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“Free and Online” is not Quite the Same as “Equal Access to Justice”


Lewis & Clark Law School Library’sLaw in the News” roundup, brings us this story:

Law Libraries Struggle with More Patrons, Less Funding,” by Jose Pagliery, Daily Business Review, December 15, 2010

… Pro se litigants, who often can’t afford attorneys and instead choose to represent themselves, are quickly becoming the largest share of users of public law libraries, according to a statewide law library nonprofit. As lawyers more frequently choose to study case law from their desktop computers, common folk are shuffling into brick-and-mortar institutions.

With that switch, a few overwhelmed librarians find themselves spending more time teaching research tips to novices as opposed to pointing experienced attorneys in the right direction, said Linda Sims, director of the Palm Beach County Law Library.

“We used to spend more time filing and updating materials. Now we’re spending a lot more time with non-attorneys, having to walk them through the process and teach them how to do research. It’s a lot more difficult and time-consuming,” she said. “The people making decisions for funding of law libraries aren’t realizing we’re spending more time helping those people.”…

An overwhelming number of library directors agree the current funding scheme — one that replaced a reliable system drawing on a portion of circuit filing fees — is inadequate, according to a survey conducted last year by the nonprofit Florida State Court and County Law Libraries.

The organization held a three-day meeting last month in Jacksonville, where directors addressed what they consider a two-pronged threat to their institutions: a lack of funding coupled with the perception that online resources serve as an adequate replacement for books.

Anyone with computer access can tap into free resources like FindLaw or public encyclopedias like Wikipedia to learn about courtroom procedures, historical cases and legal tools. But unlike paid subscription programs like Westlaw and LexisNexis, free online content is not always updated.

Paying for those services is rarely an option for pro se litigants and sometimes even out of reach for solo attorneys, said Fort Lauderdale commercial litigator and land use attorney Brian Seymour. The Gunster shareholder said lawyers like himself benefit from in-house law libraries….‘ (Link to full story.)

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