On this Valentine’s Day weekend, I went to visit an old love. It had been so long. Would sparks still fly? At law school, over 40 years prior, I was first smitten.

I drove early Saturday afternoon to my beloved CU Law Library. Currently considered 21st best in America, that ranking may have elevated if those evaluators could’ve witnessed Saturday’s sunny snow-covered Flatirons looming over CU’s Law School. It was magnificent.

Incredible visuals also adorn the interior of CU’s magnificent Wolf Building. The gigantic William A. Wise Library inside features every modern amenity. 

Craig Silverman

But then I wonder if CU’s ranking would’ve suffered for lack of attendance. Barely anybody was there. Isn’t CU in session?  I encountered maybe 10 people all afternoon, including librarians. I had the bottom floor entirely to myself as I typed this column.  

Last century, when I attended, the nearby Fleming Building housed CU’s law school. Entering Fleming’s modest front door, an immediate right gave you entrée to the special sanctuary that was CU’s former law library. It was almost always bustling. Every imaginable legal book was housed on its spacious three floors. The possibilities for learning were endless.

Kittredge dorms were next door. Intrigued coeds came by to study books and/or budding lawyers. The people watching was extraordinary. Humans appear so interesting when moving amongst books, especially as one’s mind wanders after hours of intense studying.  

In law school, we joyously interacted with classmates, undergrads and alumni at that library. When we got too loud, we moved to the building’s front lobby. If the weather allowed, we’d go outside and throw around the football and shoot the breeze. I always had a football in my car.

I fear those days of communal library experiences are gone. As with sports, movies and dining, why leave home when you can push a button, summoning a livestream or favorite restaurant dinner? 

Ever since the internet, the law’s been at my fingertips. Law firms purchase packages from expensive online legal research giants, Westlaw and/or Lexis.  CU’s Law Library is massive, but tiny compared to what attorneys can access online. 

The three finest law libraries in our state are CU Law, DU Law and the Colorado Supreme Court. Midday on Friday, I’d navigated the complicated multi-level parking structure to access DU’s Sturm Law School. Once outside DU’s Westminster Law Library, I was informed only DU law students with reservations could enter

So I next drove downtown through falling snow to the Colorado Supreme Court law library. Enter the ornate Ralph Carr Judicial Center and on your immediate left is a wonderful legal library, packed with amazing art, history and Colorado law books galore

But our magnificent state law library was devoid of people. The friendly reference librarian was like the Maytag Man, happy to see me, or anyone. We didn’t need to keep our voices down. There was no one there to bother. 

With the internet and COVID, law libraries are becoming ghost towns. Whereas signs used to command re-shelving books, modern posters remind you to re-shelve nothing. Put them on a wooden cart for disinfecting first. We can’t be touching the same things. This is 2022.

My loving nostalgia for law libraries is shared by others, including state Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta. Since he was a boy in Delta, Soper planned to acquire a superior legal education and thus become a superlative legislator. 

Now, in his second term and running again, Soper has crafted sure-to-pass bi-partisan legislation, House Bill 1091, making more Colorado case law freely accessible online for the public. State cost will be minimal. The reasonableness of providing Coloradans with Colorado case law is obvious. 

HB 1091 is yet another body-blow to physical law libraries. That unfortunate side effect displeases Soper, who earned two of his three law degrees at world-renowned Edinburgh Law School, founded in 1707

Soper described vividly to me (here on my podcast at 2:02:30) his love for the Edinburgh Law Library. It’s located on the second and third floors of a 400-year-old building. Soper recalls the “beautiful Georgian windows that looked out on the city, and if you weren’t studying, you could see storms come in off the North Sea.” 

Soper wistfully remembers the “beautiful scavenger hunt” that comprehensive library-based legal research can become. Soper loved physically scouring the ancient library for “ratio decidendi,” which is Latin for “the reason for the decision.” 

“To understand the reason fully,” Soper told me, “knowing, in some parts of the library, you could actually access books that were dated from the 1600s, and 1700s, and 1800s, and I sometimes would pull those books just because I wanted to feel the history.”

But Soper’s strong feelings didn’t stop there. Many a romance has blossomed in a law library. That’s where Soper met his wife, Sarah. She’s a patent lawyer able to work via laptop in Denver, Delta or virtually anywhere in the world. 

It was Harvard-trained lawyer John Adams who described our American republic as “a government of laws, and not of men.” Will our rule of law and social structure survive without bustling law libraries? Expect to find out.

Craig Silverman is a former Denver chief deputy DA who also has worked in the media for decades. Craig is columnist at large for The Colorado Sun. He practices law at the Denver law firm of Springer & Steinberg, P.C. and is host of The Craig Silverman Show podcast.

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Special to The Colorado Sun Email: craig@craigscoloradolaw.com Twitter: @craigscolorado