In 2008, just as the recession was shaking the foundations of law firms across New York, the Board of Directors* and the Executive Director of the New York Law Institute were undertaking a reassessment of their library and their services. In 2008 law firms were cutting partners, eliminating summer associate programs and deferring fall associate classes. Firms were collapsing. Across New York and the country  firm library budgets and staffs were cut. NYLI seized the crisis as an opportunity.Executive Director Ralph Monaco**  introduced a series of innovative new services which were tailored to the changing needs of members. In a pre-internet world, it was not uncommon for law firms to purchase treatises and journals using a “just in case” acquisition strategy. Technology and economics of “the new normal” has forced firms to switch to a “just in time” acquisition policy. Monaco continued to reorganize the staff by increasing the number of professionals and offering more services, such as remote access to databases and webinars. Despite the economic turmoil, he proceeded with  implementing the new business model, based on the NYLI Strategic Plan, determined to have the Institute emerge as a re-branded institution once the effects of the recession had passed. The New York Law Institute website announces “A legacy law library offering cutting edge services.”  NYLI has broken with the staid traditions and challenged the assumptions which have governed bar association and membership law libraries around the country for over a century. Their contrarian expansion at a time of universal contraction sets them apart from their peers and may well be the only model that can survive and thrive in the 21st Century.

The Legacy  

The New York Law Institute arose from the  efforts of  “two young lawyers, George Sullivan and James W. Gerard,  to break up the so-called “barrister ring” of twelve to fifteen lawyers who conspired with members of the  judiciary to monopolize all the “worthwhile” legal business in the New York Courts during the mid-1820s. When the Law Institute, was founded in  1828, one of its main goals was to found a law library.  In the early 19th century, all the major law book collections in New York were in the  private collections of prominent lawyers such as Chief Justice John Jay.  The NYLI members were determined to establish a law library that would contain “the law of the larger part of the civilized world.”  The collection still retains some of the original holdings including historic legal treatises and reporters which date back to 1558.

The New Model for The New York Law Institute

In 2008 the NYLI Board and Executive Director Ralph Monaco  began the process of evolving the collection from print-centric to digital in order to better support the needs of members.  They recognized that law firms were shifting their collection development policies from an ownership model to an access model. They began to partner with firms to provide cost-sharing access to resources including not just books, but electronic resources, and even library staff by providing “an extra pair of hands.”  NYLI’s goal was to be the premier provider of “just in time” access to research support and resources.

The launch of the NYLI website in 2011  promoted the shift from the Institute as a source for inter-library loans to the Institute as provider of  interactive digital resources for every member’s  desktop. New services have grown to include an eBook lending library of over 75,000 titles, seamless access to the NYLI catalog, widgets, SharePpoint WebParts and federated search.

Extending Geographic Reach

As New York based firms have established offices around the country, it became apparent that the new digitally based services could and should support member lawyers in any location. A logical extension was to open membership to law firms anywhere in the US regardless of whether they have any office in New York.

LaJean Humphries, Library Manager at Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatte  which has offices in Oregon and Washington state but none in New York and has been a member of NYLI for 2 years. Humphries has integrated the NYLI eBooks into the firm’s catalog. The Schwabe lawyers browse and retrieve the NYLI eBooks several times a month.

At Schiff Hardin, Ruth Bridges, Global Manager of Library Services, regards NYLI as a great investment.  Schiff Hardin  has over 300 Attorneys in 8 offices around the country.  None of the offices have any Library staff, except in  the Chicago “home office.”   In the past, they had primarily used NYLI for document retrieval for the New York office, but Bridges now sees the extensive eBook collection at NYLI  as a huge new membership benefit.  “Instead of shipping books from Chicago to our other offices which will have to be returned,” we can easily  provide our lawyers with access to the  NYLI  eBooks .. all without the shipping expense, both ways!”

New Website

NYLI’s Director of Information Techonlogy, Elyssa Kroski  was a driving force behind the rebranded  website design. Newly added features include a responsive design well-suited for mobile devices, drop-down menus for easier navigation, search functionality on every page that enables quick access to their Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC), All Collections, and all website content, an improved events calendar, and news sliders highlighting resources, news, and events.

E-book lending

One of the most exciting and innovative offerings  is the NYLI eBook collection. NYLI currently offers over 75,000 titles in the  areas of law, business management, finance, pharmacy and engineering. NYLI also adds approximately 1,000 titles a month. Members can download eBooks to their computers or portable devices anytime, anywhere. Each borrower can download each title on to 3 devices ( such as a work computer, a home computer and an iPad).  All titles are always available to all members, there are no waiting lists. They use a “Patron-Driven Acquisitions” model which means that NYLI doesn’t have to buy eBooks in advance. They  offer members access to a very large collection of eBooks, then NYLI basically rents each title on behalf of  the requesting members. After 3 rentals or loans the book is purchased by NYLI.  They also offer a unique  lending model referred to as “non-linear lending” — which makes their eBooks available to unlimited users simultaneously.
Not surprisingly the eBook lending program has been very successful. Over 2,500 eBooks have been browsed since November 2012. 1,800 eBook loans have been issued and nearly two-thirds of NYLI member firms are borrowing  eBooks.

Seamless Catalog 

The  NYLI Seamless Catalog enables NYLI member libraries that use EOS.Web®  integrated library system to directly integrate NYLI’s entire collection, seamlessly with their own holdings. The goal of the initiative is  to allow member libraries to eliminate the cost of marginally used print volumes such as treatises and other serials while still offering their attorneys access to what they need. There are 11 law firms who have integrated the NYLI catalog with their own OPAC. Steve Lastres, Director of Knowledge Services at Debevoise & Plimpton pioneered the Seamless catalog integration and is proud to demonstrate the efficiencies delivered by their partnership with NYLI. NYLI is currently working with additional ILS vendors to use  Z39.50 to mimic the functionality of  their Seamless Catalog.

Debevoise & Plimpton Catalog with NYLI ebooks
Debevoise & Plimpton Lists all NYLI resources in their catalog

Widgets and SharePoint Web Parts

Non-Eosi libraries can use SharePoint Web Parts to allow them  to search the NYLI catalog  and the 75,000 eBooks  within their intranets.

Federated Search 

A new custom federated search application searches all of NYLI’s holdings, both print and electronic as well as our remote databases.  This “All Collections” search, crawls the NYLI online catalog and eBooks collection, and a variety of databases including Proquest Congressional, LLMC Digital, SSRN, GAO, and FedSys.

Integration with OneLog, ResearchMonitor, Lookup Precision.

NYLI’s electronic resources can now be integrated with OneLog, Lookup Precision, and ResearchMonitor implementations.  This new functionality enables member libraries to track their firm’s usage of NYLI’s e-resources as well as automatically log in users without necessitating that they sign in daily.

NYLI in the Cloud

Hosted EZProxy Service. The OCLC   EZProxy solution will assure that  members have access to their remote resources 24/7. To safeguard this access, they recently migrated their authentication service to the hosted OCLC EZProxy solution. They made this move in order to better ensure reliable up-time and access to their remote databases by removing the variables that come along with hosting a local server such as; periodic building electricity shut-downs, winter storms, and hardware failure. With OCLC’s service they receive 24/7/365 access monitoring, maintenance, and security, all of which will minimize unexpected downtime.

Future plans

Monaco, the NYLI Board and staff are committed to continue providing user-centered services and initiatives. They recently conducted a survey of law librarians from member firms in order to assess  the value of  current services and collections as well as determine future needs and direction.

Eric Kaufman, Assistant Director of  Research and KM at Stroock, Stroock & Lavan in New York, describes NYLI as “innovation at its finest.” “ While law librarians in NYC have in my opinion, some of finest available resources in the country, it is NYLI that has gone where none have gone before. Librarians can now provide their firm’s attorneys with a book’s highlights, TOC, or provide suggested titles all with a simple URL.”

Monaco sums it up this way: “we will continue to provide valuable new services, innovative technology initiatives, and essential collections.”

Take a Trial

NYLI is currently offering a  60 day  free trial.

* In the interest of full disclosure, I am currently a member of the NYLI Board. All of the innovations described in this post were developed prior to my term.
** Executive Director, Ralph Monaco was (and is) an Adjunct Professor at St. John’s University Graduate Division of Library & Information Science. I was a student in his Legal Research class in 1980.