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legal research, classification systems, West Digest, nineteenth century legal history, Robert C. Berring


Robert C. Berring has called West Publishing Company’s American Digest System “the key aspect of the new form of legal literature” that West and other publishers developed in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Berring argued that West’s digests provided practicing lawyers not only the means for locating precedential cases, but a “paradigm for thinking about the law itself” that influenced American lawyers until the development of online legal research systems in the 1970s. This article discusses questions raised by Berring’s scholarship, and examines the late nineteenth and early twentieth century legal environment in which the West digests were created and became essential research tools for American lawyers.


This is a preprint of an article accepted for publication in Legal Reference Services Quarterly (2014),which is available at:

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Classification, Legal research, National reporter system, Robert C. Berring, Law reports, digests, etc., Law--History