Date Posted: June 2011
This essay introduces an interesting but nearly invisible artifact of American law: A promotional pamphlet titled Law Books by the Million: An account of the largest law-book house in the world, the home establishment of The National Reporter System and The American Digest System. It was produced by the West Publishing Company in 1901 and is reprinted in its entirety below at pages 311 to 339 of this issue of the Green Bag. Professor Robert Jarvis has quite rightly bemoaned the meager public information about John West, founder of the West Publishing Company and an important figure in American legal history. A similar, albeit less severe, paucity of information plagues the West Publishing Company itself (now owned by Thomson Reuters). There isn’t much out there about the company’s early years, and what little there is can be strangely difficult to get hold of. For example, the biggest single source of West history – William Marvin’s 1969 book, West Publishing Company: Origin, Growth, Leadership – is out of print, rare, and not available on the Internet. The same goes for The Publications of West Publishing Company and The Romance of Law Reporting: Serving the Bench and Bar, pamphlets published by West in 1901 and 1934 respectively. Law Books by the Million is nearly as hard to find, but at least it is in the library and in the public domain, and therefore susceptible to reproduction here. And it is worth the trouble and expense. Law Books by the Million provides a readable, richly illustrated narrative of the processes West used to create and disseminate its products in the early years (that is, the late 19th and early 20th centuries) of those simultaneously democratizing and costly, mutually reinforcing revolutions in American law: the expansion of the bar and the legal information explosion.