Wise up Ernie – Books Aren't an "Inefficiency"

Upon taking a closer look at Law Practice’s blogging issue, I came upon a Q&A with Ernest Svenson, aka Ernie the Attorney. While I’m a big fan of his excellent legal blog, I’m disappointed in his lack of understanding of the value of print resources.

According to Mr. Svenson:

Small firms can also now afford Westlaw or Lexis and prefer to use those tools rather than books, which are cumbersome and expensive by comparison. Eventually, the only places you’ll find law libraries with books will be in large law firms where they can absorb that inefficiency.

There are several problems with that statement.

  • One – there are some sources that are just easier to browse in print. You know it and I know it.
  • Two – and this is a big one – not everything is available electronically. Nor is it likely to be anytime soon. Especially books. Does that mean that the content is not useful? No.
  • Three – another big one – print resources are not necessarily less expensive than electronic. In fact, they can be much cheaper if they are resources which you use often. With print, when you pay for a resource, you own it. You can use it as often as you wish at no additional charge. With a paid database, however, you may be paying over and over to access the same resource.

I completely agree with Mr. Svenson that the availability of electronic legal information has revolutionized legal research. And I have no doubt that it will continue to do so in wonderful and exciting ways. However, to assume that digital has or will completely replace print media is ill-informed. Why must it be all or nothing?

For a much more enlightened review of print resources and law firm libraries, take a look at Heather Smith’s excellent article from the American Lawyer. She writes:

Contrary to popular expectations, the digital age didn’t supplant print. It complemented it. And it hasn’t rendered librarians obsolete, either.

Thanks to my LLAW colleague, Carol Bannen, for pointing out the article.