Ditch The Law Library, Keep The Librarian

What’s one of the best and more affordable ways to adorn your new home? Filling the shelves with leather-bound legal texts that you buy in bulk.

Today, the libraries with the largest selection of law books may not actually lie within law firms. Individuals looking for an aesthetic solution to filling large wall space have capitalized on the business of books by the yard.

And, with the way computers and technology is progressing, there’s a good reason why the use of legal texts has transformed from due diligence to decoration.

Ever since the existence of law practitioners, there were legal apprentices.

Today, first-year associates are paraded around law firms in a tour boasting the number of resources—human and still—that firms can offer these young grads. Counted among the assets might be knowledgeable mentors, (alleged) accessible partners, and training programs.

Next, first-years will wander the halls and marvel at the expansive offices, hardwood floors, and of course an impressive (and likely quiet) law library.

And, although law libraries still help firms attract the best candidates, during day-to-day activity, they remain largely empty and unused.

With online resources like WestLaw and Lexis, the dewy decimal system now seems obsolete.

“Everything is done electronically now, as far as legal research,” John Bolus, an attorney at Maynard Cooper & Gale PC where only 800 square feet on one floor is needed for the firm’s library, said to the Birmingham Business Journal.

Nevertheless, there’s an argument for preserving the law library tradition, despite technological advancement.

“I’m a big believer that aesthetics matter,” Marc Ayers, an attorney with Bradley Arant Rose & White LLP said to the Journal.

“When you walk a client in, they like to see those old books that look very classy. There’s a reason they like to see that, because it’s settling for a client.”

But, while the old-fashioned concept of a physical law library may be outdated, there’s still one aspect of this scholarly trade that adds value to legal practice: the law librarian.

In the modern world, law firm managers should create a new version of the law library. Within it, books are just a tangential benefit. In fact, consider storing them to a small closet space (they could probably use dusting off, anyway.).

But, as you ditch the library, keep the librarian.

Law librarians are “information and research professionals in an era when finding essential information is more important than ever,” writes Patrick Lamb, ‘82, founder of the Valorem Law Group in Chicago for an ABAJournal.com article.

“Associates, who do most of the research in law firms, are not research or information professionals. … When you live in a value-fee world, someone who finds the right information efficiently is really valuable.”

In the same way that attorneys are specialized in their field, librarians are as well.

And, considering the amount of research that lawyers are obligated to conduct everyday, expert help is indispensible.

For firms, empty law libraries take the place of what could be additional associate offices. So, save money by boxing up those archaic books.

However, thinking the firm might save money by replacing law librarians with legal research software is a mistake. Inefficient searches on Lexis and Westlaw cost the firm in both billable hours and efficiency.

“What some of the summer associates quickly learned (and I also took advantage of as a young associate) was that the librarian was a treasure trove of helpful information. Many times, she helped me craft effective searches for expensive online databases—like Lexis or Westlaw—saving me from looking bad by racking up too much in online searching costs,” Jennifer Selby recalls of her time as a young associate at Harness, Dickey & Pierce.

If—on the rare occasion—your firm still doesn’t have enough work for the law librarian, why not attach “associate training” to his job description. Librarians are terrific resources when it comes to patience, teaching, and efficiency training. Plus, associate training is often the most overlooked competitive advantage for firms.

Remember, successful research is the product of human capital as much as physical capital. So, invest in people and watch the ample returns.

-WB

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