“The report of my death was an exaggeration.” – The Printed Word*

(*Actually, it was Mark Twain – Gary Scharnhorst (Ed), Mark Twain: The Complete Interviews (University of Alabama Press, 2006)).

The way in which we consume information and literature has evolved significantly over the last 10 years. For publishers of printed material, this change in consumption has necessitated a move to digital publishing, with a strong demand for content to be made available across a multitude of devices, and accessible 24/7 from any location.

The impact of the “digital age” on our consumption of information and literature has been particularly noticeable in the area of legal research and information. The timely and accurate dissemination, and management of general information as to society, politics and human behaviour; and more specific legal information such as decisions of courts, legislation and regulations etc, is essential to the proper function of our legal system.

The digitisation of legal information has come about in response to the needs of the profession, driven by the use of new technologies. Word processing software, the internet, email, smart phones, online court registries and e-litigation have all changed the way in which lawyers and law makers go about their daily business.

Publishers of legal information have had to respond to the demand for material to be available through digital channels, while continuing to fulfil demand, albeit diminishing, for their print publications. In an effort to develop viable business models and maintain profit margins, local editorial and print production facilities were moved off-shore; and pricing structures were changed.

Printed material is now likely to be bundled with (often unrelated) electronic subscriptions, thereby diluting the value of print and inferring that products such as bound case volumes and cumulative indices are a luxury, over-priced and unnecessary. However, one might be so bold to posit that notwithstanding the use of new technology, many within the profession still cherish the tactility and utility of paper, and resort to printing material accessed via digital platforms. Tell us … is this you?

Author Mark Kurlansky, in his 2016 work “Paper: Paging Through History”, argues that technology does not shape society; society shapes technology:

“Chroniclers of the role of paper in history are given to extravagant pronouncements: Architecture would not have been possible without paper. Without paper, there would have been no Renaissance. If there had been no paper, the Industrial Revolution would not have been possible. None of these statements is true. These developments came about because society had come to a point where they were needed. This is true of all technology, but in the case of paper, it is particularly clear.”

While the practice and administration of the law is at the mercy of constantly evolving technologies, the accurate recording and robust preservation of legal information is paramount to the rule of law and access to justice. As such, it is the lawyers and law makers, and not profit margins or business models, that should shape the technology of legal research and information.

We respectfully submit, therefore, that any report of the death of the printed word (at least in the context of legal research and information) is an exaggeration.

Categories: Law Reports, Victorian Reports

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