Lawyers Journal

No longer a secret: The Massachusetts Trial Court law libraries

"In early days, I tried not to give librarians any trouble, which was where I made my primary mistake. Librarians like to be given trouble; they exist for it, they are geared to it. For the location of a mislaid volume, an uncatalogued item, your good librarian has a ferret's nose. Give her a scent and she jumps the leash, her eye bright with battle."
- Catherine Drinker Bowen, Adventures of a Biographer (1959)

Times are tight everywhere these days. Our clients materially benefit when we can be cognizant of the very real financial impact that the necessary costs which our handling cases on their behalf can present to their bottom line.

Because of this, when an opportunity presents itself to gain access to a resource that is helpful, efficient and cost-conscious, we should all take note. Many MBA member benefits meet this standard, such as CaseMaker, a searchable online legal database available for researching substantive law not only in Massachusetts, but in 27 sister states as well.

Another exceptional opportunity that many lawyers may not be aware of, but should, is right under our noses when we go to court: the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Library system (MTCLL).

Since my childhood, with many happy hours spent amid the stacks at the Cambridge Public Library, I have enjoyed the feeling of wandering among volumes of books ready and awaiting only my time and interest.

A few years ago, likely echoing that urge when getting ready for a hearing at the Superior Court in Cambridge, I saw a sign in the lobby directing me to the law library. Once there, an extremely knowledgeable staff and a great collection of treatises, both practical and educational, greeted me. I signed up for my free card on the spot and have never regretted the decision.

Besides being a location for quiet work and reflection at the courthouse (and complimentary Lexis and Westlaw when there), one of the best resources provided by the MTCLL is found on the Internet. A visit to the MTCLL website (www.lawlib.state.ma.us/index.html) will show you the several categories of information available online for practitioners, including:

  • Laws organized by subject (e.g., mortgages, landlord-tenant, etc.);
  • Laws organized by source and database (e.g., procedural rules, statutes, cases);
  • MTCLL cardholder access to substantive databases (including HeinOnline, NoloLaw and other business and media sources);
  • Research support (either e-mail or chat) from a reference librarian; and
  • Document retrieval and delivery by e-mail or fax of practically any source available at the library at no charge.

Thankfully for lawyers and the general public, word is starting to get out about this fantastic resource. The Boston Globe Magazine recently listed the MTCLL as one of the "101 Things Every Bostonian Should Know." So here's a tip: If you haven't already done so, be sure to stop in at the law library before or after your next hearing in state court and get yourself a card.

The 17 locations are available on the MTCLL site. Once you're signed up, you will have the ability to take out hard copy volumes as well as have instant access to the extraordinary help provided through the MTCLL's online services. You will be thrilled you did, as I -- and my clients -- have been. As an institution, the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Library system truly meets its goal to advance justice for all by providing us such open and ready access to the law.

©2014 Massachusetts Bar Association