On the English side of the pond, LexisNexis’ 200 year anniversary seems to have coincided with AI hitting the very top of the hype curve, blockchain finding its way into the everyday Lexicon and increasing numbers of leading law firms opening their own tech accelerator hubs. These opportunities for lawyers, law firms, in-house teams, learning establishments and law students give us reason to think that we are experiencing the most significant innovations ever seen by lawyers.
One technology easily forgotten because of its pervasiveness was an innovation that dominated LexisNexis (previously Butterworths) during the first 160 years of our history but had already been available for 350 years before Henry Butterworth opened his bookstore in 1818. Johannes Guttenberg’s printing press was a major first step on a journey of democratizing information and transmitting it with ease and speed.
While the printing press had been developed in the mid-1400s, it was not until 1481 or 1482 when the first English law book was printed: Sir Thomas de Littleton’s Treatise on Tenures, which was written in French. Perhaps even more importantly, the first legislation was printed in 1483. Before then, the dissemination of legal information and ideas – including publishing law reports and instructional guides for solicitors and justices of the peace – was limited to a scribe’s accuracy and speed and therefore tended to be limited to those few in the Inns of Court who had access to manuscript copies.
The pre-printing press, “manuscript culture”, methods of recording and sharing information in notebooks or commonplace books and the direct conversations between lawyers made it challenging for those practising or upholding law to be sure that they were up-to-date with current legislation and practice. However the same methods also proved to be an ideal protectionist tool allowing (or perhaps even engineering) a major knowledge gap between those who had access to the law and those who didn’t. A lawyer’s value would regularly lie with just knowing what the law was, rather than how to apply the law. Of course this is no longer how a lawyer creates value and such a scenario seriously offends our current concepts of the Rule of Law since people cannot be truly equal if it is impossible for the majority to even know what the law is.
in any event, LexixNexis has created a short video as a tribute to the legal profession and how it has helped transform society over the past 200 years.
Hat tip: James Wilkinson, Head of Content Automation at LexisNexis UK.