We all knew that law libraries were shrinking. No one suspected that they would be totally “done in” by a virus. Law libraries have been “going digital” for at least 20 years, but few firms tossed out their last “pocket part” update. But as firms plan their post-pandemic re-openings, retaining a collection of shared books is frankly a biohazard. Should librarians develop systems for sanitizing and quarantining books? In today’s digital world -– is it even worth the trouble? 

Does anyone really want to take on the backlog of updating books that are nine months out of date next January when lawyers begin returning to offices?

For the past two decades, many law librarians have been assessing products and developing in-house solutions to support virtual library resources.  

There is no universal solution. The law firms which have the foresight to invest in strategic information professionals are most likely  to have had substantial digital libraries in place last March when COVID-19 brought the world to a screeching halt. Many firms are running parallel digital and print libraries because they are supporting both the last of the “baby boomer partners” and the “born digital” generation of lawyers. COVID-19 has been an unprecedented tipping point which exposes the importance of completing or starting a digital library transition plan.  

  12 Building Blocks Of A Digital Library  

  1. Strategic Information Professionals. They are the most important prerequisite in designing a digital library strategy. Information professionals often have an MLS and/or a JD degree plus years of working with lawyers and legal materials. They need to have sufficient experience to assess the products and the lawyer workflows and to be able to reimagine new solutions which unify and seamlessly authenticate resources in a digital desktop environment. They begin the process by comparing the catalog of print resources with digital offerings available from a wide range of publishers government agencies, major legal vendors, (LexisNexis, Thomson Reuters, Wolters Kluwer, Bloomberg), small publishers (e.g. FastcaseCastext), and specialty publishers (Practicing Law Institute, Law Journal Press). 
  2. Finding tools. Traditional catalogs can be transformed into portals by adding web-enabled links which will bring the lawyer directly into the full text resource. Enterprise search also can be used to identify resources and documents.
  3. Practice portals. Information professionals can develop intranet pages and portals where links to digital practice resources such as treatises, statutes, and databases can be organized and integrated with internal resources and other workflow tools.
  4. Leveraging flat fee contracts. Today, most products provide unlimited use so there is no penalty for reading a treatise online. Even platforms that track billable use allow firms to create nonbillable zones. An information professional will determine how these contracts can be leveraged to deliver IP-authenticated access to selected content such as “treatise libraries,” cases, and statutes. All the major publishers will work with customers to create “custom user interfaces” and “one-click gadgets” such as a “find and print” tool which will retrieve and print cases identified with a citation.  
  5. EBooksLexisNexis and Thomson Reuters offer hundreds of titles in eBook format. Wolters Kluwer’s Cheetah platform is superior to the print reporters it replaces. eBooks have the same content as print but offer additional functionality such as highlighting and linking to primary source citations. In addition they are updated more quickly than print versions. 
  6. Mobile Apps. Most of the major legal publishers have apps which deliver all or some of their content and functionality on mobile devices.
  7. Licensing. Licensing is one of the most complex and important risk-management components of a digital-library strategy. Legal information professionals will map the workflow and determine the size of the licenses which will protect the firm from copyright and licensing violations.
  8. Electronic newsletters and custom alerts.  Electronic newsletter delivery puts everyone “at the top of the routing list.” New tools enable information professionals to offer consolidated news from various sources in a single custom newsletter. Curated news services provide individually selected custom alerts targeted to a specific lawyer, practice group, or clients. Tools for curating custom newsletters include LinexOzmosysInfoNgen, and Manzama. 
  9. Academic and bar library memberships. Information professionals work with local bar and academic libraries to provide backup resources or to acquire resources. They may also provide access to databases or retrieval of digital documents. One very innovative program from the New York Law Institute loans eBooks to member law firms.
  10. Training. Converting lawyers from print to digital requires training. Webinars offered by the firm’s information professionals or vendors can smooth the transition. Zoom, Skype, or Teams platforms allow information professionals to virtually visit a lawyer’s desktop and walk them through the use of a new resource. 
  11. Continuous Resource Assessment ROI. Digital products continue to evolve. New products need to be trialed and compared with existing resources. An information professional can implement a resources management product such as Onelog, Research Monitor, or Lookup Precision, which track usage for determining the cost/benefit of each product. This data can also be used in future contract negotiations. 
  12. Password management. IP authentication is the ideal access solution because it eliminates individual passwords and allows anyone in the organization to automatically access a resource. This is not always possible and the management of individual passwords for lawyers can be a massive headache. The monitoring products mentioned above all have the ability to save passwords.  

Cost savings and re-engineering workflow. COVID-19 created a virtual force overnight. Will have a laser focus on future real estate savings which will include reduction of library space? The reduction/elimination of print resources also reduces costs associated with the maintenance and upkeep of print (loose-leaf filing, serials check in, routing, labeling and maintenance of print).  

Climbing the value ladder. The implementation of a digital library eliminates a host of necessary but lower-value administrative activities. This transition increases the time and attention which information professionals have available to focus on higher value and transformative technologies and projects, including knowledge management, AI, and analytics. 

The digital library is a journey not a destination. Products and practice needs will continue to evolve. The role of the law librarian/information strategist will be to continually reassess the balance of resources, capture and analyze the ROI of digital products, and work with the practice groups to assure that they have the right mix of desktop resources to optimize client support. The COVID-19 pandemic is causing firms to fast forward into designing the law firm of the future. A critical piece of that mosaic will be digital library customized for the resilient law firm.