The Gift to Law Publishing of the English Language

As someone of relatively proud Irish and Italian heritage, among others, no doubt, and while daily rejoicing in the good fortune of being able to have the City of London, England, as my primary place of work and residence, nevertheless, I would not necessarily put England and “Englishness” at the top of any preference lists. I value my many English friends, family members, colleagues, neighbours and acquaintances enormously and with much affection but I rate the place, apart from London, its history, traditions, political structures and culture, no higher than those of any other great country; I am content to take or leave it.

Having an interest and background in cross-border law publishing, however, puts the English language on a much higher plain, to the extent that one can be thought most fortunate to work in that milieu. Obviously, that is not in any way to diminish the equal importance of any other language in different and in general contexts. The dominance of English encourages complacency, of course, for law publishers in English-only speaking jurisdictions, in not having to bother too much with other languages but I find it difficult not to be astonished at the power and influence of the language. The many reasons for this fact are well-known and documented. In part, its importance serves to facilitate potentially valuable Common Law and globally applicable information publishing initiatives such as ICLR&D. The English language and its outcomes in the law can be hugely satisfying for those who can take its benefits and, no doubt, challenging and frustrating for many others. Maybe though, at the same time, it creates over-indulgent customers, in the face of the service standards of some of the vendors in the market.

Working in the traditions of English law and the Common Law, for purposes of publishing in support of them, there is nothing new or revelatory about this phenomenon. Thankfully, it just is as it is. However, looking slightly beyond, I consider the influence of the language to be even more impressive. I find myself in the role of an associate editor of a theoretical, open access law journal, published in Italy, entitled the Italian Law Journal. It is produced two or three times a year, each issue being enormous in size, its stated purpose being to “spread the study and to promote the criticism of Italian legal culture, fostering international academic debate among scholars of different traditions, particularly with regard to private law. The journal focuses on themes of legal theory, European law, comparative and international law, in order to reconsider the constitutional identity of Italian law and its institutions. It aims to disseminate knowledge and enhance awareness of the Italian legal heritage throughout the international community”.

Nor is there anything strange, unusual or surprising about having many publications with such objectives, especially coming from the rich historical, cultural, philosophical and legal tradition that is the Italian one and which would apply equally to those of other long-established jurisdictions. What I find fascinating is that every word contained in its bulky volumes is published, though rarely originated, in the English language. The vast majority of its articles appear to be written in their original language, normally Italian, by Italian academics and then each needs to be translated, checked and edited for delivery to the readership in the English language.

One has to wonder at the market around the world and especially in its country of origin for a journal of this kind, not in crude commercial terms but much more deeply, in those of scholarship and learning. Equally, leaving aside for present purposes the particular characteristics and needs of bilingual and multi-lingual jurisdictions such as Canada, Belgium, Switzerland and very many others, it would be hard to imagine, for example, an “English Law Journal” published exclusively in Italian or a “Brazilian Law Journal” published exclusively in Japanese. Other such examples, such as a “French Law Journal” and others, published in English, makes complete sense, of course, consequent upon different traditions. There are indeed many law journals around the world focusing on the laws of one but expressed in the language of another, but some are more exotic and less obvious than others; Italian law and the Italian language are different, in my view, a key factor being simple market forces.

I delight in the quality, depth, breadth and very existence of the Italian Law Journal and the courage and determination of those behind it. For me, the minor work that I am asked to do for it presents wonderful learning opportunities to discover something of the laws, legal traditions, jurisprudence and philosophies of another jurisdiction which interests me and to which I have a sense of belonging. Without the Italian Law Journal, I would be even less versed than I am on such topics as:

  • Carolene in Reverse. Contractual Interpretation for Dismantling the Dictatorship of ‘Discrete and Insular Minorities’ in Transnational Private Ordering Regimes
  • International Issues Regarding Surrogacy
  • For an Effective Improvement of Italian Institutions
  • Constitutional Reform and Constitutional Unity
  • Carlo Cattaneo and Gaetano Salvemini: The Modernity of Their Federalism.
  • The Recoverability of the Loss of the Right to Life as Such: a Brief European Overview
  • Claims-made insurance policies in Italy: the domestic story and suggestions from the UK, Canada and Australia
  • The protection of our image: between the right to one’s own image and the right of publicity
  • Reasonableness and balancing
  • Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Religious Freedom in European Contract Law. Some Food for Thought After Lee v. Ashers Bakery

It heartens me, in a world of reactionary forms of nationalism, populism, intolerance and the growing disregard for global harmony and well-being, that, conducted in a world language, exchanges of jurisprudential, regulatory and philosophical thinking continue to find an audience. It is a tribute to its success, however that was achieved over the centuries.

Perhaps there should be many more English language “Italian Law Journals” made available to us. It might be, as we read of “Bringing Sexy Back… To Legal Publishing”, that we can expect more of the quirky and minor interest material emerging. In general, I would be inclined to share the view that the existing law publishers, however much they are alleged to be thriving and responding to changes in modern legal practice, are not entirely up to the challenge. However, so long as court procedure makes it clear that “books are weapons”, particularly law books, that there are willing sellers and buyers of law-focused publishing assets, as we see in Habb Press/ Key Media’s purchase of a body of Thomson Reuters’ Canadian publications and there are legal experts, willing and able to write, there is hope.

My experience, for the most part, is that, despite the international nature of law and the success of such bodies as the International Bar Association, cross-border law publishing works to a limited extent only, especially beyond the range of the Common Law and, of course, the English language. This explains, in part, the international acquisition and more recently, disposal strategies of the major law publishers, as they have discovered many of the difficulties in finding multi-lingual markets for legal and regulatory content. All serious competitors, however, must have English language assets and one might hope that the acquisition by Spain’s vLex, of the UK’s Justis, predicted in 2017 in Profound Thoughts from a Visionary, will follow a unique and successful path. Maybe it helps to make the scenario of English language publishing which, in part, focuses on the law of a Civil Law jurisdiction whose language is not a global one, more meaningful. No doubt at some point the ever-changing “world language” baton will pass elsewhere, even if not to Spain or indeed Italy, but for now I am grateful that that is not yet the case.


  1. As always a very interesting column. My takeaway from this is the suggestion that legal publishers need to “think globally and act locally”. Indeed I think legal information would be enriched if legal thoughts, arguments etc. from diverse global jurisdictions were to be shared and discussed in publications to a local audience while giving a forum to new voices and points of view. Learning from each others failures and best practices would do much to benefit continuous legal education to contribute to our communities and societies making better decisions, and improving systems and institutions. Most publications are primarily insular in their content going over the same ground, such ground becomes worn over time after being continuously trodden and trampled. Its time for evolution to take place and to broaden the horizon. I don’t know about bringing sexy back (if sexy ever was the case) but legal publishing might find a new chic.

  2. Thanks, as ever, Verna.
    I couldn’t agree more, though of course I wonder if the money side matches to the ideal and if the market exists beyond academia and very specialist transnational firms. Perhaps, as I suggest in my next Slaw article, presently in draft under the heading “The Right Time to Buy or Sell Law Publishing Businesses”, vLex’s ambitions might extend to other parts of mainland and multi-lingual Europe, where perhaps some of the easier opportunities to begin to “think globally and act locally” exist.
    For my part, I’m a little dubious about “new chic”.