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TLA courthouse libraries the ‘great equalizer’ for lawyers

By Paul Russell, AdvocateDaily.com Contributor

Lawyers looking to do research can find the information and professional support they need at the Toronto Lawyers Association’s Courthouse Library, says TLA executive director Joan Rataic-Lang.

The beauty of the library is that we’re here for the lawyers in the community who may not have the money to acquire a collection like this,” Rataic-Lang tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“Sole practitioners or those at small firms rely on our extensive collection of printed and electronic sources of legal information,” she says.

The Law Society of Ontario (LSO) funds 47 courthouse libraries across the province, she says, including the Toronto facility at 361 University Ave.

“Because we are an interconnected system of libraries, where some of us have much larger collections than others, we support each other, ensuring that lawyers in each of these 47 communities have what they need to practise competently,” says Rataic-Lang.

With the largest courthouse library in the province, the Toronto location pays attention to those who use the facility, tailoring its collections to suit their needs, she says.

“We concentrate on family law, wills and estates, criminal, and other practice areas that are usually the focus of a sole practitioner or smaller to midsize firms,” Rataic-Lang says.

Some of that material is contained in traditional books and journals, or through databases that library users can consult. Library staff can assist with research, including finding statutes and cases, and sourcing commentary, which she says can be time-consuming.

For lawyers, there’s a certain level of competence that is expected by the law society, so we make sure they can find the material they need to serve their clients well,” Rataic-Lang says.

While some legal information is available over the internet, she says the resources available in the library go well beyond what is available online.

“Websites like CanLII are great, but they represent a small portion of the available knowledge that’s been published,” Rataic-Lang says. “If a lawyer were to only rely on CanLII, I would be worried.”

She says the library has an extensive collection of secondary sources and books that interpret and explain the law.

“Many lawyers can’t afford to buy these books, so they come to the library to get the expert opinions and commentary that’s written by leaders in their practice area,” Rataic-Lang says.

The knowledge of those authors is shared through these resources that we still have to pay for,” she says.

Rataic-Lang worked as a librarian on Bay Street for 20 years and saw the impressive libraries large legal firms were able to build fortheir associates.

“When I came to the Toronto Lawyers Association, I realized there’s a whole different side to the practice of law, made up of small firms and sole practitioners, with very tight budgets,” she says.

“At the courthouse library, our focus is ensuring that any lawyer in the city of Toronto who needs research material can find it here.”

By providing them with the information needed to effectively argue a case against counsel from large firms who can consult their internal libraries, she says courthouse libraries “act as the great equalizer.”

The cost of providing this service keeps growing, Rataic-Lang says, as publishers demand more money for their material and access to their collections.

The expense of operating a library has grown exponentially over the last 10 to 15 years, typically doubling every five to six years because publishers think that their profit should be much bigger than the cost of living,” she says.

“To make up for that, the TLA supplements the funding we receive from the law society, to ensure that we have a really deep and extensive collection for the lawyers we serve,” Rataic-Lang says.

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