How to build a personal law library

One of the partners at my law firm is a walking legal database. Whether I need to know a case dealing with fiduciary duties of a prior owner of a company or the last case in Maryland dealing with notices for mechanic’s liens, there is a high probability that he will know the case (or have information to quickly locate the case).

We all know of these individuals (and some of the readers of this blog may be those individuals). I’ve heard of stories about recently retired Court of Appeals judge who could not only cite cases regarding various legal topics but provide footnotes and pin cites.

Alas, I am not one of those individuals. To make up for my inability to recall the specific passage and verse of every single case I have ever read, I needed to develop a system to ensure that I was up to date with each new opinion pertinent to my practice. Fortunately, as a business attorney with a focus on construction law, I do not need to read every single opinion that is drafted and published (though I enjoy reviewing some of the criminal law opinions because they made for some good story telling).

So, I’ve developed a personal law library. In order to keep track of new opinions, I initially review the Maryland Lawyer section in Monday’s Daily Record, which provides a list of all of the previous week’s cases and a handy summary for each case. I circle cases I deem important for my practice and then have my legal assistant download them from the Judiciary’s website (a process that is free and environmentally friendly).

After I review the case and make electronic notes (I’ve only scratched the surface of PDFs’ wonderful features, though John Cord has written about this), I save the electronic version of the case in a folder in my Dropbox account (a cloud account that is free for the first 2GB).

Over the past few years, I have created an online, readily-available personal law library for myself. If a legal issue comes up, I can quickly determine if it’s something I already have researched. Obviously, I make sure the law is still good, but its the start that saves me time and our client’s money.

While this method works for me, are there any other methods that you use to help organize relevant cases you use?

2 thoughts on “How to build a personal law library

  1. I maintain a Sharepoint site, accessible to me and all staff from anywhere. Our internal research memoranda, important cases, and forms are kept there. This constitutes the firm’s institutional knowledge. This is distinct from our shared access to all the “virtual files.”

    On a personal level, I maintain hundreds of categorized cases on my kindle. This gives me the key decisions I often need on the fly, and they are always in the brief case. It’s also easier to read a new case at the gym in this format.

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