Lost Law and Looseleaf Treatises

The other day I had an interesting conversation with another attorney about some research he was performing. The lawyer needed to know what the leading treatises of different eras had provided about the subject he was studying.

Apparently, it was easy to figure out what the treatises of the 1800s up through the 1940s had said; this information was, and remains, right there in the books, which survive to this day.

But, my friend said, it was much more difficult to grasp the state of the law (as related by treatises) in the 1950s and 1960s. The reason being, at around that time, several publishers either started to produce “looseleaf” treatises, or switched over to this format.    (The lawyers among you know what a “looseleaf” treatise is — a treatise where subscribers have to replace a few dozen pages each year to keep it current.) Apparently, neither the publishers nor leading libraries have kept the pages that were swapped out of these treatises on a periodic basis in order to keep them current. The loss of these pages has made the law of this era somewhat of a blank slate, at least in areas (such as transactional law) where there wasn’t very much caselaw to fill in the gaps.

Anyway, I had never heard of this problem before. So I thought I would pass it along.

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