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The West’s Way: From a Ladies’ Room and Sheep’s Skins to Suffering Stress Toys

My involvement in law publishing spanning now over 15 years, it was difficult to resist a title like “How West Law Was Made: the Company, its Products, and its Promotions” (Ross E. Davies, Charleston Law Review, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 231-282, Winter 2012; George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 12-34. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2034499). Who in this industry is so distracted by their daily toil so as to neglect reading a paper promising to share such an important piece of wisdom? How indeed was West Law made? Maybe some know, but I didn’t. So when I received an email from the Legal Informatics Blog (http://legalinformatics.wordpress.com/) operated by Rob Richards to the effect that a new publication, “Davies on the History of West Publishing and Westlaw”, was available, I may have been among the first to download it.

Even though my career headed up the free access to law movement, one may always look at what he is missing. That is, I believe that in regards to legal publishing, know-how and techniques can often be learned from the more traditional segments of the industry, whereas innovation can come from anywhere: government agencies, commercial publishers or from academia and those practicing some form of free access publishing. Accordingly, I went on reading in the most positive of spirits. It does not take long however to discover that the “How West Law Was Made…” paper says nothing about sound methodologies for tidying up text or data, nor about how one may organize legal information. What is celebrated here is far from those boring facets of publishing; this paper is rather about the strong marketing which made West what it is today.

The major lesson learned is that West never rests solely on the quality of its products to ensure its commercial success; the company always invests massively in marketing. As early as at the beginning of the last century, West was giving away a variety of “tchotchke” to its users. Medals, thermometers, playing cards and many other trinkets were largely distributed. This came as a surprise to me for the usual readings about West leave aside this strong marketers’ contribution to its success. Actually, Davies does not dispute the high quality of West products, he only completes the picture by letting us know and see that the West Company never neglected to market its own virtues.

A significant part of this paper is a reprint of an old West publication called “Law Books by the Million” initially printed in 1901. The reader of this pamphlet learns how the West Company is set up at its offices in St. Paul. The information is boundless; one’s visit will go from the “Roof Garden” where pages are proof-read, to the caves where the metal plates used for printing are stored, without neglecting the boiler room. Not even “The Club” is left out, the latter providing a “Ladies’ Room, fitted with easy chairs, couches with cushions, a piano, and other accessories to enable weary girls to make the most restful use of the noon hour” and a “smoking room for the men […] equipped with pool and billiard tables, tables for whist parties”. Back to business, one gathers that over six thousand sheep should “resign their skins every month in favor of the National Reporter System” (p. 264).

Davies then leads us to more contemporary times and to the enduring excellence of West’s marketing (p. 246). With this shift in time, we lose sight of the sheep’s sacrifices to contemplate the sad destiny of stress toys in lawyers’ hands. One would never imagine. Lawyers candidly filmed and presented in the clips are incredibly tough on their stress toys. And yes, we learn, stress toys can suffer too.

Source: Stress Toy, by Westlaw, (http://store.westlaw.com/westlaw/advantage/stress-toy/demo1.aspx, Visited May 7th, 2012)

It is not long before we discover that “abusive lawyers” are all “reallycheaplaw.com” users. Only with peer support and by no longer using the “reallycheaplaw.com” site can they be helped and their stress toys afforded an easier life.

Source: Stress Toy in Paradise (http://store.westlaw.com/westlaw/advantage/stress-toy/demo2.aspx, Visited May 7th, 2012)

Davies made me discover something important about West and legal publishing. The quality of the product can be or actually is really important, but the marketing remains king.

D. Poulin

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