I was talking with a partner the other day and he told the story of how he, as a young associate, was part of the first batch of lawyers to come in and open the current office. He started laughing because he remembered that the firm was pretty reluctant to open the office, but one of the biggest clients insisted that we do in order to be closer to their headquarters. “We were going back and forth about opening a new office,” he told me, “and, you know what finally made us do it? The client gave us their entire law library collection for us to put in our new office. That sealed the deal.” At that time, the law library was a show-piece of the law firm, and to land a complete collection of the National Reporters, treatises and other legal materials was quite a catch for a firm opening a brand new office.
That was back in the mid-90s. My have the times changed. Could you imagine if a client made that offer today? It could be a deal-breaker.
When I spoke on law library spaces within law firms at an Ark Conference a few months ago, I got some pretty negative comments in my review of how I conceded that library space, for books at least, was a lost battle. A Chief Operating Officer in the crowd backed me up and said that the days of the library being a showpiece of a firm are over. I asked him what is the “touchstone” of a firm these days (some central place where everyone feels connected). Is it the library? Is it the break rooms? Conference Center? Bathrooms?? I think we finally agreed that in this day and age, the touchstone of a firm isn’t something that is based on a physical space. Quite frankly, it is probably the firm’s email system that is now the touchstone of the firm.
As for those books that came over nearly twenty years ago?? Many of them are still on the shelf… like the old abandoned toys from the Toy Story movies… just hoping that someone will find them and not ship them off to the dump. I think I’ll go out and run my hand along their spines today to let them remember what it feels like to be touched.