Full-Text Versus Digest Searching

The current edition of the Law Library Journal from the American Association of Law Libraries has a nice article that documents a recent study testing the search behaviours of law students – see:

Lee F. Peoples, “The Death of the Digest and the Pitfalls of Electronic Research: What Is the Modern Legal Researcher to Do?” (2005) 97(4) Law Lib. J. 661 [available in full-text, PDF, 19 pages].

The study supports the suspicion that many law students go directly to full-text searching and overlook the use and advantages of digests (such as the West key numbering system, equivalent to the Canadian Abridgment in Canada).


  1. The author says this, at one point, bringing to light a particularly insteresting piece of Canadian history:

    When I discussed the history of digests, showing students a picture of the Abbott brothers and unveiling a crumbling leather-bound historic Canadian Abridgement volume during class, a glazed look appeared in many students’ eyes.60
    60. Benjamin and Austin Abbott developed the New York Digest, the first digest organized around an outline of the law divided into analytical topics. West eventually purchased this system and built its digest system upon it. SURRENCY, supra note 7, at 116, 120. The Canadian Abridgement is a precursor to the digests that began appearing in America in the late 1800s.

  2. This doesn’t seem right. He’s got both Abbott and the Canadian Abridgement wrong.
    I was taught that the Corpus Juris was the follow up to the Cyclopedia which was published in 1902. It’s been a while since I looked at it, but it appeared to have an analytical taxonomy.
    The entry in Hollis (which I’ve got to assume has a complete run, or what’s the Harvard Law Library for) reads:
    Author : LinkMack, William, b. 1865, ed.
    Title : LinkCyclopedia of law and procedure ed. by William Mack and Howard P. Nash. Annual annotations (I-4 Cyc.)
    Published : New York, The American law book company; London, Butterworth & co., 1902.

    Whereas the Abridgment I was always taught dated from the 1940s. The SCC Library catalog has it as:

    Title : The Canadian abridgment : index of cases judicially noticed in Canadian reports : from the earliest times to June 1st, 1946 / edited by Leonard G. Wrinch. B.Biblio.
    Publisher : Toronto : Burroughs (Eastern), 1946. [*15 rec.]
    Description : 3 v. ; 25 cm.
    Local inf. : Vol. 1 in library’s collection is entitled: Index of cases judicially noticed in Canadian reports : from the earliest times to June 1st, 1946.
    Library has 2 permanent supplements: from June 1st, 1946 to Dec. 31st, 1952, and from Jan. 1, 1953 to Dec., 1957 (the latter edited by the late Leonard G. Wrinch and by Georgina M. Broad).
    Other Authors : Wrinch, Leonard G., 1900-1956. [*6 rec.] B.Autho.
    Broad, Georgina M. B.Autho.
    Call Number : KF101.9 ZA2 C406 1946

    So how could it have guided a source that existed fifty nie years earlier:

    The Abbott’s work dates back to 1887, according to the Goldman catalog at Yale:

    Abbott, Austin, 1831-1896
    Title Abbott’s New York digest : table of cases criticised, presenting decisions of the courts of the state of New York, which have been affirmed, reversed or modified in error or on appeal, or examined and explained, limited, questioned, overruled, or approved and followed in later decisions of American or English courts, or by commentators and text writers : from the earliest period to January 1, 1887 / ed. by Austin Abbott
    Imprint New York : Diossy & Co., 1887

    Yet it wasn’t the first such digest in North America:

    Samuel Linn, `An Analytical Index of Parallel Reference to the Cases Adjudged in the Several Courts of Pennsylvania, with an Appendix Containing a Collection of Cases Overruled, Denied, Doubted or Limited in their Application’ Philadelphia, Kay, 1857.

    According to Francis Johns’ paper on AUSTLII: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/au/other/col/1999/25/index.html

    1857 saw the publication of an `analytical index’ which incorporated quotations of rulings and was the first to advert to the research possibilities of a citator rather than as a mere case validator. In the preface the user was encouraged to trace the history of legal principles through internal citations.[5]

    Little, Brown’s `United States Digest (New Series)’ of 1870 included cases digests as well as a `cases criticised’ table. West Publishing subsequently purchased the digest series from Little, Brown and in 1897 published the `American Digest Century Edition’. This comprised case digests classified under the West’s key numbering system. This work was limited to the direct history of cases rather than subsequent judicial treatment.

    Professor Peoples correctly cites to Edwin Surrency’s work, which has all of the history, but gets the Canadian anecdote wrong it seems