Gateway: OCBF grant helps library offer remote online access

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Photos by John Meiu

By Linda Laderman
Legal News

If you remember when your only option for Shepardizing a case was to do it manually, then your P number most likely predates online research databases like LexisNexis, Westlaw, and Hein Online.

While larger law firms quickly embraced the convenience of electronic legal databases, the cost of using online research remained prohibitive for many sole practice attorneys and small firms, said Laura Mancini, director of Library Services at Oakland County’s Adams-Pratt Law Library in Pontiac.

As of September, that situation is a bygone memory.

After an $8,000 grant from the Oakland County Bar Foundation (OCBF) made it possible for the Adams-Pratt Law Library to purchase the Hein Online legal research database, the library’s attorney-members can access case law and other law-related information, free of cost, from anywhere.

“Our attorneys have been asking for this, often telling me, ‘Gee I would love to be able to use the library’s resources remotely so I don’t have to make the trip to Pontiac,’” Mancini said. “While we are targeting sole practice offices and small firms, we want every attorney in Oakland County to know this is available to them.”

The library has long wanted to offer this service to its members, but the legal profession has been slow to catch up with other disciplines, Mancini said.

“In other disciplines, remote access has been common, but not in the legal profession. It’s been very conservative in terms of information services,” said Mancini. “We’ve wanted to provide this service, but until now there wasn’t anything we were able to get until we were able to work out an arrangement with Hein Online.”

Founded in 1920 in Buffalo, N.Y., Hein Online boasts 100 million pages of legal history and coverage of 1,800 law and law-related periodicals. The company has its roots in publishing law books for libraries, and, according to Mancini, was the sole legal research company willing to allow public law libraries to have off-site capabilities.

“It was a pretty simple choice for the law library,” Mancini said. “The William S. Hein & Co is the only legal database vendor currently in the market which will provide remote access to public law libraries.”

Since the library is a public entity, funded by taxpayer dollars, Mancini looked to the OCBF for a grant to help get the program up and running.

Southfield family law attorney Veronica Leonard, treasurer of the OCBF and a member of the foundation’s committee that selects grant recipients, said she believes the grant to the Adams-Pratt Law Library was a good fit with the foundation’s mission.

“As a sole practitioner, I am well-versed with the law library’s resources, “said Leonard. “This grant adds a new dimension to OCBF’s mission by providing a much needed services for lawyers.”

The one year grant, derived from funds raised as a result of the OCBF’s annual Signature Event each spring, “is a giant step forward” for the law library, Mancini said.

Leonard agrees.

“Bringing remote online access to legal professionals who have a smaller technology footprint than those in larger firms will be a boost to case preparation, helping sole practitioners to be just as polished and competitive as attorneys in larger firms,” said Leonard.

“I think this is something that will provide us with more options by bridging the technology gap for those lawyers with a small staff,” Leonard said. “If I have a big hearing, I want to find factually similar cases to strengthen my argument. As an attorney, you cannot have too many resources. This will absolutely help me.”

With 30,000 onsite visits in 2015, some 6,000 of those from the legal community, the Adams-Pratt Law Library is a vital resource for area attorneys and Mancini said she is “very excited” about the potential for success of the new initiative.

“If the community is using it, we’ll go beyond the initial one year program. It all depends on how successful it is,” Mancini said. “I am tremendously grateful to Hein and the OCBF for making it possible to offer the remote service to our lawyer patrons. I encourage all attorneys to take advantage of this new tool when conducting their legal research.”

The Adams-Pratt Oakland County Law Library is located in the Oakland County Courthouse at 1200 Telegraph Road in Pontiac. For more information on the new service, visit www.oakgov.com/lawlibrary.