Sunday, April 12, 2009

Where Have All the Books Gone?

A lawyer reminisces about the professional interactions and serendipitous discoveries that print research fostered: James M. Kramon, Where Have All the Books Gone?, Maryland Bar Bulletin, March 2009.
I cannot dissect the things that affected the evolution of my thinking in this case. Surely the environment in which I was working contributed in some way. Surely the assemblage of books in front of me played a part. My exchanges with my colleague contributed as well. I am sure of only one thing: no one sitting in an office alone pushing buttons and watching a computer screen could be in an environment as hospitable to legal research as I was that day.

* * * The only notable thing about this story is that most lawyers who embarked upon their practices less than 10 or 15 years ago will never have such an experience. Computerized research has obviated the need for books and libraries. Although not intended to do so, it has also largely foreclosed serendipitous research discoveries and casual encounters with colleagues. Many of us have a storehouse of legal knowledge we acquired turning the pages of lawbooks and in banter with other lawyers. Sometimes turning pages you will pass by a case that relates to a matter for another client. Sometimes a case will catch your eye simply because it interests you. Even in the laborious process of Shepardization you may learn something by seeing how seminal opinions have radiated to other courts.
Of course, you can still come to the law library even if you aren't using books: I see plenty of students perched behind their laptops, and perhaps they sometimes share the sort of professional discussion about their research projects that Mr. Kramon did.

By the way, Kramon is not a starry-eyed romantic about books. He understands the great advantages online research can offer:
A single practitioner in the smallest town in North Dakota can now perform the same legal research as a lawyer in a large firm in Manhattan. Lawyers with computers are able to do legal research virtually anywhere at any time. Computerized research eliminates the cost of law books (which I can remember purchasing from a retiring federal judge), floor space and structural requirements of law libraries, the necessity for librarians and the inevitable delays installing supplements. I doubt if anyone will miss hearing people walking through the halls shouting things like, “Does anybody know where I can find 283 F.2d?”
Thanks: Pamela Gregory.

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