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As lawyers go online, the dust factor in many law libraries is being dramatically reduced because there are fewer books to collect dust. A few brave souls are close to dispensing with physical libraries altogether, but even those hanging on to books say that their investments of time and money are geared toward creating a virtual resource space. Dan A. Berman, of Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman, estimates that his 3 1/2-year-old Los Angeles firm relies about 95 percent on a virtual law library. He credits that setup with much of his firm’s growth, from nine attorneys when it was founded to 43 lawyers in four offices. The physical library collection consists of about 84 feet of bookshelves. Seventeen months after forming, the firm invested in hiring a manager of information systems, Brian Piatek, to build its virtual library. The civil litigation firm has an extensive collection of CD-ROMs, supplemented with legal online resources such as Westlaw and Lexis and more general sites such as ChoicePoint Online, an identification service that provides information on real estate, business entities and contractors, and other people. Berman says that he can recall only once having to send someone to an outside law library. Providing a network of virtual resources has vastly reduced overhead, allowing the firm to open branch offices at much lower cost, he says. Lawyers have cut down the amount of time it takes to draft briefs and motions because of computer efficiencies, such as the ability to search across volumes instantaneously. And the ability to cut and paste means that the firm needs fewer administrative staff, Berman says. “We require of all of our attorneys that they are proficient in typing. They do about 80 percent of all of their own word processing. We couldn’t do that if we didn’t have a virtual library,” he says. All of these efficiencies have added up to faster service at lower rates, Berman says. Indeed, small firms and solo practitioners are some of the biggest beneficiaries of the online research trend. Small-practice lawyers say that their research costs have gone down, while their ability to keep in touch with clients and answer their questions quickly has improved. SMALL FIRMS SHIFT ONLINE “I think a small firm can be more competitive with a big firm,” says Alan J. Braverman, of the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., criminal and family law firm Braverman & Rossi. Braverman does nearly all his research from his desk, using online resources such as Westlaw, the less-expensive caselaw service Loislaw.com and Matthew Bender family law recorders. Of his aging law library, he says, “I basically put it in storage. I keep a couple of books on my desk that are for show.” Similarly, criminal lawyer Elmer H. “Pete” Young, of Augusta, Ga., says that he has shifted to doing nearly all his research online. He used to have to drive 20 miles from his law office to the county courthouse to get much of the same information, he says. In addition, he’s saving thousands. “I think the first time I bought my own library, I spent $20,000, in the late ’70s,” he says. Now, for a few hundred dollars, you can buy $10,000 worth of law books on CD-ROMs, he says. And he estimates that he spends less than $200 a month on online resources such as Loislaw. One of Young’s most helpful online resources has proved to be a listserv sponsored by the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Because defense lawyers argue against the state, rather than each other, they are more than happy to help colleagues out, he says. So it’s a great place to get questions answered quickly. “Within an hour, I have about a dozen different opinions from lawyers that have all handled this exact type of case,” Young says. Going online “has just totally changed the way I practice law,” he says. “I wouldn’t go back.” VIRTUAL REFERENCE DESKS Midsize and large firms are more likely to hold onto their hard-copy collections. But even these firms use books much less than they used to. “I spend almost all my time on the Internet or databases,” says Sally Hand, information retrieval specialist at the Alexandria, Va., patent boutique Oliff & Berridge. “When I started in this field 20 years ago, I might spend one hour a day online. I now spend seven hours a day online.” Denver’s Holme Roberts & Owen staffs a virtual reference desk up to 12 hours a day and has committed to funding the effort “24-7,” says Director of Library Services Mark E. Estes. The virtual desk gives lawyers in the London and Boulder, Colo., offices, which don’t have libraries, access to services. But lawyers throughout the firm routinely call the reference desk rather than amble down to the library, Estes says. “They can get what they want in the format they want it in,” he explains. In addition to resources accessed through the library, lawyers receive directly by e-mail a number of Bureau of National Affairs Inc. (BNA) newsletters. Because the firm has access to the BNA Web site, the library doesn’t even have to keep back issues. The firm has reduced its collection to 20,000 volumes from 35,000 in 1989, Estes says. Had it continued expanding by hard copy, its capacity would have had to double every five years since then to keep current, he says. Instead, there are empty shelves and unused space waiting to be remodeled into offices. At large firms or small, the ability to open branches without investing in hard-copy collections is a major advantage of shifting to CD-ROMs and the Internet. Cooley Godward L.L.P. has no central library; each office has its own librarian, who reports to the legal administrator, according to Ruth Bridges, the librarian in the firm’s Reston, Va., office. Some of the firm’s larger offices have substantial hardcopy collections, but Bridges, who consulted before joining the firm, was hired specifically to build a space-conscious library. “The cost of space in Northern Virginia is just astronomical,” she says. So, despite the fact that the Reston office houses some 70-plus lawyers, the library has no carrels and no tables, and its physical collection is stored on compact shelving that slides to accommodate eight rows. By relying on online services, “we take up much less space,” she says. “We’re kind of a newer office, and we’re doing things a little differently. I think they’re sort of watching us to see how it goes,” Bridges says of firm management. CD-ROMS ARE HISTORY Now that lawyers are familiarizing themselves with computer resources, librarians say that their next major challenge will be to move their collections from CD-ROM-based resources to Internet services. “We knew that the CD-ROMs would be an interim product,” says Ralph Monaco, head librarian at Rivkin, Radler & Kremer, in Uniondale, N.Y. Now that the firm has reduced its hard-copy collection by 50 percent, the priority has shifted to moving lawyers online. The trend is being accelerated by legal publishers, Monaco says. “They’re almost pushing you to use the Internet. They don’t want to have to keep all these technologies going,” he says, so “the cost to support older technologies is increasing. … I called and checked. In some cases it’s a fairly significant increase.” The constant shift in technologies means that firm librarians find themselves spending more time training lawyers, as well as pursuing professional development for themselves. In addition to those expenses, there is a psychological cost to moving online, says New York insurance coverage lawyer Jeannine Chanes, who had to give up the comforts of a large-firm library when she left Anderson Kill & Olick to join Fried & Epstein. The lawyers at Fried & Epstein, which was formed last year by a group that broke away from Anderson Kill, have only a few shelves of books in the conference room. “If we didn’t have access online, I would be at the bar association [library] half my time,” says Chanes, adding that she has only had to use the bar library about four times. At the same time, “I’m an old book person and miss them,” she says. “When I walked out of a library, I knew I had everything.” Doing an Internet search can be much less comforting, she says. “On the one hand, it seems like it’s too exhaustive because I get too many hits. On the other hand, many of them seem too general. If I could have a wish, I would wish for a legal portal that would collect everything that’s out there on a legal target,” Chanes says. “If somebody could do that, I would be on that site all the time.” FROM INTER- TO INTRANET Indeed, while commercial sites are working to create such megaportals, the next level of service that law firms can offer lawyers are firmwide intranets, which collect and sift through the growing body of online legal resources, says Monaco of Rivkin Radler. His firm has started the process by building an online catalog of its resources. He’s hoping to expand that into “a virtual card catalog for a virtual library,” he says. A firm intranet offers attorneys the security of knowing that the sites hyper linked there have been examined and deemed credible by the librarians, he says. Another advantage is being able to do away with the vexing problem of passwords, which, as they multiply, are becoming increasingly hard to keep track of, he says. That’s because Internet services have begun offering price and licensing arrangements, called intranet subscriptions, that offer firmwide access without the need for passwords. “We all have to go that way,” says Monaco. The lack of online organization led Young of Augusta to launch his own dot-com business, Desktops Inc., which offers prefabricated desktop setups to lawyers and others. The site has a template with hyperlinks to all the sites Young has found relevant to Georgia practice. “I’m happy to say every lawyer who’s seen it has bought it,” Young says of his product.

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