It was a pleasure to read of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries / Association canadienne des bibliotheques de droit 2020 Hugh Lawford Award for Excellence in Legal Publishing, to Emond Publishing, for LGBTQ2+ Law: Practice Issues and Analysis by Joanna Radbord, and to note with interest the other nominated books.
It might be arguable that until such time as, in their totality, extremely large bodies of in-depth secondary legal material, analysis and explanation are produced for and initially delivered directly to electronic media and updated permanently in real time, the book format is the most substantial and familiar repository of such content. The era of loose-leaf publishing and offline electronic content has passed; the question of primary and source content, including individual caselaw analysis is not discussed for present purposes. However, one might note the views expressed by Alisa Lazear and others in “Barriers to Accessing Legal Information”, on that subject.
The direction and pace of change are visible and measurable but there might be a concern that the traditional format only retains value in cash-cow terms but is not capable of delivering innovation. Put more directly, law publishing is now predominantly all about renewing previous editions and has lost or abandoned its ability and desire to create new secondary content.
The primary commercial reason seems obvious. Doing subsequent editions costs less and delivers greater returns than publishing first editions. There is less risk, lesser editorial, production, marketing and sales costs and the value and benefits of reselling to existing customers is much more appealing than having to find expensive new ones. Moreover, the process is something of a vicious cycle, to the extent that if there are inappropriate personnel and lack of training to develop new ideas, it is difficult to achieve positive results. In my efforts to verify those propositions, I sought to review what Irish and British law publishers were planning to publish around the present time and in the short-term future, in order to quantify how much of their effort is being placed on law publishing innovation of this genre. For the aspiring author wanting to have their expertise applied to the publication of a book and for those who might be focused on future directions in the law, whether or not the innovation channel is open might be a critical factor. If it is limited, prospective authors might be better advised to attach themselves to established books and to seek to assume author/editor responsibility for them in future editions. Of course, there is nothing new in this.
To classify consensually what are and are not legal/law books is problematic, so the solution was to establish rules and criteria for what areas of first edition book publishing would be examined. Those rules and criteria were:
- Concentration primarily on Black Letter Law, with a focus on authoritative legal analysis for practising lawyers and for scholarly research
- Ignore the whole area of the business of law and soft skills in legal practice, in part because, by implication, this content is not as fast-moving as the law itself, does not analyse and interpret law and cannot support frequent new editions so effectively
- Ignore festschrifts and similar works, books seemingly derived from conference proceedings, those developed from articles and those which are edited or, rather, curated by executive or consulting editors and are built upon, in loose terms, one author/editor per chapter
- Ignore special reports and books seemingly derived from academic theses, as the primary purpose of the latter content was to achieve a university degree rather than meet identified market needs
- Ignore all second and subsequent editions, including titles which are produced annually or more frequently
Reviewing only Irish and British law publishing was a pragmatic necessity; the main access to the various publishers’ intended outputs was by way of their web sites, each of which is different from the other in character, degree of helpfulness and quality of metadata. The review could not be called complete, for which apologies are offered, and might initially seem to indicate that not all the relevant publishers were included. However, upon investigation of some of them, it appeared that they had no plans whatsoever to publish in ways that met the search rules, to the extent that no relevant first editions were under way. The remainder were as follows; under each publisher’s name are their relevant forthcoming first editions:
Articles of Association for Charities and Not for Profit Organisations: Guidance and Precedents
Buying and Selling Private Companies in Ireland
Consumer and SME Credit Law in Ireland
Corporate Bankruptcy Law in China
European Court Procedure
Forced Marriage Law and Practice
Fracking: Law, Environment and Opinion
Fundamental Rights of Companies
Land Law of Northern Ireland
Law and Governance of Mining and Minerals
Maritime Cross-Border Insolvency under the UNCITRAL Model Law Regime
Nationality of Corporate Investors under International Investment Law
Private International Law of Authentic Instruments
Reconceptualising Corporate Compliance
Refugee and Asylum Law in Ireland
Regulation of Product Standards in World Trade Law
Cambridge University Press
Rules and Practices of International Investment Law and Arbitration
Informa/Routledge/Taylor & Francis
Class Actions in Privacy Law
Medical Treatment of Children and the Law
Perils of the Seas and Inherent Vice in Marine Insurance Law
Law Society Publishing
Matrimonial Finance Handbook
Open Justice and Privacy in Family Proceedings
Lexis Nexis UK (RELX)
Coroners’ Investigations and Inquests
Education Law Handbook
Oxford University Press
Competition Law and Antitrust
Internet Jurisdiction Law and Practice
Corporate Reorganization Law and Forces of Change
Right to a Fair Trial in International Law
Sweet and Maxwell (Thomson Reuters)
Dealing with Delay and Disruption on Construction Projects
Law of Artificial Intelligence
Public Authority Liability in Scotland
Rights, Powers and Remedies in Commercial Law
Scottish Criminal Courts Handbook
Sexual Offences and Scots Law
Wildy, Simmonds & Hill
Renewable Energy from Wind and Solar Power: Law and Regulation
Only around thirty-five titles emerged; no doubt some more could have been found, bringing the total to approximately fifty, to reflect a prospective six-month period. Such numbers might be thought to be impressive at this stage of market and technology maturity and given the size and character of these publishers’ customer bases. This, after all, includes London, a legal sector world leader. However, what I found surprising was the lack of innovative thinking expressed in terms of subject matter. For the most part, I found the various titles somewhat familiar and traditional, not going beyond the old boundaries of scholarship and practice; perhaps the rules and criteria underpinning the search was a factor. The choices, however, probably represent perceptions and experience as to what is most likely to deliver profit. There are one or two titles which focus on the likes of Internet law, artificial intelligence and fracking. Perhaps, though, one might have expected to see the words “Law, Practice and Procedure” attached to the Black Lives Matter, Me Too and other social justice movements and their issues, Brexit, foreign electronic interference in elections, state criminality, political and administrative corruption, pandemics and other topics which were little discussed not long ago. It was interesting to note recently the establishment of the Association of Pandemic Lawyers. Perhaps we shall soon see its flagship reference book.
An exception and addition to the above, whose purpose might be to prove the rule, can be found in what might be an aberration, viz. Law Brief Publishing, with its refreshingly baffling array of first editions, several Covid-19 related.
It is neither criticism nor praise of the Irish and British law publishing trade that it is on its particular direction of travel and evolution. For my part, I think that it makes complete sense to focus on activities that are more likely to deliver sound financial and commercial results. I would not hesitate to predict that if the above first editions are examined in a year or two, their publishers and authors will not be about to launch second editions in 80% or more of cases. Instead, those examples of undoubted scholarship and insight will become long remembered, much respected and loss-making warehouse fillers. Perhaps six or seven of the titles will find themselves in second editions; I imagine that those could be identified even now. That said, it would be a pleasure to be wrong in these predictions.
It is also no surprise that the two largest, most profitable and prestigious publishers are no longer the producers of the greatest number of new titles. They have moved on, with their sights, within professional markets, more on information software solutions and risk technology. As for others, CUP and OUP are not so much burdened with profit requirement and law publishing is not their main interest; Informa might be desperate, having suspended all Informa Law hardcopy publications due to the Covid-19 outbreak and while addressing the collapse of the exhibitions market, a problem shared with RELX, to find revenues from whatever sources it can; Bloomsbury may be driven more by Harry Potter-style commissioning culture, vigorous law conference attendance and youthful optimism.
Oxford University Press (OUP) has recently agreed a partnership with Wolters Kluwer Law and Business for the latter to host some of the former’s books on its online platforms, possibly reflecting the weakness of one in terms of online reach and the other in its lack of law book-based content and its evolution towards being an aggregator and curator rather than a publisher.
Meanwhile, other day-to-day and unsurprising law publishing events continue, among them CANLII’s call for book proposals for its publishing programme and, in Britain, Chambers & Partners’/ Inflexion Private Equity’s acquisition of Top 3 Legal, another online legal directory service. I struggle personally to appreciate the appeal of inherently volatile legal directory businesses but maybe £5m-£10m to the vendors, along with other benefits, speaks for itself. As to market leaders, Westlaw (Thomson Reuters) and Lexis Nexis (RELX), they appear to be in the spotlight once again for their business practices, this time allegedly selling personal data to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).