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Don’t Overlook the Lowly Law School Library

by Carolyn Elefant on August 21, 2005 · 8 comments

in Legal Research and Writing, Legal Research Options

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With so many legal research tools available on line, most lawyers neglect the lowly law school library as a resource.  But in my view, there’s nothing as valuable for research as a good law library.  In the jurisdiction where I practice, American University Washington College of Law Pence Law Library tops my list as an outstanding resource for practicing attorneys.   Here’s why:

1)  Open Admission The Pence Library is open to the public without charge and at all times, except during law school exam periods.

2)  Resources Obviously, the Pence Library, like all others, has many legal resources including treatises, journals and how to guides.  Most practitioners overlook these general sources of information which are frequently good shortcuts when researching a new area of law.

Truth be told, the law library is not particularly strong on energy regulatory resources which is one of my practice focuses.  But it has research terminals where patrons can access Westlaw keycite and Hein Online (for law reviews) at no cost and those resources often make it worth the trip.

3) Location and Hours: The Pence Library is a short fifteen minute hop from my home office and probably about the same distance from downtown.  But the library is open until midnight most weeknights as well as on the weekend, which means that I can access it afterhours.

Law schools are always coming up with fancy ways to meet pro bono
obligations, what with law school clinics and mandatory pro bono
requirements for graduating students.  If law school libraries just
opened their doors to law practitioners whose clients often can’t
afford top of the line research tools, law schools would go a long way
towards improving the quality of law for those in lower income brackets.

I’d like to put together a collection of law libraries or other
libraries with great benefits, like free LEXIS or photocopying or
anything else that a solo might find useful.  Send me your tips in
comments below.

  • Mike Adams

    Penrose public library in Colorado Springs, Colorado houses a fairly decent law library, which is funded in great part by our local bar association. The library offers free Westlaw and Versus Law access, a decent collection of basic treatises, and a good collection of our state’s CLE publications. The library, along with West, provides periodic Westlaw training to attorneys and the public.

  • Mike Adams

    Penrose public library in Colorado Springs, Colorado houses a fairly decent law library, which is funded in great part by our local bar association. The library offers free Westlaw and Versus Law access, a decent collection of basic treatises, and a good collection of our state’s CLE publications. The library, along with West, provides periodic Westlaw training to attorneys and the public.

  • http://www.co.beaver.pa.us/lawlibrary Bette Dengel

    The Beaver County Law Library (Beaver, PA) runs a Pro Se Center featuring child custody forms, expungement forms, driver license suspension appeal forms (all compiled by the Court) and a user-friendly website geared for both Pro Se and attorneys. Pro Se patrons are welcome and assisted by a professional law librarian. Copies are kept a minimal dime a page. The library has a well rounded collection of both print and online resources for Pennsylvania practice.

  • http://www.co.beaver.pa.us/lawlibrary Bette Dengel

    The Beaver County Law Library (Beaver, PA) runs a Pro Se Center featuring child custody forms, expungement forms, driver license suspension appeal forms (all compiled by the Court) and a user-friendly website geared for both Pro Se and attorneys. Pro Se patrons are welcome and assisted by a professional law librarian. Copies are kept a minimal dime a page. The library has a well rounded collection of both print and online resources for Pennsylvania practice.

  • Laura Orr

    Carolyn:
    I passed this blog posting along to our 50-state, multi-city, community of state, county, and court law librarians. Law school libraries are terrific, but not all encourage use by private attorneys, and many are not conveniently located for use (spoken as a former academic law librarian). Are you and your other readers not aware of all the legal research services available to thousands of attorneys through their local, state, and county law libraries? Many of us in the public law library world provide not only great personal reference service to attorneys and the public, but have invaluable book collections and free acess to databases including Westlaw, Lexis, HeinOnline, and others, not to mention a very long shopping list of other legal research tools, from government documents to briefs to looseleaf services to superceded materials. Not all of us have all of these, but each of us can tap into a network of hundreds of law librarians when any of our attorney and non-attorney patrons needs something not at our fingertips.
    The State, Court, and County Law Libraries (SCCLL) section of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) is united and committed to increasing the quality of legal reference service to our patrons, in the face of shrinking support from the courts (many of us are supported by filing fees) and in some cases limited interest or support from state bar associations. We serve members of the public who don’t have the money to hire even a low cost attorney but also don’t qualify for legal aid or other subsidized legal assistance. We also serve solo and small law firm attorneys who don’t have the research services readily available to corporate and law firm attorneys.
    Many of us also teach legal research and offer presentations to our local bar associations in addition to other outreach efforts. We work with our local public libraries to make sure the librarians know that their patrons learn about their local law libraries.
    Feel free to email me if you have other questions or want to know more about SCCLL or other activities of public law librarians.
    For a small sample of what some public law libraries do, see this short list. Not every public law library is a member of SCCLL, so this list shows only a fraction of those law libraries that have a web or community presence: http://www.aallnet.org/sis/sccll/membership/libraries.htm
    Best regards,
    Laura
    Laura Orr
    Washington County Law Librarian
    111 NE Lincoln St
    Hillsboro, OR 97124
    Phone: 503-846-8870
    Email: laura_orr@co.washington.or.us

  • Laura Orr

    Carolyn:
    I passed this blog posting along to our 50-state, multi-city, community of state, county, and court law librarians. Law school libraries are terrific, but not all encourage use by private attorneys, and many are not conveniently located for use (spoken as a former academic law librarian). Are you and your other readers not aware of all the legal research services available to thousands of attorneys through their local, state, and county law libraries? Many of us in the public law library world provide not only great personal reference service to attorneys and the public, but have invaluable book collections and free acess to databases including Westlaw, Lexis, HeinOnline, and others, not to mention a very long shopping list of other legal research tools, from government documents to briefs to looseleaf services to superceded materials. Not all of us have all of these, but each of us can tap into a network of hundreds of law librarians when any of our attorney and non-attorney patrons needs something not at our fingertips.
    The State, Court, and County Law Libraries (SCCLL) section of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) is united and committed to increasing the quality of legal reference service to our patrons, in the face of shrinking support from the courts (many of us are supported by filing fees) and in some cases limited interest or support from state bar associations. We serve members of the public who don’t have the money to hire even a low cost attorney but also don’t qualify for legal aid or other subsidized legal assistance. We also serve solo and small law firm attorneys who don’t have the research services readily available to corporate and law firm attorneys.
    Many of us also teach legal research and offer presentations to our local bar associations in addition to other outreach efforts. We work with our local public libraries to make sure the librarians know that their patrons learn about their local law libraries.
    Feel free to email me if you have other questions or want to know more about SCCLL or other activities of public law librarians.
    For a small sample of what some public law libraries do, see this short list. Not every public law library is a member of SCCLL, so this list shows only a fraction of those law libraries that have a web or community presence: http://www.aallnet.org/sis/sccll/membership/libraries.htm
    Best regards,
    Laura
    Laura Orr
    Washington County Law Librarian
    111 NE Lincoln St
    Hillsboro, OR 97124
    Phone: 503-846-8870
    Email: laura_orr@co.washington.or.us

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