Legal Publishing

Legal Publishing

The production of texts that report laws or discuss the Practice of Law.

Originally limited to printed materials, legal publishing now encompasses electronic media as well, with most legal publications becoming available online or in CD-ROM format.

The first collections of American laws were published during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Printing presses allowed laws to be printed on a regular basis. Colonists relied on English Law as Common Law, so local laws were not reported until after the American Revolution. Once the colonies gained independence and formed the United States, the number of lawyers grew, along with the need for a printed record of U.S. laws.

The original case reporters were published by individuals without the support of the government. In 1841, Georgia was the first state government to require its judges to write out their decisions. The clerk of the court would send the decisions to the governor, who had the decisions printed and distributed to all of the judges in the state.

During the late nineteenth century, John B. West started the National Reporter System. West's Syllabi contained the full text of decisions of the Supreme Court of Minnesota. The publication was enlarged to include decisions of Wisconsin and eventually became the Northwestern Reporter. West's company soon expanded to cover decisions across the country. The company took responsibility for making sure that the reports were accurate. It included headnotes for each case, summarizing the issues of law that were discussed in the decision. The decisions were published in parts that were later reprinted in hardbound volumes. Using these "advance sheets" allowed decisions to be reported more quickly.

Other publishers that began reporting decisions in the 1800s included Matthew Bender and Company, Bancroft-Whitney Company, and the Lawyers Cooperative Publishing Company. Lawyers Cooperative Publishing printed selected decisions. Each year, it also printed a volume that reported where original decisions were cited in current decisions.

Federal decisions began to be reported in a regular and complete form in the late 1800s. The first volume of American Law Reports was printed in 1919 by the Edward Thompson and Lawyers Cooperative Publishing Companies.

With so many decisions being reported, it became difficult to determine the status of a case. Lawyers needed to know whether a case had been overruled or modified. Typically, they would mark any modifications to a decision in the margins of their reporters. In 1875, Frank S. Shepard published the Illinois Annotations. This was a series of sheets that could be cut out and pasted in the margins of the book that reported a case. The sticker format was dropped in 1900, and the citator took on its current tabular format. Originally covering only cases, Shepard's citator was expanded to include citations to the Constitution, statutes, and court rules.

The publication of statutes followed a history similar to that of cases. Individual states printed their own statutes beginning at the end of the eighteenth century. The first commercial effort to publish federal laws occurred in 1902. In 1924, Congress authorized the publication of the U.S. Code. West Publishing Company and the Edward Thompson Company were hired to assist with the publication. Federal law was divided into individual titles. Today, statutes are first published as unedited, uncollated statutes called "slip laws." At the end of each session, the statutes are gathered into the U.S. Code.

Little, Brown and Company was the first to publish books specifically for students. In 1871, Little, Brown started publishing casebooks for students. Casebooks present leading cases in a particular area of law, with accompanying discussion of the law. In 1880, 11 titles were available.

Other common legal publications include practice aids for lawyers, such as form books and practice books. Form books present standard formats for common legal documents. Practice books describe the laws of a particular jurisdiction or practice area and give guidelines on various aspects of the law.

Legal periodicals make up another segment of the legal publishing market. These include newspapers and newsletters that report on current law. Within law schools, student-edited law reviews present articles by students, professors, and law school faculty.

During the 1990s, three companies acquired the vast majority of majority of the major legal publishing companies in the United States. In 1997 alone, the costs of these Mergers and Acquisitions amounted to about $1 trillion. Many of the companies that were acquired during this time period were those with long histories in the world of legal publishing. The American Association of Law Libraries' Committee on Relations with Information Vendors (CRIV) maintains lists of the publishing companies that belong to each parent company (see <>).

Thomson Corporation acquired the largest legal publisher, West Publishing Company, in 1996. It merged Thomson Publishing Company and West Publishing Company to form West Group. West Group continues to publish the National Reporter System, the United States Code Annotated, many annotated state statutes, and many other publications formerly published by West Publishing Company. Other companies acquired by, or merged with, Thomson include Lawyers Cooperative Publishing, Research Institute of America, Bancroft-Whitney, Clark Boardman Callaghan, Foundation Press, Rutter Group, Findlaw,, and Gale Group.

Reed Elsevier, P.L.C. owns Lexis Law Publishing, which now publishes the United States Code Service and several other legal titles. Reed Elsevier also acquired such companies as Matthew Bender & Co., Mealey Publications, Michie Company, Shepard's, and Martindale-Hubbell. The companies publish a variety of annotated state statutes, other legal practice materials, and Shepard's Citations.

A third company, Wolters Kluwer, owns Aspen Publishers, Inc., CCH Incorporated, Little, Brown, & Company, and Loislaw. The companies produce a number of sources for law students, including casebooks. CCH Incorporated publishes a number of specialized publications focusing, for example, on tax, Securities, and Copyright.

Today's legal publishing market includes electronic publishing. Computer-Assisted Legal Research makes it possible to search legal materials online. Thomson's Westlaw and Reed Elsevier's LEXIS/NEXIS systems give attorneys access to cases, statutes, rules, law reviews, public records, and a variety of practice guides. Many jurisdictions now make materials available through the Internet. Case law, statutes, and practice guides are available in CD-ROM format for most jurisdictions.

Further readings

American Association of Law Libraries Committee on Relations with Information Vendors. 2003. A Legal Publishers List: Corporate Affiliations of Legal Publishers, 2d ed. Available online at <> (accessed November 21, 2003).

Berring, Robert C. 1994. "Collapse of the Structure of the Legal Research Universe: The Imperative of Digital Information." Washington Law Review 69 (January).

Ogden, Patti J. 1983. "'Mastering the Lawless Science of Our Law': A Story of Legal Citation." Law Library Journal 85 (winter).

Surrency, Erwin C. 1990. A History of American Law Publishing. Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana.

Swygert, Michael I., and Jon W. Bruce. 1985. "The Historical Origins, Founding, and Early Development of Student-edited Law Reviews." Hastings Law Journal 36 (May).


Case Law; Century Digest®; Computer-Assisted Legal Research; Court Opinion; Decennial Digest®; Digest; Federal Reporter®; Federal Supplement®; Hornbook; Law Reports; LEXIS®; Shepardizing; Shepard's® Citations; Statutes at Large; Treatise; U.S. Code; U.S. Code Annotated®; Westlaw®.

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