Reduce Library Expenditures: Conduct a Library Audit
by Cookie Lewis
(County Bar Update, June/July 2002, Vol. 22, No. 6)


Reduce Library Expenditures:
Conduct a Library Audit

By Cookie Lewis, M.S.L.S., at the request of the Law Practice Management Section. Lewis is a principal at Infomania, a consulting firm that provides research to the legal communities of California as well as law library management consulting. The opinions expressed are her own. She can be reached at

By conducting a library audit of your law firm's library and online databases, your firm can reduce direct costs and overhead expenditures.

Your firm needs a library audit when the firm subscribes to Shepard's or ALR in print format; pays for a copy of the Texas civil code, only to find out that the case was closed six years ago; or has to write down online charges due to excessive search costs.

The first step is to conduct a detailed library use survey. While each firm is unique in its practice of law, listed below is a generic library audit guide.

Books vs. Computers

It's important to know which legal databases attorneys prefer to use and why.

  • Ascertain the ratio of online database use with the Internet for legal business information.
  • Determine what books should remain in print format even though their contents are available online. (An example would be continuing to keep print format Digests and Reporters.)
  • An analysis should be done to determine if it's more cost effective for the firm to copy cases and law review articles or pay for messenger services to borrow books if the same material is available online.
  • Make sure your attorneys are well-trained in word processing programs to effectively use electronic books such as Matthew Bender or Rutter Group titles.

Online Database Use

At least twice a year, your firm should request a business review from its legal and business database providers. How much money does your firm spend quarterly and annually? Ask the vendor to break out the following statistics for the firm:

  • expenditures by user
  • usage vs. invoice (for firms on fixed contacts)
  • semi-annual and annual breakout of use by file area (case law, citation services, news, public records, etc.)

It's important that the firm closely track the expenditures outside your price plan. If the firm isn't spending close to the monthly minimum or is spending in excess of what's covered in the plan, the firm can adjust the plan expediently.

Does your firm have an appropriate policy for the recovery of online database charges? Ask your attorneys if they know how the firm bills clients for costs. Do the attorneys know what's contained in the firm online price plan, or what the costs are for various searches? When was the last time they had database training? A strong training program ensures that your clients are benefiting from cost-effective research.

Library Subscriptions

Compile a list of every ongoing library subscription item. Ask the attorneys how often they use the items. It's very important to give a range of use (once a day, once a week, once a month, once annually, not in my practice area, never). Firms are often surprised when they see what items are never used.

Tax cases, ALRs, jury verdicts, form books, Federal Register, CFRs, and state and federal case reporters are available online or on Internet sites. Cut down on your reference book expenditures by logging into the Library of Congress Web site at for Researchers, Virtual Reference Shelf.

Carefully monitor all invoices and renewals. Publishers often send automatic renewal invoices after a subscription is cancelled. Don't sign up for "free" trial subscriptions. The publication invariably isn't cancelled, and your firm will have a new library expense.

Following the above guidelines will ensure that your firm will see a reduction in library expenditures for the forthcoming year.

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