I love my ipod, I really do. I have scores of songs on the tiny wonder and I can access any with a couple of clicks on the wheel. But I still have my old Bang & Olufsen turntable, a dinosaur purchased with my earnings from the audio boutique store job I worked during college. I still occasionally pull out a 9-inch black plastic disk and go through the process of balancing the arm, cleaning the vinyl and enduring those warm pops and clicks for the four or five tracks per side. Portable, it is not. One milk crate full of albums is enough to set your back out of whack for a week. If I want to reminisce about my college days, I put on an album. If I want my music fast, easy and with me, the ipod is the answer.
I am not surprised that people might be intrigued by the concept of eBooks, but remain afraid or unwilling to part with their beloved paper and ink bricks gathering dust on the bookshelf? While it is relatively easy to justify your purchase and retention of that 4 inch by 7 inch by 3 inch fiction work snagged at the airport for the two hour flight, the scales start tipping when one considers that the average student carries pounds of textbooks with average prices ranging in the hundreds per semester. This is where eBooks really start interesting me.
The debate about eBooks has raged in the student textbook arena for some time now. What has me wondering aloud (or rather in print) is the application of eBooks and technology, such as Amazon’s Kindle, to professional reference materials for lawyers.
Back in the day, law firms maintained traditional libraries, ranging from a few necessary collections of the local statutes and practice guides, to more complex room-filling stacks of multi-volume treatises, annotated forms, administrative resources, federal and multi-state statutes and other specialty materials. These books take up a lot of space and a lot of budget room – much of a firm’s overhead can be spent on maintaining the collection, the space and the updates as laws and precedent change.
Modern legal research is conducted in the electronic realm and Internet-based or on-line research is now outstripping traditional book research. On-line database searching is great for many applications, but still requires a computer. What if each lawyer could have access to a piece of hardware roughly the size of a notebook, that could immediately and wirelessly download whatever legal reference book or treatise the lawyer desired in a fully updated and searchable form? How might that change a lawyer’s ability to conduct research and stay on top of a particular subject on the spot?
Librarians already have accepted eBooks for reference materials – commentary dedicated to the subject is easily found on the Web. Sue Polanka at No Shelf Required maintains a blog on this topic, which I found very interesting and informative. A post dedicated to the evolution of the reference eBook can be found here. The post describes some of the logistics surrounding the maintenance of the reference eBook library. Clearly, the concept is contemplated and is being put into action.
Nonetheless, a visit to West / Thompson’s web site failed to reveal a process for electronic subscription to their books, other than their traditional Westlaw product. Instead, you can still buy print or cd-rom versions of popular reference books and treatises, such as Couch on Insurance, Miller & Starr on California Real Estate and Norton on Bankruptcy for hundreds and even thousands of dollars. I could be wrong (and please feel free to point out if I am) but I could see no evidence that West is offering or even contemplating an eBook-type product / subscription option for electronic readers, such as Kindle. A search on Amazon for legal research books for the Kindle yields this meager list of 18 entries.
Why not? I don’t necessarily want to be burdened with a full blown Westlaw search if I am in court on a bankruptcy matter and need some quick help? In this Brave New World of surgically precise information available yesterday, why should I have to wait for my answer? What if I could have the most current version of the pertinent treatise available on my little electronic notebook so that I could search Norton and pull up the pertinent point of law with annotations right away. What if I am in a settlement conference and need legal support quickly? And, with a device like Kindle, I still have free on-line access to the Internet so I can access all my other on-line database resources too. Check out this nice review of what Kindle can do at elanso.
I see a niche in the legal profession for a product like this and I am wondering if anyone else does too. Is there something already out there that answers this type of need? Or is this coming down the same pipeline as products such as Kindle, Sony Reader or Apple’s Tablet?
My reality is that 99.99999% of my reading pertains to my legal practice and involves cases, statutes and treatises. I wouldn’t buy a Kindle for that rare foray into reading for entertainment. I want to know when I can get my hands on a “quick and dirty” portal to legal information in a truly portable and easily-manipulated package? With the recent potshots by free legal resources aimed at the Big Two’s bread and butter, shouldn’t Westlaw and Lexis and their publishing parents be considering new vectors for their research materials? Seems to me that eBooks might be an interesting way for these mighty legal publishers to distinguish themselves and remain competitive.