by Erik Adams
In law firms we have struggled for years with how to get attorneys to stop relying on books, which are expensive to acquire, store, and maintain, and start using online resources. (Which are also expensive, but at least we aren’t the ones who have to acquire, store, and maintain them.) Recently, however, I had a problem new to my experience: an attorney who didn’t want to get out of his seat and use the print version.
This particular attorney wanted to read a section of the California Code. We offer several different ways to achieve this online via the firm’s intranet, and several of us have walked the attorney through the process multiple times. But in this particular instance, he wanted to look it up in the book. My firm has a complete copy of the California Codes in his location, but recently this office had been remodeled, and the attorney found he is on a different floor than the library. He could walk up one flight of very stylish stairs to the library, but that wasn’t nearly as convenient as when his office had been right next to the library.
Video game companies have wrestled for years with the problem of how to get gamers out of their chairs and into the world and to get more exercise. Nintendo had some success last year with the release of Pokemon Go, where the goals of the game could only be achieved by walking around your city, and by exploring new neighborhoods. Now, as electronic resources are taking over, I’m facing the exact same issue: how can I get attorneys out of their seats? Especially when, generally, that’s the best course of action?
Several years ago we made a game of training our class of summer associates. People could earn points throughout the summer, lured by the price of a Starbucks card, by performing various research tasks. For example, one could earn a point by having a librarian demonstrate how to solve a research problem using a website other than Lexis or Westlaw. We gave big points for using the books in the library, and for getting a librarian to help you with an inter-library loan. That worked reasonably well for summer associates, but my most recent incident was with a seasoned partner who is not so easily motivated, even by the lure of a Starbucks card.
Partially this is a problem of resource discovery, an issue that has been discussed to death. I hear it all the time from my attorneys: the intranet is confusing, the intranet doesn’t have the resources I need, the electronic version isn’t as convenient as the print. There are times when we feel that that best solution would be to redesign our intranet so that each attorney only saw one button, and it was a magical button that just opened what the attorney wants. Speaking as a computer programmer, I’m not sure how I would make this particular omniscient button work, but perhaps I’m suffering from a lack of ambition.
I’m curious how other libraries have dealt with this problem. I assume that the attorney who wants everything close at hand is not unique to my firm. I also assume that there are similar species of patrons at law schools: the student who doesn’t understand why some book isn’t available online, or a professor who is impatient when a book isn’t in the local institution’s collection. I invite suggestions on how to get these people to walk around, which would probably be good for everyone.