Early Memories of Law Librarianship in Arizona

by Pat Wood

The following are simply some reflections that I wanted to share with you on being one of the early firm librarians in Phoenix and on the early days of AzALL.

Librarians were starting to make a place for themselves in law firms throughout the country in the 1970s. Caryl Parker, a lawyer and librarian, was hired by Evans, Kitchel & Jenckes (EKJ) in August 1978 and George Kirlin literally talked his way into a position at Brown & Bain a month or so later. I replaced Caryl at EKJ in late 1979, and within the next couple of months Fennemore hired Nancy Rorvig and Lewis and Roca hired Walt Doherty. The other large law firms added professional librarians over the next few years. At about the same time, the U.S. Courts started a law library and hired a librarian named Claire Boyle. All three of the public law libraries, ASU Law Library, Maricopa County Law Library, and State Library, Research Division, already existed and were the firms' means of support.

At that time there were eight large firms in Phoenix, large being 45 to 80 attorneys. Lewis and Roca was the largest, sitting right at the 80 attorney mark. Each attorney had his/her own set of Arizona Revised Statutes, which was one of the big perks of being a firm attorney in Phoenix. All of the firm libraries were too small. At EKJ, the library was built down a center hallway, spilling over into two rooms on each side. Whenever the library ran out of space, shelving was built in a hallway and more books were moved out of the library. Most of the partner's offices at EKJ were large with one entire wall of bookcases. These were definite satellite libraries—the entire labor and tax collection until the uptown move in 1982. None of these library collections was cataloged. At that time, ASU and U of A were the only libraries with OCLC access in the entire state. In those days, the cataloging process involved doing either original cataloging or ordering cards from the Library of Congress. The cards came in a set of eight and the subject headings and added entries had to be typed on the master cards. George did original cataloging and I practically moved into Phoenix Public Library where they graciously allowed me free use of the National Union Catalog to look up LC numbers. At one point, I had definitely gotten ahead of myself in ordering LC cards—I had several boxes, all in need of having the subjects and added entries typed. It was a very humbling experience when one of the legal secretaries offered to help and finished an entire box (1000 cards) in an afternoon!

Getting control of the ordering and check-in process was a definite challenge. I found that many attorneys had individual accounts with major publishers, received their own publications, and had their own mini-libraries. It took me a couple of years to uncover all of these accounts throughout the firm and to persuade attorneys that the library would handle the ordering and filing for them. The check-in process was manual, done on cards in those antique kardex files. The kardexes grew, from a small library file to a large industrial metal file then to two of these industrial files, as more and more publications were “discovered” throughout the firm. One of the greatest favors Caryl had done for me was in persuading the EKJ management that she and the receptionists could not handle all of the loose-leaf filings. Bow Raetzel was just starting her filing business and we started together, with EKJ being her very first law firm account.

Lexis had come into the Arizona market in 1976 and signed several firms even though no Arizona materials were yet on line. Westlaw floundered with its attempt at a system of “headnotes only” and in about 1980 was starting to offer full-text. Lewis and Roca was among the first of the large firms to pick up Westlaw; most of the others had Lexis, and none had both systems yet. Lexis serviced us out of Los Angeles and sent in a training team each fall for the new associates and each summer for the summer clerks. An ASU law student was hired to handle interim training and service. Both Lexis and Westlaw had minimal offerings in those days; case coverage was incomplete, no statutes or regulations were available, and Nexis didn't even start until 1980. Cases were slow to come on line and were frequently obtained through BNA's unique loan service. You called them for a copy of any decision mentioned in a BNA publication; they would send it to you and you then returned it to BNA. George was the only one who had access to Dialog in those days. The New York Times Info Bank was a separate service and was all we really had for news coverage until Nexis grew. Research, both legal and nonlegal, was really a manual effort.

Please do understand that the various firm librarians took on different services based on what their individual firms demanded or what the librarian perceived were the firm's needs. The firms all “knew” they needed librarians, but not what services these librarians could provide for them. In talking his way into Brown & Bain, George did a fast cataloging job and immediately pushed reference services. Walt wrote a Library Manual first. EKJ had told me that they wanted to have their books cataloged and to have their work product file organized. Secretly, I know they hired me quickly because all 50 sets of ARS pocket parts arrived the day I interviewed. So I organized, cleaned, and cataloged, and only offered interlibrary loan and reference services very gradually.

The best word that can describe what it was like being a law firm librarian in the early days in Phoenix was “challenging.” I remember being petrified for about six weeks that I would never accomplish what EKJ needed or demanded. Then I remember settling with myself that all I could do was my best, and if that were not enough, the firm would find someone else. A librarian I met at CONELL equated a law firm librarian with being a “governess, in that you didn't eat with the masters or the servants.”

It was a lonely experience at times and networking became an important activity. The legal reference librarians at the State Library were not only suppliers of materials and information, but also served as sounding boards as we struggled with our reference/research problems. George served as a mentor to all of us. In December 1979 I remember asking George about the various firms and their library staffing and George told me that he had been thinking about organizing a law librarians' group. I told him that it was going to be his New Year's resolution and that if he would organize the group, I would host the first meeting. In January 1980, George, Nancy, Walt and I met at Lewis and Roca to discuss this idea. George sent letters to his many law library contacts and to every firm that had at least 25 attorneys, inviting these librarians to a meeting on February 29, 1980 at Evans, Kitchel & Jenckes. To our great amazement, 14 people showed up. We decided to meet monthly with a very loose structure. We simply moved among the various institutions so we could visit the different libraries and the host librarian picked the topic of discussion. Sometime that fall when we met at Fennemore, Nancy Rorvig invited an attorney to speak to us on Securities Law. That was probably our first real program. We did not have a name or a structure—we simply met. We also learned that we were in a position to greatly help each other. George suggested the first Union List of Periodicals. The instructions were to photocopy the list of periodicals indexed in the ILP and to mark the library's holdings. The typing was done on a volunteer basis by legal secretaries at Lewis and Roca, Fennemore, Brown & Bain, and EKJ and the photocopying was also split among the four firms. Walt was the only one of us with any computer background and he devised an index to the Arizona slip opinions as they were published in the Arizona Business Gazette. He faithfully kept this index and sent it to all the other firm librarians on a regular basis.

At the end of 1980, Alison Ewing replaced George at Brown & Bain, and D. Daniels came to the U.S. Courts Library. Beth Schneider arrived at the County Law Library during the next summer. What a contribution these three librarians have made to the law library community! Alison was “volunteered” to be one of the first Program Chairs when she criticized the contents of the group's meetings. She also wrote a proposal for a Journal Club, for the purpose of sharing the load of all the law and library reading we were all doing independently. The idea never took off, but it is still viable. Besides all of the changes Beth made at the County Law Library, she was most supportive of the firm law libraries. She listened to us with our various needs and eased our way financially into OCLC access by taking on the firm libraries as associate members under the County Law Library. Beth also wrote the proposal for the First Bibliography Institute, which was held in the fall of 1982. Then there were the many contributions D. made—no one could begin to list them all. Walt was our first President followed by D. in 1981–82. D. was the catalyst in our achieving AALL Chapter status. She wrote the Petition in October 1982 and appointed Walt to draft our first Constitution and Bylaws. At the same time she was initiating and organizing programs such as “Effective Business Writing” and “Management Problems in the One Person Library.” She also drafted the original Grant Committee Guidelines, and the list of her contributions just goes on. As a result of her hard work, the Phoenix Area Association of Law Libraries was voted to AALL Chapter status at the AALL Annual Meeting in Houston on June 27, 1983.

No discussion about the early days would be complete without mentioning the tradition of lunch at Ranas. The law librarians started meeting for lunch each Wednesday just to talk and share information. We tried various restaurants, but mostly Ranas, an Italian-Mexican deli, located where Renaissance Tower Two now stands. The food at Ranas was nothing exceptional (to say the least), but it was never crowded, and there was seating upstairs where we could really talk. Sometimes only a couple of people showed up, but often there were five or more attending. We aired our successes, concerns, and complaints about being “governesses” in the law firms, and these discussions led to many programs. Walt first proposed his famous Arizona Slip Opinion Index as he outlined the format on a napkin at Ranas. These lunch meetings went on for years, but eventually ceased as more of the firms moved uptown.

Law librarianship has changed a lot since our early days. The proliferation of materials, particularly legal newsletters, have given us more challenges. The available technology has given us access to more information and better ways to manage our technical services. Attorneys have actually learned the value of the services offered by law librarians and become far more demanding for these services. In 1994 the name of our organization was changed to the Arizona Association of Law Libraries to reflect statewide membership and activity. Ironically, back in 1982 when the original name was selected, there was a very heated debate over the name choice. There were several choices proposed but the strong debate even then was between Arizona and Phoenix. The name Phoenix won out then because most of the members were in Phoenix and there was a concern about whether the organization could service the entire state. In 1994, we had definitely grown into a statewide organization.

Fortunately a few things have not changed. Networking and sharing are still among the most important activities of our profession. And finally, law librarianship is a very challenging and satisfying career.

I had promised Nancy Marcove that I would share my thoughts with you when I left my career as a law librarian. This is my attempt to tell you what the early days were like. My hope for all of you is this—when you look back on your careers as law librarians, may you have the wonderful memories of challenging and satisfying experiences that I have.

Reprinted from the AzALL Newsletter, July 1998