Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Social Law Library: Unique Resources for Massachusetts Law


The Social Law Library (SLL), located in Boston, was founded in 1803 which makes it the second oldest law library in the United States.* The SLL was founded before the ABA started pressing for the shift in legal education from reading the law to compulsory law school education for bar admittance; in fact, the SLL predates both the ABA and legal education as we know it. While the SLL is a private institution, it has a significant partnership with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and provides free access to all attorneys employed by Massachusetts state agencies or courts.

Members of the Western New England University School of Law Community have access to the SLL through the Law Library’s databases page.** The SLL has also been actively seeking new members here at the Law School by offering students who attend a presentation a free membership upon graduation that expires at the end of September the following year.
In addition to being one of the oldest law libraries in the country the SLL has embraced the modern paradigm shift to digital materials. To this end they provide members access to many online services including: eBooks through OverDrive, CLE Materials, Links to Federal and State Materials, their Researcher’s Toolkit, Reference by Email, Substantive Law Databases, and many others.

Of particular interest is their unique collection of Massachusetts Administrative Databases. While much of what is accessible through SLL is available elsewhere, the SLL’s Administrative Databases tend to be the best and most comprehensive place to get the information for the covered state agencies. In some instances, Westlaw or Lexis may have some coverage; however, for the most sweeping, one stop place to do research in these areas SLL has the most comprehensive collection of Massachusetts Administrative Law. In fact, some of materials therein may not be available anywhere else in the world.

Let’s look at how to use one of these Administrative Law Databases. From the Law Library’s Databases page, select S-U then select the SLL’s Administrative Law Databases. This link brings us to the SLL’s Research Databases page. For our example, let’s select the Board of Bar Overseers, an independent administrative body responsible for adjudicating complaints against attorneys.



One can search the different parts (Case Number, BBO File Number, etc) within the Board’s decisions using the boxes shown. While the Board of Bar Overseers has only a few different parts to their decisions, other Administrative databases may have additional options.

Entering multiple search terms in the text box will return only decisions in which all the words appear. You can make the search return decisions in which any of the search terms appear by including the word or between them. You can also search for a phrase by searching within quotes. For example: searching recovered alcoholic returns 5 decisions, searching recovered or alcoholic  returns 89 decisions, and searching ”recovered alcoholic” returns 2 decisions.

Adjusting the “Words Around Hits” will increase or decrease the number of words the search results will display for each instance of your search terms within a decision. This context can help you determine if the decision is relevant to your issue before reading the whole case. The image below compares the same search using 20 “Words Around Hits” and 5.



Once you decide to look at a decision, like the one pictured below, you can either print the document or download a pdf from the black bar above the document. You can also use the red bar to navigate to other documents from the same search results, modify the search, or save the document to your SLL account.***



In conclusion, obtaining SLL membership is a no-brainer for our soon-to-graduate law students since it has so much to offer. It is also very reasonably priced for other Massachusetts attorneys considering that it is the only resource available for some materials.
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* The Jenkins Law Library in Philadelphia was founded in 1802.
** From the Databases Page select “S-U” then select “Social Law Library’s Administrative Law Databases.”
*** Once you obtain your own account.

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