The NH Law Library: A Treasure Chest for Attorneys
By: Beverly Rorick
Law librarian Mary Searles is available most days to help lawyers with their legal research when needed.
Photo by Beverly Rorick
The NH Law Library, located inside the Supreme Court building, provides invaluable research tools for attorneys in all areas of practice.
The three-level public library includes a reading room and easily accessible stacks. Along with the expected volumes of New Hampshire laws and statutes – current and historical – lawyers can find House and Senate journals, judicial and agency decisions, court rules, governors’ executive orders, and much more.
Following a brief period in 2010-11 when funding cuts forced the library to close three mornings a week, the library is now open Monday-Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Law librarian Mary Searles is there most days to assist visitors with their research.
Searles, who began her career as a paralegal in the Pro Bono department at the NH Bar Association, has a master’s degree in library science. She worked at various special libraries, including the Mary Baker Eddy Library in Boston, before accepting her current position in 2004.
Along with personal help from Searles or her assistants, a free computer lab is available at the law library to aid attorneys in their searches.
In addition to its comprehensive collection and online catalog, the library offers some other resources for lawyers. For example, the library’s website offers a guide to assist attorneys interested in tracing the legislative history of a particular statute.
The website also features a history of the codification of New Hampshire’s criminal laws. The codification effort, which occurred between 1969 and 1973, organized New Hampshire’s criminal laws up to that time into a more consistent and coherent form.
"By clicking on any [underlined] word in this document, the user can be taken directly to the source material," says Searles.
The library has statutes from all 50 states in print, including regional reports. "Plus, for the New England states, there are additional selected secondary materials, which give further detail," Searles adds.
Attorneys can also find older versions of NH laws and treatises at the law library, and even CLE materials dating back to the 1980s. In its computer lab, although free Wi-Fi is not currently available, the library offers free access to Westlaw and LexisNexis.
Serving the Public
NH Law Library Resources at a Glance
At the NH Law Library1
• NH statutes, other state statutes • NH court decisions • NH administration rules • Federal court decisions • Federal rules decisions • Federal register • CLEs
12 Charles Doe Dr., Concord
• Catalog search • Collection of research links • NH criminal laws codification history • Links to NH session laws • Guide to compiling the legislative history of a law • Information on interlibrary book loans
The law library is open to the general public as well as attorneys.
A companion website, www.nhpublaw.org, is designed to help public librarians answer legal questions. The site, which grew out of a discussion about legal resources for pro se litigants, features practical information on about a dozen different law topics. Questions about the state’s parking laws, for example, led Searles to create a special guide on the site, with links to articles, examples and case law. She is now working on another resource as a response to questions about common law marriage.
For public librarians, Searles says, "We hope this site will be the closest thing to having a law librarian sitting at the reference desk."
The NH Law Library collection dates back about 300 years, according to a history posted on its website, and was originally part of the state library.
"We try to have a well-balanced collection of secondary sources," says Searles. "We offer a commonwealth collection, which is not only useful, but also of considerable historical interest, and our docket book collection goes back to the 1700s."
There are even law books from 1716 that belonged to the province, before New Hampshire became a state. The library does not lend books to visitors, but attorneys can request one or two books at a time for delivery through their public libraries.
Attorneys should call ahead if they are going to need help from Searles during a visit to the law library, because she is on the road about three days a month. Among other tasks, she visits the trial courts on those days to assist in the management of the court libraries.
"I try to help them decide what to keep and what to get rid of," she explains. "If I have the chance, I also talk to judges and clerks, to see what their specific needs may be. I like to know what any particular judge might like to have on the bench with him or her."
Workshops on how to use the law library are offered on rare occasions, but attorneys don’t have to wait. The website is easy to navigate, and Searles is always willing to help, either in person, by phone at (603) 271-3777, or via email.
Whether you are a new lawyer or a seasoned practitioner, chances are there is something helpful to discover in the NH Law Library’s treasure chest of resources.