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Do I Really Need Books for Legal Research?

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

If you haven't noticed, unless you are in a Third-World library without internet access, nobody really does legal research using books anymore.

So do lawyers really need those old law books? And what about those skills that came with learning how to research with books? Is there a place for old school lawyering?

"Wait, wait," you may be saying. This is all happening too fast. One question at a time, please.

Old Law Books

Frankly, you don't need old law books for most modern research. They are heavy, out-of-date, and basically have lost their value.

If you like to keep a printed library for appearances, you can find old sets of codes and case books for the price of wallpaper. But if you seriously want the full set of Massachusetts General Laws Annotated, for example, be prepared to pay about $6,000.

Otherwise, virtually every state makes its laws available online for free. Annotation and commentaries, of course, may require a little more research.

Researching With Books

Back in the day -- sometime before the emergence of digital publishing and Al Gore's invention of the internet -- lawyers did a lot of research at the law library. They still do, but now they use computers there.

Book skills like cite-checking with Shepards or indexing with West have largely been lost like ancient languages that few people speak and no one teaches. Algorithms have taken their place.

However, like case analysis itself, the logic of legal research has not been lost on bookish attorneys. And sometimes, when the internet goes down or the law is specialized, a classically trained attorney may have an advantage.

Old School Lawyering

Whether you are old school or new school, there is a certain fear of becoming obsolete in the law today. The robots are coming and they want our jobs -- at least 23 percent of our jobs.

It's too early to panic, but not to plan. At a minimum, attorneys should strive to keep up with technology because ethics rules require it.

In the meantime, the good news is that no robot has passed the bar exam. Of course, a lot of humans haven't passed it either. For aspiring students of the law, there is no better time to hit the books.

Have an open position at your law firm? Post the job for free on Indeed, or search local candidate resumes.

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FindLaw has an affiliate relationship with Indeed, earning a small amount of money each time someone uses Indeed's services via FindLaw. FindLaw receives no compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.

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