Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Who's Right? West or Me?

I am hoping readers can provide some empirical data in a series of disagreements I have been having with West Publishing Company in connection with my new 6,700 page treatise on copyright, due out the first of January. My theory is that West is dead wrong about what is useful to its customers or doesn’t care because it believes that if it brands its books like cattle with endless references to West somehow this is good advertising. I could be wrong; it could be West knows very well what research tools are useful to its customers and my objections are ill-founded and ill-tempered. If my theory is wrong I will quit abusing my long-suffering and abused attorney editor, an outstanding individual who deserves much much better. If I am right, I will get bragging rights, but given West’s corporate attitude I am skeptical anything will change: West’s attitude appears to be "there’s the right way, there’s the wrong way, and then there’s West’s way."

Let me be very clear that none of this has to do with substantive issues: on all substantive issues West has been extremely generous in letting me write the book I wanted , for which I am deeply grateful, while my attorney editor has provided incredibly helpful suggestions and corrections. My issues lie elsewhere, in the deeply nerdy issues of the use of key numbering, key cites, and citation forms, things which excite very few, maybe only me. The issues do go, however, to how we use online versus print versions of books and so may be of some general interest.

The print versus online distinction is a critical issue although not the only one, but let’s start with it. For the print version, my strong preference is to have no key cites or key numbering; none, no where; they cannot conceivably perform any useful function: slapping key cites or key numbering on a print version is an useless as you know what on a bull. You can’t link to anything. West asserts that people looking at the print version then go online and use the key cite or key number. I find that a fantastic assertion: how many people would put down the print version only to then go online and use the key cite or key numbering function, especially in a book like this which is 6,700 pages of fanatical detail? But even if such an individual exists, the actual key cites or key numbers are at such a level of insipid generality that I cannot imagine them ever being useful, but if so, they are never useful in a book of this sort where you have the print version right in front of you: there is nothing, absolutely nothing that you will learn by going just to the key cites or key numbering. To me it is the crassest form of cattle branding; utterly useless, and I think West knows it too. Am I correct, or am I exaggerating? Is there anyone who has ever been reading the print version of a comprehensive treatise and then gone online just to use key cites or key numbering (I am not talking about using them if you start your research online and are not using the print version).

But assuming there is such a person, to actually be useful, the key numbering would have to actually lead to someone useful. In my case, the key numbers could not be more useless. For example, Chapter 1 is an historical review; there are 111 sections, spanning 406 single spaced printed pages. The issues cover the entire history of copyright from Renaissance Italy to the Congress that just adjourned. For every section other than the first (which is no better), that is 110 times in a row, regardless of the subject matter of the section, there is the same key number: "West’s Key Number Digest, Copyrights and Intellectual Property 1,2." Of course, neither key number discusses anything covered in those 406 pages. Is this useful to you? Do you think it should be in the print version? Would you think West is telling you that those key numbers are useful to you in reading the sections they are inserted into? (And then there is in every chapter an enormous block of text explaining 25 times what KeyCite is, more useless, blatant advertising). My view is that the print version should be pristine: no reference guides, no references to KeyCite or key numbering.

For the online version, I assume some people (hopefully a very small number) use key cites or key numbers, so I have not taken the position that they should be totally banned as I think they must be from the print version. But in the online version, should key numbers and cites be strewn throughout every section in the book, as they are? Or, should they be used intelligently, say after West has determined by looking at a key number that there is relevant material in it? Use of the same key number: "West’s Key Number Digest, Copyrights and Intellectual Property 1,2" 110 times in a row where there is nothing of any relevance in 1 or 2 cannot possibly be helpful. It is instead banner advertising, relentlessly thrown up in every section. If you are going to do advertising, do it intelligently, make it relevant: that is an important reason why Google outperforms Yahoo: Google’s serving up of ads is tightly targeted: 110 repetitions of the same useless key number takes the opposite approach. My view is either make something useful or don’t do it, or come clean: "we know the key numbers aren’t useful, but we want to do advertising." OK, then why not really do advertising? Why not sell space to law firms, for example, that specialize in particular areas? For example, in a discussion of architectural works, LBK in Houston could run an ad. Someone who specialized in sampling could run an ad in that section. In short, do it right and be honest.

Citations are the next issue. For books and articles, I had inserted the first name of the author: West deleted them. The trend in legal scholarship is toward greater information, not less, for example even including middle names. Should the first names be present or not? Parallel cites are the next issue. If there is an a F Supp, F3d cite, that is all there should be in my opinion. If there isn’t such a report of a case, I think there should be a Westlaw cite so you can link on to it. West’s approach is to put a CCH cite first, then Westlaw usually without a pinpoint cite, which I had inserted but which was stripped out. Very few people use CCH and it is not linkable from Westlaw. It is placed first because of a bizarre view that CCH is a "published" form while Westlaw is unpublished. I say take out the CCH and in all cases provide the pinpoint cite. West also has what I regard as an equally bizarre citation form for older court of appeals decisions. The present court of appeals were created in 1981, but co-existed with the circuit courts until 1911. West’s form of citing to these older circuit court opinions (and I believe well past 1911) is X v. Y, 222 F. 222 (C.C.A. 1st Cir. 1906). That makes no sense, the C.C.A. being duplicative of Cir.). Another issue is repetition of the case name. I find this wholly unnecessary: if a case name is stated in the text, say X v. Y, West, in the first footnote and every other footnote, repeats the full name of the case and full cite. My view is that if the name is given in the text, it should not be repeated in the footnote and certainly not for every footnote thereafter.

There are other issues, but this is more than enough. Weigh in and tell me who has the better
arguments: am I kvetching about trivia that no one in their right mind cares about, or does it matter?


John S. said...

Prof. Patry,

Here are a few thoughts from a law student intending to use your treatise in future practice.

The only time I really have used anything in print is when, as a journal citechecker, I had to find hard copies. I never used keycite numbers for anything, and I agree they are page pollution.

As for the online version, any key number should only be included if clicking it would take me directly to something useful. Will including keycites everywhere in your treatise would ensure that your treatise would come up when one uses keycite on a case to be sure it is current? If including more keycites somehow made this more accurate, it would be worth it. If I am looking at the Arriba Soft case, for instance, and want to know what your take is, I'd really like the link from the case report to go directly to a part of the treatise that discusses it. If it takes me to the treatise's 400 page chapter on fair use, that's not very helpful at all.

As for citations, I'd like to see bluebook form - so the full names of authors, the federal reporter cites, pinpoints, and "id" where the case is already cited. I know not everyone uses bluebook form but it's all I use thus far, and for consistency's sake I appreciate sources that use it as well. On that same note, I'd like West's "copy with reference" function to include a properly formed bluebook citation, if they are able to do that.

One more point about pinpoint citations in footnotes - I'd really like to be able to click on a link and be taken not only to a case, but to the specific page in the case that you cited. Without pinpoints, this seems trickier.

Anonymous said...

But even if such an individual exists, the actual key cites or key numbers are at such a level of insipid generality that I cannot imagine them ever being useful, but if so, they are never useful in a book of this sort where you have the print version right in front of you: there is nothing, absolutely nothing that you will learn by going just to the key cites or key numbering. To me it is the crassest form of cattle branding; utterly useless, and I think West knows it too. Am I correct, or am I exaggerating? Is there anyone who has ever been reading the print version of a comprehensive treatise and then gone online just to use key cites or key numbering (I am not talking about using them if you start your research online and are not using the print version).

If I understand the issue correctly, I believe I will have to side with West. Let me clarify some terms as I understand them. First, a KeyCite on Westlaw, as I understand it, refers to a list of authorities that cite the parent authority on which the KeyCite was performed (in addition to cases or statute history). For example, yesterday I performed a KeyCite on my state’s Dead Man’s Statute. The KeyCite results gave me citing references and legislative history actions on the statute.

Second, the West Key Numbering System is an entirely different beast altogether. Again, as I understand it, West attaches Key Numbers to a variety of legal topics and sub-topics. These numbers appear in treatises and, more importantly, in cases that discuss the particular topics. I have on my shelf a print copy of West’s Analysis of American Law: Guide to the American Digest System, which was given to me by the area West Rep. This book contains a topic and sub-topic break down of everything in the West Key Numbering System. It’s a handy starting point when I need one. I take the Key Number on a given topic, log on to Westlaw and perform a Key Search using that number. I can then narrow the search results to find a case with some analogous facts.

Now, consider that I purchase Patry on Copyright and West does not include their Key Numbers as you request. I pull Patry on Copyright off my bookshelf because I paid the premium to have to book on my shelf and I don’t want to run up the firm’s bill searching it online at the premium West’s charges for such treatises. And, I hate reading off the computer screen. I take a look at your chapter on works made for hire. I find a great analysis of the law in their and you’ve cited CCNV v. Reid for the particular proposition that I’m interested in. However, I’d like to take a look at some other fact patterns and maybe find something more analogous to my particular issue or find a case that stands for the same proposition and has been ruled on by my particular circuit or district court. If there are no Key Numbers in the book, I hop on Westlaw and KeyCite CCNV v. Reid or perform a custom search looking for the particular issue.

However, if Patry on Copyright includes West’s Key Numbering System for the appropriate topic. I hop on Westlaw and punch in a Key Search and – bam – I’ve got my relevant search results. I’ve used this method on several occasions – going from a West hardcopy publication to a Key Search online via the Key Numbering System. Aside from the treatise itself, I get relevant cases that have discussed the issues tagged in the treatise by the Key Number. I can even filter those results to include only certain types of authority.

I think my two key (no pun intended) points are:

If I pay several hundred dollars for a hard copy of a treatise, I am not going to incur fees on Westlaw to search that treatise for Key Numbers.

If I’m reading a treatise and find my issue, it is easier for me to research further by punching in a Key Search rather than starting from scratch with a case or custom search – I don’t need a treatise for the latter.

I hope these comments are helpful.



xianesq said...

I agree with Eric. Key Numbers are helpful even in print. Say a generalist wants every case in the EDVA dealing with a broad topic, copyright preemption. The treatise will tell you what the law is, but the partner wants the copies of the cases in their cold hands. Not the best, or most illustrative case, but the best case in their court or from a particular judge. Type the key number for copyright preemption into Westlaw, limit your search to the EDVA, out come most cases in the EDVA that touch on preemption.

kww said...

I wonder if this discussion will be divided by law student & practitioner? As a law student, I immediately agreed with everything john s. said. I hadn't considered the billing issues that the practitioners brought up. With free Westlaw and Lexis access, my initial thoughts were that I would hate to have a book littered with the key numbers. I just want a case cite, and then I use my Westlaw certification skills to jump online and click the numbers if I so desire. I don't know the different subscription models, but I can't imagine that it would be that much more expensive to perform the hypothetical searches that the above commenters suggested.

If this book is meant to be a hallowed treatise, then I have to agree with Prof. Patry. The branding would cheapen it - at least in perception. It would tend to show sponsorship and make it seem more like one of the pulp-paper practice guides that they churn out to us.

We get loads of Westlaw and Lexis material at school, and the ResultsPlus keyrings, Lexis bottle openers, and other frills have gotten ridiculous. It's like Coke and Pepsi. Give me a cite and let me run with it. I can learn about the features from the printed literature West provides. I don't want to see it in a volume of books that I will no doubt display with pride.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I side with Patry. I work in academia. Keycites are useless in print. They are rarely useful in electronic media, except in the sorts of situations john s. describes.

I also like bluebook style citation because it provides all the information you need in a clear manner, but not repetitive information. The only time I sometimes dislike bluebook style is the excessive use of ids, where you have to go back, and back, and back, to find the original cite.

You only appreciate the bluebook once you've read enough social science literature. No pincites in many cases, useless paragraph insertions that lead to a long list of endnotes - horrid.

Stand strong, professor.

Berne Baby, Berne said...

My recommendation is to lighten up. Some people do find key cites useful when using treatises for research. I usually read the cases cited in footnotes because I don't always agree with the interpretation given by the author of the treatise. Key cites allow someone to check a digest and find cases on the topic of interest, including those cases that did not exist at the time the treatise was written. So even if relevant material doesn't exist now, it may in the future. Also, digests are a very useful research tool and I don't see key numbers as advertising.

The issue over citations is not a big deal in my opinion and the citations to the minor reporters are useful to some people. When I was in house, the law library did not carry the official reporters and citations to the secondary reporters that we did have were helpful. As you said, more information is better. Likewise, the issue over names is getting a bit picky. As long as people can find the cited work, first names are unnecessary.

I do a fair amount of publishing law and literary agenting and feel you should be grateful that you have an editor who cares about the book and a publisher that is getting the book out in timely manner. Many writers would be thrilled to be in your circumstances. It is not as if you have an editor who is changing material to reflect his point of view or a designer who wants a 2-inch by 17-inch page layout with a pink mylar cover bearing a semi-nude likeness of the author. The things that West is doing with the book will likely be helpful to some, neutral to many, and annoying to a very few.

Finally, congratulations. I am looking forward to citing your treatise some day.

Crosbie Fitch said...

Write two books: one a pleasure to read (with no interruptions like this in the flow), and one as a reference.

Make the book people like reading the hardback and flog it for $50 and provide it with a copyleft license.

Make the book people don't read for pleasure, the one used for reference (with all the cross-referencing, citations, footnotes, etc.), available online for free and with a copyleft license, and also publish it in hardback for $100.

The online version has all the functional hyperlinks embedded into it as well.

You sell millions of copies of your $50 hardback book. And thousands of copies of your $100 book.

Why? Because people who want to read it, will want to read the most readable version which is the $50 hb.

And the online availability and proliferation of the xref version and its many uses brings your work to the attention of many people who consequently want to read it - and will eagerly pick the more readable version.

"Ah", you might say, "What's to stop someone printing their own books from the online version?"

Nothing. So what?

Firstly, any competitor will likely produce a paperback 'student' version of the unreadable xref book. Which you don't need to compete with (it's online for free anyway). This won't steal sales from your 'prestige' customers who'd prefer the real McCoy (or at least a good fake).

Secondly, there'd be quite a bit of work to strip out all the cross referencing, citations, and footnotes to produce a readable equivalent. And again, this would likely be a cheap paperback with low margin - not worth producing in the first place.

Moreover, anyone who does attempt to exploit the copyleft licenses knows that they must compete with everyone else doing the same. This creates a barrier to entry all by itself.

Using copyleft licenses also gets you a bit of notoriety.

Apart from God and his scribes, there aren't many who've done this sort of thing before, so you'd be in good company. ;-)

Werner Sabo said...

I agree with Berne Baby. Lighten up. While it might not be aesthetic to have all those key cites in print, I don't care. I can easily skip over them. Online, they are useful. If I can use a keycite in a book only one time, it will be worth it.

I do agree with Prof. Patry that cites need to be more, rather than less, specific.

The bottom line is that most practitioners use these works to find the right cases. A good treatise that supports your point of view becomes additional authority. As long as I can find what I want as easily as possible, I am happy.

Werner Sabo

Anonymous said...

Keycite information could, big stress on could, be useful in print. However, they really ought to be infrequent, inconspicuous, very relevant, and only included where there is significantly more information than disclosed in the treatise.

As for citations, I say: drop the parallel cites, include only pinpoint cites, and provide more non-duplicative information.

In both cases this goes to pure readability. If you've written 6700 pages, there's no reason to make it any longer than it has to be.

Anonymous said...

I'm a copyright law practitioner who uses Westlaw and will likely get a copy of the treatise. In my opinion:

1. West key cites are worthless and should be removed.

2. Just use bluebook cites. What is CCH, anyway?

Lincoln Bandlow said...


Key notes are a waste. CCH is a waste. Nuff said.

Now, a section including photographs of your tennis shoe collection, that would be "value added"!


Erik said...

Another law student here. While Key Cites might be useful, I think it is important that they not get in the way of the reading experience. It may be a good idea to actually include an appendix for the key cites, organized in parallel to the chapters and sections. That way after reading a section, a reader could flip to the back of the book and have all of the Key Cites in one place.

My assumption is that the book will be consulted to gain an understanding of a particular area of copyright. A reader interested in specific Key Cite information would then get online and make use of the Key Cites. Segmenting the book reading from the Key Cite lookups makes sense to me. When I'm reading from the book, I don't want to have redundant information that is not immediately useful getting in my way. When I'm going online, I want clearly listed Key Cites so I can quickly zero in on what I want to find.

Mixing the Key Cites with the text makes the text and the Key Cites less effective, in my opinion. As a desciple of Tufte, I agree with Professor Patry. How the information is presented is extremely important. I wish more treatise and textbook authors would pay attention to this critical aspect of publishing. If this were a 20-page fluff piece for the ABA Journal, it would be one thing. But this is a treatise - a monumental effort by anyone's standards. I wouldn't want to "lighten up" if it were my work. I'd want it to be as useful as possible.

john noble said...

Patry said: Use of the same key number: "West’s Key Number Digest, Copyrights and Intellectual Property 1,2" 110 times in a row where there is nothing of any relevance in 1 or 2 cannot possibly be helpful.

I think you are missing the point, and unless I am, I can't believe West hasn't pointed out that the objective is provide access to your 110 sections through the keynote system. They don't want to take the reader of the book to the keynotes, they want to take the user of the keynotes to your book.

While I agree with you on most of the citation issues, I think they have a fair argument in wanting to use the same conventions, consistently, in all of their published works. The one that I especially appreciate is the replication of the case name in each footnote. "Id.'s" are annoying when you have to go back to the text, and then scan upward for the last full cite to figure out what it refers to.

William Patry said...

Thanks to all for so many great comments. I have found them very useful (including John Noble's point about the reciprocal direction of KeyCites).

My main hang-up is the print version, which I wish to be be an uncluttered reading experience. I regard the print version as the authentic version, not in the sense of any difference in content (there isn't any) but in the way in which I personally want to appear to the reader.

I accept that the online version is different. For online, I think we have been conditioned to ignore clutter. For example, even on Google's internal email, we have ads run on the side just like gmail. I never look at them, although I have spoken to people at Google who find them helpful: for example, someone is going to a different city and ads for services in that city are run.

What interests me intellectually is the different expectations at least that I have for print verus online. Maybe that's because I grew up in the pre-Internet era and still use any print version I have of something over any online version of the same thing (unless I want to search for particular terms, in which the onine version is usually much quicker). That said, the overwhelming amount of my research is online and the book is a very different and I hope better book because of the scope and type of material that is available online.

It used to be that lawyers limited their research to Westlaw, LEXIS, or hard copy. Now, I use just as much if not more, web search. For that I expect a different experience than reading print, some better some worse. Online, I expect links if available, but I tolerate a generaly unattractive presentation and ads. For print, I still have the belief that it should be an uncluttered and I would say "pure" exprience. So my difficulties come from what I see as mixing these two.

More accurately though much of this goes back to the days even before Westlaw or LEXIS when research was done through print indices, when some people did research through indices or services like AmJur. I found and still find that frightening; to me, it is a sort of Cliffs Notes way to practice law. I have lived my research career by doing everything myself (I have never used research assistants or associates for anything: I research and write 100% of everything myself)
and by reading all original sources. The idea of doing research through indices, AmJur, KeyCites or key numbers seems to me incredibly shallow and dangerous.And I write that way too: I want to provide everything in one place: it is inconceivable to me that one could read my book and find anything useful from such research tools (one can of course find lots more from other writers. I am not saying I am the final word on anything), so I find such research tools a complete nuisance and therefore abject advertising.

But not everyone does. Just as I feed my cats meat even though I have been a vegetarian for over 30 years, so too my interest is in providing things that are useful to others, so I am deeply grateful to learn directly from readers what they find useful. In the end, it is being helpful to others that matter.

Anonymous said...

"I have lived my research career by doing everything myself (I have never used research assistants or associates for anything: I research and write 100% of everything myself)
and by reading all original sources. The idea of doing research through indices, AmJur, KeyCites or key numbers seems to me incredibly shallow and dangerous.And I write that way too: I want to provide everything in one place"

Hear, hear. This is how it should be done. And the only way it can be done exceptionally well.

This explains (well, in addition to your innate intellectual brilliance and dislike of half-measures) why you fail to fall into the trap of perpetuating the many myths that litter legal scholarship.

It also explains why you are one of my rare 'trusted sources' (even though I still go back and read all the primary and secondary sources myself, as well).

I can't tell you how many times I have read a cited document, and found, to my dismay, that what it was cited for - well, it simply did not say. Mostly in law, but also in other social sciences as well. Today, it seems that we have so much to read that is new, many of us cannot be bothered to go back and read the cannon, or the cases.

I agree as well on the issue of real differences being necessary, and useful, in print vs electronic media. A simply example: when I want to read something to learn the substance, I always use JSTOR or Hein - their pdfs are indispensible for providing a format that is easy to read, and the fns are always on the bottom of each page where they shoudl be. This makes a huge difference in how digestible the information is. For quickly finding something specific, I always use lexis, because most pdfs still aren't searchable.

Simple difference, but it has a huge impact when you have to read, and process, several lengthy papers per day.

William Patry said...

Thanks so much Anonymous. I too am I big fan of JSTOR and Hein.

Bruce Boyden said...

I may easily be atypical, but I get some value out of key numbers, even in print treatises -- it sometimes saves me a step in going to the digests, particularly if the relevant key number is not obvious. Of course, your example is a bit loaded -- your treatise is "comprehensive," the digest section in question is useless, it's repeated ad infinitum, and there are unlikely to be "new developments" for that section. It seems exceedingly unlikely that "Copyright 1,2" is going to help anyone. But I can't imagine all 4 of those conditions will hold for every other section of your treatise.

As for the disdain for digests, I'm not sure I understand what drives that. Are you saying the only good way to do research on any subject is to read every single case ever decided in the field? Or are you concerned that some people may read ONLY the digest and not check the actual cases? Of course the latter practice is extremely dangerous; but hopefully most people consulting digests (or headnotes online) are more careful than that.

William Patry said...


Thanks for your comments. I would say my basic point is this: one either does one's own research or you rely on others' research be it research assistants, digests, and key numbers' all of those are someone else's take on something. I prefer to do my own digging. I am not comfortable with other's description of cases, although I do read thousands of books and law review articles that describe cases, and frequently go to a case because someone else says the case stands for a given proposition. And I have changed my take countless times on cases after reading someone else's analysis that was more insightful than my own original understanding, but in such case I would have also done my own research but have found it research faulty.
My other reason for doing my own research (whether not using a digest, key number, or research assistant) is that cases almost always have multiple issues, and those issues may themselves be interesting or teach me things. By relying on others' research, you are cutting yourself off from knowledge you would otherwise miss.

Dean C. Rowan said...

At the outset, I agree with those who side with West on this. Nevertheless, to my mind there is a great deal of misunderstanding reflected in this post and some of the comments, and I could spend a lot of time and space reflecting on the themes: users' "expectations" of print versus online reading, the optimum citation style, efficient legal research, etc. Instead, I'll spend—and consequently waste—much less.

However one regards the expansive West Empire of law publishing, attaching a key number to a section is not "branding." Key numbers may have been applied unthinkingly, automatically, mistakenly, or obsessively, but they are a component of the vestige of a system of legal research, a system that is quite evidently falling out of favor. You claim that Copyright and Intellectual Property 1 and 2 have nothing to say relative to the sections in your book to which they have been affixed. That's certainly a good reason to dispute their assignment, just as you might disagree with terms used in an index to your work—I always find Wests indexes a little arcane—but not to regard the key number system (or an index) itself as redundant or gratuitous or merely self-serving.

I searched Westlaw's ALLFEDS for 99k1 and retrieved 171 cases. A couple points here: first, I had to look up Copyright and Intellectual Property in the print West's Analysis of American Law to learn that 99 is the corresponding search element (although I could have discovered this online, too); and second, it is entirely possible that none of the 171 cases has anything to do with your historical survey of copyright. If West is going to include key numbers in each section of your book, they ought to indicate the appropriate term for online searching, namely, 99k... And, again, you ought to dispute the assignment of those particular numbers to those particular sections, but not necessarily the wholesale removal of all numbers from your text, including the useful ones. Number 1, by the way, is "Nature of statutory copyright," and 2 is "Constitutional and statutory provisions." The former was assigned to headnote 12 of Stewart v. Abend, 495 U.S. 207, 229 (1990), which includes a paragraph very briefly discussing the Acts of 1790, 1831, 1909, and 1976. That's not so far a stretch from relevance, it seems to me, although I doubt anybody should or would actually read Stewart v. Abend for more history of copyright. In other words, I don't dispute that most of the 110 occurrences of these key numbers are useless.

Now, as a law librarian—neither a student nor a practitioner—who was introduced to the profession over twenty years ago, I tend to look for these research hooks. Coincidentally, just yesterday afternoon on the reference desk, a library patron came to me with a printout of a page from a West title constellated with key numbers, asking what to do next, where to find more about these topics, either online or in print. In other words, people do use them, and the print versus online distinction is perhaps not yet so critical, much as we'd like to think the 'net has allowed us to transcend the material world.

There are others who care about all of this. Try, for example, many of the law review articles by Bob Berring, who has written extensively about the key number system, its history, achievements, and decline in the face of faithful, sometimes misguided reliance on keyword searching. Try, too, Dan Dabney, who has written a bit about it, but who has also been one of West's prime developers of the system. Yes, it's arcane and oblique, but it has proven useful when properly deployed. I continue to do some (certainly not all) research online by identifying relevant cases (through keyword searching, a citation in a book, the Patry Blog, what have you), noting relevant headnotes, reviewing the structure of the key number system, and rerunning a search for promising key numbers along with refining keywords. Sometimes I'll find the first relevant case by restricting the search to the headnotes, from which I often find all that I need. This phenomenon doesn't argue so strongly for the numbering system, which I've circumvented, but it at least depends on its systematic effect.

One additional comment about print versus online vis-à-vis your treatise's "6,700 pages of fanatical detail": alas, it’s only 6,700 pages. Tomorrow another case will be decided. One enduring satisfaction for the reader of your treatise, I trust, will be clarity of understanding and ample detailed evidence to demonstrate it. Over time, and until the next edition, another satisfaction will wane, namely, the sense of familiarity with recent developments. This is where the online realm complements the print, and the key numbers just might be the best hook into the online system for some searches.

I'm taken with some of the very interesting, sometimes very telling comments in response to your post. The student, kww, for example, who seems genuinely to admire the notion of a "hallowed treatise," has shone a very bright line between online tools ("Give me a cite and let me run with it") and books ("that I will no doubt display with pride"). Literature, even legal literature, and information technologies are far more complicated than that simple taxonomy suggests. I suspect one reason books are viewed as holy is the perception that they are bygone, extraordinary, and not only about history but, shortly, merely of it.

I disagree with the anonymous academic who admires Bluebook style. It's laconic at best, not very helpful when it comes to literatures outside mainstream domestic legal sources, but the issue he or she notes—streams of ids.—is actually addressed in the Bluebook. See rule 10.9, for example, which provides that law review footnotes to cases may use the short form (id.) "if it clearly identifies a case that . . . is cited . . . in a manner such that it can be readily found in one of the preceding five footnotes." There is a similar provision for statutes (12.9). For books, etc., there is no analogous provision, but I imagine this has to do with an expectation that one would not write an article by citing passage after passage from another book or article in the way one might reasonably do so in an intensive analysis of a case or statute.

The CCH bashing simply fails to recognize or remember how important that publisher once was for legal research and current awareness. The remark about JSTOR and HeinOnline uniformly posting the footnotes at the bottom of the page "where they should be" is incorrect. Precisely because these are databases of scanned full-text articles, the footnotes (or endnotes) will fall where the respective journal's citation style has deposited them. Granted, folks who read exclusively the meat-and-potatoes law reviews via these services will not care that other styles emerge in other disciplines' citation practices.

My point in nit-picking about these comments relating to citation style and legal publication is that I think they suggest how evolving practices of online research and reading are shifting not users' "expectations"—to the contrary, the comments about style are indicative of misunderstandings of what is or once was prescribed, not of conscious expectations—but their default criteria for judging the authority of information. Ultimately, we won't need citation styles, partly because we're learning for better or worse not to use them, but also because a robust web will render rigorous style unnecessary. One will not need to decode a citation in a text and then hunt down the referent, but will link transparently to the authority.

Zvi Rosen said...

I don't have too much to add to what's already been discussed - I'm inclined to agree with your points, but some commenters on the other side are interesting also.

Regarding old Circuit cases though, I agree that West's policy is completely unnecessary. While the circuits existed from 1789, cases coming from Circuit Courts at the trial level are cited C.C.[insert district].D., and not as coming from the broader circuit, at least in my experience. As such, a cite to the broader circuit could only refer to the circuit court of appeals. Just my two cents.

William Patry said...

Thnaks so much for your very thorough comments, and it is quite helpful to hear from the trenches of law libarians. I did the posting to learn how products are actually used, and I am most grateful for all the responses.

In your example of the printout, that must have been from the online version, whereas my objection is to use of key numbering and key cite in the print version. I think in fact most of your comments refer to the online version (like linking). I view the print version differently, and what has been helpful to me (and probably more to West) is that other than me and the trusty law students, others don't seem as hung-up; of course, it is not others' books that are being plastered with ads.

Dean C. Rowan said...

In fact, the printout was a photocopy of a page of a book. I did indeed refer a good deal to the online environment in my comment, but I did so to emphasize its complementarity with the book world. I do understand the resistance to brazen advertising—the ubiquitous reminders about KeyCite, for instance—but I nevertheless think the key number references are not the same. They comprise a systematic tool, albeit one that is not always properly deployed.

Ray Dowd said...

Dear Prof. Patry:

1. Don't forget the "Battle of the Books" in 6th Century Ireland. "to every cow her calf, to every book its copy." 3,000 are said to have died over that ruling.

2. in conducting general research on copyright cases, I found that West's combining copyright with trademarks, patents and other IP in its key numbering system to be a real nuisance in performing meaningful word searches on Westlaw.

I look forward to reading your treatise. In print, cover to cover.

Ray Dowd

Anonymous said...

To the librarian: My comments about citation style are based on what has been useful to me in my job as an academic.

I spend enough of my time reading social science literature to know that I prefer fns, pincites and abbreviations to parentheticals, endnotes, and full but useless titles. In the end, I know what most abbreviations stand for; I cannot know where a missing pincite is, and mucking about in endnotes is frustrating and awkward. It wastes my time, and leaves me without needed information.

I've never had any trouble finding material outside law cited in legal work. In fact, non-legal work predominates in what I do.

I only speak to what has been useful for me, and I only started to like the bluebook once I moved into the social science literature.