Thanks to Law Librarians for posting about this recent paper uploaded to SSRN: Legal Education in Crisis, and Why Law Libraries are Doomed.
From the abstract:
The dual crises facing legal education—the economic crisis affecting both the job market and the pool of law school applicants, and the crisis of confidence in the ability of law schools and the ABA accreditation process to meet the needs of lawyers or society at large—have undermined the case for not only the autonomy, but the very existence, of law school libraries as we have known them. Legal education in the United States is about to undergo a long-term contraction, and law libraries will be among the first to go. A few law schools may abandon the traditional law library completely. Some law schools will see their libraries whittled away bit by bit as they attempt to answer “the Yirka Question” in the face of shrinking resources, reexamined priorities, and university centralization. What choices individual schools make will largely be driven by how they play the status game.
I don't doubt that some law schools value their law libraries more than others, with some libraries comprised of little more the minimum required to meet current ABA accreditation standards. If we get rid of the law library and water our available material down to just the nuts and bolts required to practice, we are, in essence, creating an educational environment that makes law school merely a vocational school.
Law schools shouldn't abandon their law libraries in the name of austerity. Lawyers, judges, and legal scholars, alike, need access to the broad material currently found in most law libraries. It's not enough to just rely on the legal databases. As stated previously, of the 2 million unique volumes in law libraries, only 15% of those materials have been digitized for electronic use. This leaves 85% only available in print. That is a lot of valuable content to abandon.
With the entire legal system made up of legal precedent, we cannot abandon the very material that gives us the foresight and creativity needed to tackle some of our toughest issues.