Law libraries essential for small firm and sole practitioners, says lawyer
With the Law Society of Ontario’s recently announced 10-per-cent funding cut to the Legal Information and Resource Network, the County of Carleton Law Association is warning of the crucial role law libraries play in access to justice and levelling the playing field between big and small firms.
The Law Society passed the 2021 budget at Convocation on Nov. 27. The reduced funding to LIRN, which governs the delivery of library services and legal information and manages Ontario’s 48 law libraries, resulted in a 14-per-cent rollback for the CCLA. The CCLA operates the Gordon F. Henderson Library, founded in 1888 and located at the Ottawa Courthouse.
“As a profession, we cannot harm one of the central pillars of lawyer and paralegal competence – law libraries. The CCLA calls on the LSO to ensure that its cuts to our libraries in response to COVID-19 are temporary and that all funding will be reinstated thereafter,” said CCLA president Craig O’Brien.
Law Society spokesperson Wynna Brown told Law Times that the cuts to LIRN were in line with other initiatives to decrease overall expenditures and that “burden reduction” was an “operational focus” for the regulator. The 2021 Law Society budget reduced annual fees by $193 for lawyers and $42 for paralegals and included a COVID-19 Response Fund, which allows lawyers and paralegals to defer their annual fee payments if they have suffered a significant business decline.
“It is our objective to ensure the Law Society is well-positioned to fulfill its mandate to regulate the legal professions in Ontario in the public interest, while also supporting licensees and taking into consideration the challenges that many lawyers and paralegals are facing as a result of COVID-19,” says Brown.
Law libraries like the CCLA’s are a “critical resource,” says Sarah Lag, a civil litigator at Black and Associates, in Ottawa.
“We're a law firm with three lawyers,” says Lag. “And in many of the cases, we have to go up against big law firms… So we have to find the necessary resources to be able to match the resources that they have. And one way of doing that is by having access to the CCLA library.”
Lacking access to the library’s free content means having to charge clients more so that the firm can purchase what they need, she says.
“The cost of maintaining your own, full, robust library collection in your office would just, I think, be quite prohibitive to anybody,” says head librarian at the CCLA Jennifer Walker, “So the library really provides that resource for people who can't afford to have something of their own.”
“The library is incredibly important to so many members of the Ottawa bar,” she says.
Funding to the Gordon F. Henderson Library, from the Law Society and CCLA membership dues, has not kept apace with rising publishing costs, and the library has been taking books out of its collection to lower costs for years, says Walker.
During Convocation, Law Society Bencher Etienne Esquega expressed his concern for the impact the cuts would have on law libraries. Though he voted in favour of the budget, he said, he wanted to highlight the importance of law libraries to lawyers outside of the Greater Toronto Area.
“In North Western Ontario this is pretty much all we have,” said Esquega, whose law office is in Fort William First Nation, just south of Thunder Bay. “… I want us to be very mindful of the important work that these law associations do in running these libraries so that we have access to resources that many people have, which we don't have in the north, and in other small corners of this province.”
The CCLA surveyed members to demonstrate the extent to which law libraries are relied upon. Out of 162 responses, 30 per cent said they were in court at least once a week and 50.6 per cent were at least once a month. Forty-one per cent of respondents usually used the library when in court and 35 per cent said they did so “always, with few exceptions.” 52.1 per cent of the survey respondents were from law firms with between one and 10 lawyers.
“The library itself plays a lesser role every year, as people get access to Canlii and other resources on the internet,” says John Hollander, a lawyer at MBC Law. “But what the library has done in Ottawa, is it's enabled all of the support resources that junior lawyers and sole practitioners need. For example: photo copiers, laptop computers, a librarian who can do spot research – and they do a lot of spot research. They just have a lot of these services that Junior lawyers need, as they're in the middle of a case.”