The end of print? Not yet!

Looseleafs still have their fans

Our series on “Law publishing – the end of print?” was launched with an article by Nick Holmes in the May/June 2011 issue. He suggested that particular types of print are under threat – particularly looseleaf.

In the September/October 2011 issue, we carried responses from several key legal publishers, in particular Chris Hendry of Thomson Reuters, Cara Annett of LexisNexis and Masoud Gerami of Justis. They had different points of view, but there was a strong consensus that online resources – and particularly ebooks – were an important part of the future.

This was followed, in the November/December 2011 issue, with an impassioned plea from Ruth Bird, Bodleian Law Librarian, that we should “hasten slowly” towards online resources, particularly where they make the printed materials uneconomic to produce. Some English Statutes in the library have withstood the ravages of time for 500 years whereas electronic formats have changed 4 or 5 times in the last 25 years. What hope of permanence for the next 500 years?

In one of our CPD courses this year, in a chapter on the issues raised in the “The end of print?” series, Nick Holmes and I asked the question “Tell us frankly what you think (good or bad) about looseleaf services” and added “This is a genuine question. We’d really like to know!” Here are the first 30 answers we received to this question, with no selection and little editing, reprinted with the participants’ permission. Whilst there are widely differing opinions, it would appear that looseleaf services still have their fans.

The practitioners’ views

A1: The advantage they have is that they are in paper form (which I still find easier to read than reading from a screen) and unlike a textbook are able to be updated to take account of developments in the law. However, those advantages are outweighed by the disadvantages: 1) they are a major chore to keep up to date and the updating process runs the risks of errors (especially if done by administrative staff who may not notice). There is nothing more frustrating than thinking you are working from the up to date version only to discover that part of what you have read is out of date! 2) They are also expensive.

A2: As an employment law barrister I used to use Harveys in looseleaf form. It was cumbersome and awkward on a practical level and costly to update. I now use Butterworths online. As a chambers we get a good discount and I much prefer the online work as I can easily search and cut and paste!!

A3: I find them very useful and reliable – they are simple to update and allow regular updating. I only need one or two though so the updating is not a chore.

A4: Up-to-date, more paper-efficient than a print out and easier on the eye than a computer screen.

A5: I contribute to a looseleaf but I do not like them. They are often heavy, overburdened with uninteresting materials better accessed elsewhere, expensive and time-consuming to maintain. A textbook which has reasonably regular update volumes (eg Chitty, White Book) is often not much worse off.

A6: I agree with those who say that looseleaf services are a tool of the past. They are not user-friendly: heavy, not easy to navigate, tiresome to photocopy and require regular labour intensive updates, which is not necessarily done promptly by busy library staff (I once personally subscribed to a looseleaf on insurance law and could not understand the filing instructions at all). On the other hand, they do sometimes contain material which is not available elsewhere. I welcome the prospect of hard copy looseleafs being replaced by an online version which offers hyperlinks to related materials and does not require updating by the ultimate user.

A7: An advantage of a looseleaf service is that current, new information can be added to the existing materials, on a regular basis. However, I have found it has taken up a lot of the time of our legal department support staff (and sometimes myself) to follow the complicated filing instructions when new inserts are received.

A8: Usually an expensive initial outlay, but more cost-effective and practical long-term. However, web resources are (usually) better still.

A9: I subscribe to 3 personally. Disadvantages: Considerable expense. Updating is a considerable chore. 1 of the 3 has legislation and other material available elsewhere which is unnecessary additional bulk and cost. Advantages: I prefer hard copy for research and sustained reading. Essential content updated fairly reliable. And although the whole is not portable it is easy to take out needed pages and have them copied.

A10: Whilst it can sometimes help to have a physical hard copy in front of you, I tend to agree with the criticisms of looseleaf services made by Susannah Tredwell and Jason Wilson. The inability to search and edit documents is another major drawback.

A11: They seem to have had their day. I have not used one for some time now, preferring to use the web to carry out research.

A12: My experience was that the updating of looseleaf services was neglected or given to an articled clerk who does not know how to perform the task. Careful monitoring is required to ensure accuracy.

A13: The benefit was keeping the particular topic reasonably up-to date. The disadvantage, apart from the cost, was, more so if one had a number of different topics, the time spent in up-dating the new pages.

A14: Looseleaf services were a good way of keeping up to date with a particular subject but the service was quite expensive and it was quite time consuming to update the new pages and nowadays a lot of the content is available on line for free.

A15: Would never buy a new one – totally obsolete – but will continue using existing ones until becomes uneconomic to update.

A16: I like them and they remain my preference over electronic copies, although electronic has a place too. The looseleaf can be a nuisance to update but I always update my own as the user.

A17: I think that they need to be updated too frequently; that this is very time-consuming and requires close attention to get the new page numbering right. But if updates are added correctly, the materials are always up to date.

A18: I am a fan of the general looseleaf format; it is useful to have a variety of resources eg pages and pamphlets updated in one resource. However, paper looseleaf resources are bulky, cumbersome to use and time consuming in comparison to online services. I see looseleaf systems being rendered obsolete by online resources in the future.

A19: I like looseleaf services as it is easy to extract relevant parts of text to copy and make notes on, carry to court etc.

A20: Not a fan of looseleaf services. Find it difficult and awkward to update frequently. Would prefer a print book with periodic updates eg twice yearly or print book supplemented by online updates

A21: It is costly and time consuming to insert the looseleaf and the possibility of losing it in the process if not inserted immediately. May run into volumes after few months or weeks. Discontinuing with subscription makes it useless.

A22: Outdated. Can become fiddly on updating. Much prefer online based resources.

A23: Had their day.

A24: It’s an outdated technology. Good in the past to keep up to date (better than textbooks which were often out of date when published) but now far too much work when compared to new online alternatives which are automatically kept up to date.

A25: Archaic! – who would want to organise looseleaf collections when information is available at a click of a button on the internet.

A26: I think that they are useful. I now work from home so I cannot afford too many books. Tolleys Company Law is essential for me although I am getting better at using online resources. Basically I am a “dinosaur” and used to and prefer books when you can flip backwards and forwards!

A27: I have recently subscribed to Woodfall online whereas I previously used only the looseleaf service. The online access is much more convenient (I can use it at home and in Chambers) and it clearly takes up less space. I do prefer, however, to research using the index in the looseleaf rather than using the online search function – the online search brings up too many results. This may just be a question of familiarity with the software and my research behaviour will probably change with use.

A28: I have always found looseleafs to be an excellent resource when they are kept up to date. However, the updating is a real hassle – takes time and costs money to get done; also, there is always the possibility that it gets done wrongly and so you end up reading or relying upon an out of date page unknowingly.

A29: Access to up to date material is essential for practitioners. Looseleaf services are an expensive and logistically cumbersome way to provide that service, but in my view are much better than separate annual supplements which quickly mean that you need to read multiple books instead of just one. Annual updates would be more effectively provided by keeping books in soft-cover on cheaper paper and reprinting them every year. But web-based books that could be updated more frequently and be searched electronically and from which extracts could easily be printed would far more effectively provide what is required.

A30: Looseleaf services are expensive to own personally. When shared or in Chambers, they cannot be accessed by multiple people simultaneously. They are personally labour intensive to update. On a positive note, when they are available and comprehensively updated they are very useful. In particular, I find Kemp and Kemp useful for assessing general damages. However, on balance this could all be done as easily and cheaper online.

Delia Venables is joint Editor of the Newsletter.