they work. Law librarians cannot not be the arbiters of the policy disputes that arise between attorneys and administration. Communication should be between the people who have the power to affect the ultimate policies. Librarians, as middle managers, do not have the authority to make policy, except for leveled administrative calls. This is a tough position to be in, but it does provide valuable insight, something which law librarians are extremely equipped for and willing to share with management and staff. They see both sides of the coin, and can be objective about the benefits and shortcomings of all information media as fits the firm’s mandates, work practices and culture.

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