Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
The scales of justice, the black robe and the boxy, bulging briefcase are all well-worn emblems of the law. But perhaps no entity holds a more central place in the lore of the legal profession than the law library. Depictions of the lawyer’s life on page or screen invariably contain a library scene: a partner seated within a small pool of light scanning an obscure treatise for the argument that will rescue his case — and his career; a group of whiz-kid associates buried under stacks of reporters searching for the precedent that will win their client a last-second reprieve from the chair; and so on. Forget the images. This is the reality: The law library is going the way of the three-piece suit. In our second AmLaw Tech Library Survey, 88 of the Am Law 200 firms responded (up from 53 last year), and the verdict is clear: Box up those Corpus Juris Secundums; this isn’t John Houseman’s law library anymore. Today’s law librarians are often more concerned about maintaining WiFi reception than full sets of ALRs. With the physical space of libraries shrinking, librarians look back with nostalgia on the days when the library was the anchor of the firm, an intellectual village where lawyers gathered to ferret out the law from the mound of paper around them. No more. In Arnold & Porter’s 400-lawyer Washington, D.C., office, library seating has gone from 80 in 1995 to nearly single digits today. When Holland & Knight moves to its new Tampa, Fla., offices later this summer, there will be a single table in the library for use by lawyers. At Cleveland’s Baker & Hostetler, seating capacity in the main library, which serves 200 lawyers, has been whittled from 36 to 18. “For the most part we’ve become a lending library more than an actual place to work,” concedes Al Podboy, director of libraries at Baker & Hostetler. Of the 49 firms that said they had redesigned their libraries in the past five years, 38 have moved into smaller quarters. Library space is giving way to offices and conference rooms, as the shrinking library has coincided with the expanding law firm. Until the economic downturn took hold two years ago, most firms in the Am Law 200 had been growing at a fairly steady clip, around 10 percent annually. Of course, one of the bright promises of technology has always been that it would enable firms to do more with less. That’s turned out to be only partly true. Some legal research is more efficient, with the advent of easily searchable electronic databases. But library costs are rising: 69 of the 88 respondents said their firms’ library budgets this year were the same as or higher than they were in 2002. More than 75 percent of respondents said that the number of library employees was actually the same size as or larger than it was two years ago. It turns out that deploying all that labor-saving technology is a labor-intensive enterprise. While firms have substantially cut clerical and support staff — the ground troops who used to process and catalog all those incoming volumes — they’ve had to beef up their professional ranks of researchers and IT specialists. In some ways, this metamorphosis signals the convergence of library science and IT. Six months ago Linda Will was head of library services for Miami’s Greenberg Traurig. Now, she says, “I’m not even in the library anymore.” As the firm’s new director of knowledge management, Will spends most of her time overseeing two projects only tangentially connected to traditional library services. She is testing West Group’s West km, a tool that grafts West’s key-numbering system to internal firm documents and other firm work product. West km is meant to bring the familiar method of searching for case law to firms’ disorganized collections of documents. Will is also overseeing the creation of a client database that will allow lawyers to search out extensive information on clients for cross-marketing purposes — “kind of like our own Dun & Bradstreet,” she says. In the early days of the Internet, there was a silly line that went “information wants to be free.” Don’t tell that to librarians. Costs for data, in whatever form, continue to rise. At Washington’s Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, Jean O’Grady, director of information services, says most of her time is devoted to sifting through solicitations from data service vendors and managing information on her firm’s intranet. The toughest part of her job during the past year, O’Grady says, was wrangling with vendors over licensing terms to allow posting on the firm’s network. “They start with ‘You’ve got a thousand people on the system; we’re going to charge a thousand licenses.’” says O’Grady. “But often the information is only targeted to a small practice group, and even then you only get 10 or 15 end users.” James Shelar, head of library services in the D.C. office of Arnold & Porter, has run into similar difficulties. “Publishers will say, ‘Well, you can have it in print or electronic form,’ and, often, getting it in electronic form costs even more,” he says. Negotiating with larger data vendors, West Group and Lexis Nexis in particular, seems to have left many librarians in a snit last year. “The problem now is that [West and Lexis] have bought up a lot of services, then raised the prices on things like Thomson’s financial data, essential things that we don’t have a choice not to buy,” says Daniel Bearss, head librarian for Washington’s Covington & Burling. “That’s my biggest problem.” One peeved librarian, locked in protracted negotiations with West at press time, went so far as to compare it to Microsoft. “You buy things and they tie other stuff to it and say there is no way to separate the service you want from the other service you end up paying premium prices for,” he complains. Says another librarian of West: “They are egregious in their approach, buying everything in sight and squeezing us, and we are powerless to do anything.” Kyle Christensen, a West spokesman, denied that the company ties premium services to cheaper ones in order to boost profits. “We’ll tailor services to the needs of each customer, with different price breaks on different services. It’s highly customizable,” he says. Christensen says that West faces competition in its market and is unable to engage in the practices that librarians suggest. “Lexis, West and others compete very aggressively in all markets and that keeps innovation high and prices low,” he says. Though firms loudly complain about those costs, they don’t necessarily pay them out of pocket. Firms have billed clients for West and Lexis Nexis charges for years, despite the fact that most large firms have fixed-fee contracts with the data providers. As the world goes electronic, those opportunities magnify. West, for example, has designed West km so that firms can charge research activities to clients. Overshadowed by the Wexis duopoly, small information providers do occasionally make a splash. Arnold & Porter’s Shelar cites two: “Hein-On-Line,” a service working to put complete law review archives online in PDF format, and a consortium of universities working to place their microform and microfiche collections online. “The most innovative things I see all come from small guys who come up with a cool new idea,” says Shelar. Librarians aren’t sure how their jobs will change over the next five years — only that they will change. Many libraries have introduced training to their repertoire. Patricia Barbone, director of library services at New York’s Hughes Hubbard & Reed, brings in outside speakers and offers accredited CLE courses. At the same time, librarians say that there are limits to the expanding definition of a library. Some material is still most suitable for the printed page. “Information online has to be fairly structured, and you have to approach it in an organized fashion. If you know what you are looking for and have a precise need, there is no point in leaving your desk,” says Shabeer Khan, who runs the library system at New York’s Kaye Scholer. “With a book, it’s not the same experience. It’s more amorphous in nature, conducive to grappling with an idea or a thought and flipping from one reference to another to another as you develop an idea. That’s hard to translate [into an online equivalent].” Though smaller, the library’s role as a refuge seems secure, even if the bottom line of book publishers does not. Many lawyers, particularly partners, view the library as a place to come and commune with the law, away from their e-mail and clients and phones and secretaries, according to librarians. Daniel Bearss at Covington says partners begin to show up in his library as the evening wears on: “You can see they come to get their mind straight, to think, and in the morning you find notes from them for follow-up.” Will has observed the same phenomenon at Greenberg Traurig. “It’s comforting to them,” she says. “Lawyers are tactile people. They go to the library to touch things.” Related Charts: AmLaw Tech Library Survey

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.