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Library budgets and physical space are diminishing; law firms are increasingly outsourcing their library needs; our society will be paperless any day now; and law librarians will find themselves unemployed, thanks to the proliferation of electronic research sources and the ability of attorneys to do their own research at their desks. Not! This topic has obsessed the private law library community for a few years now, and you can’t really blame us. Since 1995, when Baker & McKenzie fired their entire Chicago library staff and announced that the library would be handled by an outside management company, law librarians have worried that the electronic research tools that have made our jobs so much easier might in fact make those jobs obsolete one day. Never mind that Baker & McKenzie had to turn around and hire someone (not a librarian! they hastened to assure us) to assist with online research and handle the firm’s “hard-copy resources” (i.e., books, as every librarian and quite a few journals were quick to note). The Baker & McKenzie experiment was a failure, even if they don’t like to admit it — attorneys didn’t have time to do their own online research; there was no one who could be held responsible for the books in the library, so other firm librarians refused to lend books to Baker; and there was no one to oversee the ordering and processing of new materials. In short, they needed a librarian, after all. More recently, Pillsbury Madison & Sutro outsourced their library functions to a Los Angeles library consulting firm. Pillsbury has contracted with the consulting firm for one year. After that, if the firm doesn’t like the way outsourcing is working, it might reinstate the library. At any rate, from what I’ve read it seems Pillsbury went about outsourcing with much more forethought and planning than Baker & McKenzie did — and its experiment might not turn out to be the fiasco that Baker & McKenzie’s was. But a few isolated instances of total outsourcing do not a trend make. While a law firm here and there may decide that completely abandoning an in-house library works for them, most law firms have not followed suit. Many firms have frozen or reduced library budgets and space, but they have not eliminated their libraries or their librarians. I don’t think they will. ATTORNEYS AND RESEARCH We need to take a deep breath and ask ourselves three questions: � Do attorneys really want to do their own research? � Is it in a firm’s best interests for them to do so? � How well do electronic resources replace books? When it comes to attorneys and research, many of them can’t, and even if they can, they don’t want to, and even if they want to, they shouldn’t. I realize that in small firms that don’t have libraries, attorneys have to do their own research. But attorneys toiling in the big firms face huge billable-hour quotas and 70+ hour work weeks. Even though they are becoming more computer-literate each year — the babies coming out of law school are card-carrying members of the Wired Generation — attorneys have enough work without having to do their own research. It’s all about the money value of time; You may know how to change your own oil or repair your own hard drive, but you would rather pay a professional to do these things because your time is valuable and better spent elsewhere. The associate who bills $250 per hour can better spend her time seeing to a client’s legal needs while the librarian, whose time is billed at $105, conducts the research. And just because some attorneys can handle a computer as well as librarians can, they don’t know the resources as well as we do. Younger attorneys are smitten with the Internet, but many of them have no idea of what they can and cannot find there. A lot of them are convinced that everything is on the Net, and it is very hard to convince them otherwise. At the same time, your average attorney is hard-pressed simply to find a case on the Net, much less do sophisticated legal or business research. They get frustrated because they do not know how to search efficiently or effectively. It takes most attorneys much longer to find things on the Net than it takes a law librarian. And that’s just the Net; what about Lexis-Nexis, Westlaw, and other fee-based resources? Attorneys are constantly saying they want more training, but rarely do they actually show up for training sessions. I don’t blame them for this — I know how busy they are — but I also know that if they never get training, they never improve their online skills, and it shows in the occasionally outrageous charges they run up. So, for the client’s sake, the online research is often better left to the professionals — us. Lastly, there are still many attorneys, especially the older ones, who are not proficient with computers and who do not want to learn how to use them — and, frankly, why should they? That’s what we’re here for. When you get to be a shareholder, you have associates to handle the grunt legal work, and you have librarians to handle the online research. I’m not going to insist that a member of the firm learn a skill he or she doesn’t want and doesn’t need. It’s my job to do the research, and they are glad that I do it. NO PAPERLESS LAW FIRM Do you still print out hard copies of certain e-mails? When faced with a lengthy online document, do you read it from the screen or do you print it out? Me too, and so do lots of attorneys. Do you know of any clients who prefer that all their files be manipulated electronically, never printed out, and delivered or mailed to them in hard copy? Me neither. So much for the paperless law office, at least for the foreseeable future. Even if I were willing to toss out all my books tomorrow — and I’m not — my attorneys wouldn’t let me do it. You should see the looks on some of their faces when they see journals and books being chucked out: “What are you doing?” “Are you sure we don’t need those?” “Is all of that on the Internet?” I’m lucky: I have a rather small library, but we are a branch office. Our home office in Dallas has a huge library. So I can be rather liberal when I decide to weed, because I make sure the Dallas library still has whatever I throw away. However, there is quite a bit of material that a couple of my shareholders won’t let me discard, even if it is available on the Net, even if Dallas has the same thing. So much for the library disappearing in the physical sense. I have also started discarding some books when I purchase electronic access to the same material. But you know and I know that electronic access has its own pitfalls, to wit: � What if the network crashes? (Ours does.) � What if the other guy’s (Lexis, Westlaw, a Web site) server crashes? (Westlaw was unavailable to TCP/IP access customers for a few hours one day just recently.) � What if we lose electricity? � What if our accounting department misses a payment, and an electronic vendor cuts us off? � What if the vendor screws up and mistakenly lets our subscription expire? (One of our vendors did this recently. The Web site said our subscription had expired, but it hadn?t. We didn’t have the same material on CD anymore, so it was back to the books till the vendor fixed its mistake.) � What if Web access is so slow some days that attorneys start screaming and demanding that I find them the book? � What if your firm has decided that, for the time being, they will not be purchasing a CD tower? � What if you don’t have the time and staff to keep the CDs regularly updated and to troubleshoot when necessary? Books vs. CALR Books always work. They don’t need electricity, they don’t crash. You can pick them up and take them anywhere you want to (which my attorneys do, frequently without checking them out, but that’s another article). Besides, a lot of publishers give you a steep discount if you purchase both print and electronic access to the same publication, so there goes an incentive to get rid of the books. And let’s talk about expense. Yes, electronic access is often faster, and certainly easier, and it does free up a lot of physical space. Many publishers are now offering Internet access to their multivolume reporters and treatises. The ease of searching and the ability to access the material at your desk, rather than going to the library to slog through the books, is exhilarating. But electronic access is often more expensive than hard-copy access. The subscription prices are galling. Plus, almost every publisher I know wants to charge based on how many users can access the material at one time, whether you are on CD or the Web. I know that they’ve been doing this since the advent of electronic access, and we all take it for granted, but think about it for a minute. We’re supposed to abandon the books and flock to the (often more expensive) Web or CD products, but the more simultaneous users we allow, the higher the prices climb. Can you imagine a publisher trying to do this with books? With a multivolume print product, as many users can use it as there are volumes. Publishers can’t limit the number of people who use a book at the same time; why do they limit the number of users who use a CD or Web site at one time? Because they can. If there is some technical reason why it is more expensive for a publisher to offer electronic access to many people in the same office at one time, I would love to hear it. As it is, for the moment, we spend a lot of time thinking and discussing and researching before we commit to purchasing Web access to print products we already own. So physical space might shrink some more, and maybe fewer books will be purchased. But I don’t think the books are going to disappear anytime soon, and I don’t think we will, either. It’s up to us, as professionals, to constantly show the attorneys we work for what we can do. So when we read silly articles about how attorneys don’t need libraries anymore because everything is on their desktops, we need to speak up and correct those preposterous assertions. And we have to remember that just because something plugs in doesn’t mean it’s better. Law libraries and their librarians are going to be around for a while. Holly E. Watson is librarian at the Houston office of Jenkens & Gilchrist.

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