Eight Reasons Solo Lawyers Should Use Law Libraries

By Mary Whisner, Published on June 6, 2006
Mary Whisner is assistant librarian for reference services at the Gallagher Law Library of the University of Washington and author of Trail Ad Notes.
One: Librarians

Libraries employ people whose job is to help you use the library and figure out your research puzzles. Law librarians specialize in legal materials and the needs of legal researchers. Many are legally trained. We keep up with new sources and techniques and can often save you hours in your research. What's more important to you than your time?

Librarians also create online guides to help you with your research. See my library's collection of guides, for instance. So we can help you with your research without ever meeting you - even at 2:00 a.m., if that's when you're looking for some research pointers.

Two: Books

You've got a limited budget and limited office space, so you don't buy every practice manual, looseleaf service, formbook, or treatise that might come in handy. Your local law library is a great resource. (If you find the book or set is really useful, then you can order it for your office collection.)

Even if you are very comfortable using online research, some sources are easier to use in print. Many people find it helpful to use annotated codes in print because of their layout. Sometimes you might use a database to find a source, but sit down with the print when it comes time to skim the whole chapter you need.

And remember that not everything is online (and certainly not everything is online free!).

Three: Databases

Many public law libraries subscribe to databases that lawyers and often members of the public can use free. Say you subscribe to a thrifty Westlaw or LexisNexis package that gives you access to your own state's laws and cases. When you need to research some other state's law, wouldn't it be great to be able to use the law library's subscription?

Some of the databases popular with the lawyers who use the law school library where I work are:

Nonlegal databases. Ever need economics, business, scientific, or medical information? The law library might have access. If not, your public library or local university library is a great source for nonlegal information.

You can test drive databases before you decide to subscribe.

Four: Audiovisual materials

Five: Space

Six: Networking

Seven: Services at a Distance

Where do you go?

Follow the librarian credo: Just ask! You might be surprised what the public law library can do for you!

By the way, public law libraries welcome your support, financial and otherwise. If you benefit from your local law library, consider making a donation. If you decide to weed your shelves of some CLE materials and handbooks, make a call to see if the law library could use them.