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For better than two years, a small group of New York attorneys has been meeting as their predecessors did in 1828 to talk about how best to provide the legal community with research and information. While in the 19th Century creating a new law library was the big idea, these days the attorneys seek to merge three principal law libraries into a single, more efficient entity. So far, a broad agreement on merging the New York Law Institute and facilities at the New York County Lawyers’ Association and the Association of the Bar of the City of New York is all that is certain. The change will come, but slowly, and it will not be drastic. “Everything remains in place now,” said John D. Gordan III, chairman of the executive committee of the Law Institute. “Nothing like physical consolidation — if any — or personnel changes — if any — has been decided.” Gordan, a litigation partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, was the first to bring up the idea of a merger. He contacted Craig Landy, president of the County Lawyers’ and a partner at Landy & Seymour, and Evan A. Davis, president of the city bar, and a partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton. Soon after, the three men, who are also longtime friends, saw the library merger as long overdue. “I hope to have a done deal by next fall,” said Davis, who envisions a “super, world-class law library” for New York City. The city’s three law libraries — with a combined 1.1 million volumes, including some so elderly their covers are made of wood — constitute an embarrassment of riches, but they are expensive to operate. Each one carries the basics, and each has a specialty here and there. But essentially, “We have more similarities than differences,” said Barbara Berger Opotowsky, the city bar’s executive director. “We’re duplicating and triplicating a lot of our purchases,” said Ralph Monaco, the newly appointed director of library services for the County Lawyers. “It’s just not necessary.” Much more needs to be accomplished before an agreement is ready for consideration by anyone’s board of directors. Details to be settled include working around certain restrictions on endowment funds, what sort of books and journals and briefs should go where, tax issues, and the minutiae of a proper corporate structure. To iron out such matters, the negotiators are guided by counsel from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. Meanwhile, suggestions are encouraged. “We absolutely welcome people’s reactions,” said Opotowsky. NEW YORK CITY’S OLDEST LIBRARY The Law Institute is the city’s oldest library serving the bar, having grown out of the 1828 talks. The city bar library opened in 1870. The County Lawyers was founded 90 years ago, incorporating a library into its purposes at the very beginning. With some 300,000 volumes shelved on three floors of the former Equitable Building at 120 Broadway, the Law Institute founders included such historical figures as Peter A. Jay, Chancellor Kent, Edwards Pierrepont, Prescott Hall, James W. Gerard, John R. Dos Passos, William C. Whitney and Charles O’Conor. Nancy Joseph, the Law Institute’s library director, imagined its 19th Century impetus: “I think somebody came down from Boston and said, ‘Wow, you don’t have a social law library?’ That probably really got things going.” As for today, Gordan suggested, “several things have happened during the past 20 years” that have nudged the three institutions to the brink of merger. “Twenty years ago, if you needed to read a legal decision, you had to go to the library,” he said. “Nowadays, many lawyers never go to the library. They play with keys on a computer.” And needs are changing, Gordan said. Because so many firms in the city have global interests now, “You have the need for international reports and treatises that you may not have had 30 years ago,” he said. “Then, of course, everybody’s costs are going up and up and up. So, what to do? The answer is — get partners.” The irony is that in the information age, the need for library services rises, even though fewer people actually visit the libraries, Gordan said. “Libraries are becoming less about locations than resources,” said Monaco. “We’re putting more and more on the Web. Our jobs aren’t disappearing; they’re just changing dramatically.” Davis was quick to say they have no intention of throwing out any books. “Firms have shrunk their own libraries, so the need for books is as strong as ever — stronger,” said Davis, whose own affection for the city bar library goes back to when his father, also an attorney, arranged for him to do research for a high school paper on Japanese-American internment during World War II. UNIQUE SELECTIONS “We’re the repository of every brief ever filed in a New York court, federal or state,” Davis said of the city bar library. “Judges sometimes gloss over details, or simply just don’t want certain things in the record. Sometimes, you have to go to the briefs.” The Law Institute, Landy said, has a particularly “refined catalogue system” and “mobility” second to none. Subscribing lawyers may simply telephone the Law Institute for circulating books or documents, and a messenger will make the delivery. Landy’s own library at the County Lawyers’ Association, he said, emphasizes bread-and-butter service texts for its members, more than half of whom are sole practitioners. “We tend to be very deep in terms of practical material — trial strategy, textbooks and the like,” said Landy. “If I wanted advice on how to cross-examine a doctor in an automotive case, I would tend to start at the county library.” The libraries also have a more arcane value. Richard Tuske, library operations director of the city bar, enjoys showing visitors rare books. He especially delights in his library’s copy of the first law journal ever published — “The Interpreter,” the wood-bound English volume from 1607 — and “Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States,” a 1779 manual from the Revolutionary War era. At all three institutions, there remains a strong need among their members to simply hang out at the library. “More and more solo practitioners are physically using our library,” said Tuske. “We actually have people using [the library] as an office,” he added. “They’re very thankful. You meet a lot of interesting people here. When you’re just starting out, a big part of your practice is networking.”

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