12 Tips for Building Your Digital Law Library in the Age of COVID-19

We all knew law libraries were dwindling. No one suspected that they would be totally “screwed” by a virus. Law libraries have been “going digital” for at least 20 years, but few law firms have thrown away their last “pocket” part “update. But as companies plan their post-pandemic reopens, keeping a shared book collection is frankly a biohazard. Should librarians develop systems for disinfecting and quarantining books? In today’s digital world, is it even worth it?

Does anyone really want to deal with the backlog of updating books that are nine months out of date next January, when lawyers start returning to their offices?

Over the past two decades, many legal librarians have evaluated products and developed in-house solutions to support virtual library resources.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Law firms that 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 halt. Many firms run digital and print libraries in parallel because they support both the latest “baby boomer partners” and the “digital born” generation of lawyers. COVID-19 was an unprecedented tipping point that shows 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 JD degree as well as years of working with attorneys and legal documents. They must have sufficient experience to evaluate attorney products and workflows and be able to reinvent new solutions that seamlessly unify and authenticate resources in a digital office 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 (for example Fastcase, Castext) and specialist publishers (Practicing Law Institute, Law Journal Press).
  2. Find tools. Traditional catalogs can be turned into portals by adding web links that will take the lawyer directly to the full text resource. Enterprise search can also 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 treaties, laws and databases can be organized and integrated with internal resources and other communication tools. workflow.
  4. Take advantage of flat-rate contracts. Today, most products offer unlimited use, so there is no penalty for reading a treaty online. Even platforms that track billable usage allow businesses to create non-billable zones. An information professional will determine how these contracts can be exploited to provide authenticated IP access to selected content such as “processede libraries», Cases and laws. All major vendors will work with clients to create “custom user interfaces” and “aClick on gadgets ”, such as a“ find and print ”tool that will retrieve and print cases identified by a citation.
  5. Electronic books. LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters offer hundreds of titles in eBook format. Wolters Kluwer’s Cheetah platform is superior to the print journalists it replaces. EBooks have the same content as print, but offer additional features such as highlighting and links to quotes from the main source. In addition, they are updated faster than the printed versions.
  6. Mobile app. Most of the major legal publishers have apps that deliver some or all of their content and functionality to mobile devices.
  7. Licence. Licensing is one of the most complex and important risk management elements of a digital library strategy. Legal information professionals will map the workflow and determine the size of the licenses that will protect the business from copyright and license violations.
  8. Electronic newsletters and personalized alerts. The delivery of the electronic newsletter puts everyone “at the top of the routing list”. New tools allow information professionals to deliver consolidated news from a variety of sources in a single personalized newsletter. Organized News Services provide personalized alerts that are individually selected and targeted to a specific lawyer, practice group or clients. Tools for organizing personalized newsletters include Linex, Ozmosys, InfoNgen, and Manzama.
  9. University library and bar subscriptions. Information professionals work with the local bar and university libraries to provide backup resources or to acquire resources. They can also allow access to databases or the retrieval of digital documents. A highly innovative New York Law Institute program lends eBooks to member law firms.
  10. Coaching. Converting lawyers from print to digital requires training. Webinars offered by information professionals or company suppliers can ease the transition. Zoom, Skype or Teams platforms allow information professionals to virtually visit a the lawyer desktop and guide them through using a new resource.
  11. Continuous assessment of ROI resources. Digital products continue to evolve. New products should be tested and compared to existing resources. An information professional can implement a resource management product such as Onelog, Research monitor, or Search Precision, which tracks usage to determine 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 management individual passwords for lawyers can be a huge headache. The surveillance products mentioned above all have the ability to save passwords.

Cost savings and reengineering of the workflow. COVID-19 created a virtual force overnight. Will he laser focus on future real estate savings that will include reducing library space? Reducing / eliminating printing resources also reduces costs associated with print maintenance and servicing (loose-leaf filing, serials registration, routing, labeling and print maintenance) .

Climb the value ladder. Setting up a digital library eliminates a host of necessary but less valuable administrative activities. This transition increases the time and attention available to information professionals to focus on higher value-added and transformative technologies and projects, including knowledge management, AI and analytics.

The digital library is a journey, not a destination. The products and needs of the practice will continue to evolve. The role of the legal librarian / information strategist will be to continually reassess the balance of resources, capture and analyze the ROI of digital products, and work with practice groups to ensure they have the right mix of office resources to optimize customer support. The COVID-19 pandemic is pushing firms to accelerate the design of the law firm of the future. An essential part of this mosaic will be the personalized digital library for the resilient law firm.


Jean O’Grady is a Knowledge Strategist / Librarian / Lawyer with over 30 years of experience leading the transformation of research and knowledge services at Am Law 100 law firms. She is the author of Dewey B Strategic blog, which monitors the changing landscape of technologies and companies that are transforming business and the practice of law.

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