125 Years Ago

December 1887: The Law Journal editors looked forward to the first volume of The Complete Digest, which proposed to publish every six months a digest of every American case reported during the period in any weekly reporter and also of important English and Canadian cases, synopses of statutes and references to articles and essays and to notes on the current cases. “It is very satisfactory to know that you have in one digest a reference to all the various sets of reports in the country,” they said.

100 Years Ago

December 1912: N.Y. Supreme Court Justice William Howard lamented in a speech: “There are too many laws, too many courts, too many appeals, too many technicalities. Nobody knows the law. Nobody can know the law. In these days a law library would fill a barn. The human mind cannot comprehend such a mass of stuff, and its bulk is increasing at an appalling rate. Judges, governors and legislators are working at a feverish pace making law books. Under such conditions, who can know the law?”

75 Years Ago

December 9, 1937: A man convicted of failing to tell the federal Emergency Relief Administration, from which he received unemployment benefits, that he had secured temporary work faced loss of his liquor license. Alcoholic Beverage Commissioner D. Frederick Burnett showed leniency, saying: “It was not right; it was not straight; it was fraud. But what was the picture confronting him? A wife, two infant children, $4.50 a week for the four of them plus a daily bottle of milk. … Society’s interests do not demand that he be punished beyond the sixty days he spent in jail.”

50 Years Ago

December 6, 1962: In a speech in Chicago on the application of computerized “retrieval machines” to legal research, Los Angeles lawyer Reed Lawlor predicted that electronic data might be the long-sought antidote to the ever-growing corpus of case law. He cited other attempts in history that failed, such as Sparta lawgiver Lyscurgus invalidating all written laws and Rome’s adoption in 426 A.D. of a law limiting citable authority to five named jurists. Rome fell just 50 years later, he noted.

25 Years Ago

December 10, 1987: The state Supreme Court’s Committee on Attorney Advertising ruled billboard advertising by lawyers was ethical, as long as the ads did not “depend upon absurdity” or “demonstrate a clear and intentional lack of relevance to the selection of counsel.” Some firms were already using billboards, such as Pellettieri, Rabstein & Altman, which proclaimed on two in Trenton, “Going to court is hardball.”