The Electronic Battle: Print vs. Online

Jeff Albert
June 5, 2008 — 1,031 views  

In a world where computer databases are fast replacing legal books, and blogs (and now podcasts) are beginning to replace in-person lectures as a means of obtaining up-to-date legal news and views, it is interesting that books like Ron Mallen and Jeffrey M. Smith’s “Legal Malpractice” have survived.

Struggling to emulate technology which now provides updates instantly through RSS feeds, the authors make clear that they seek to include every published appellate case on legal malpractice and to address malpractice avoidance with increasing thoroughness, while continuing to throw in their own commentary amidst their dissection of thousands of cases and emerging trends. The problem is, of course, organizing such a rapidly expanding expanse of case law, especially when it comes to many areas of our increasingly specialized and internationalized practice.

Consequently, it continues to be difficult to piece together their treatment of issues in each of the contexts in which those issues arise even with extensive cross-referencing and a helpful table of each jurisdiction’s cases.

The issue is just how to maintain the currency of the realm, access to knowledge of this important field of jurisprudence as it unfolds throughout the United States. To this point, continuing legal education lectures presented face-to-face have often supplemented the 19th century textbook form. More recently, videoconferences, now often transmitted over the Internet, have begun to provide the critical link between up-to-date knowledge and immediacy.

Just as those authors struggle to give heed to the useful Restatement of the Law (Third), Law Governing Lawyers, published in 2000, and other works in the field, the medium of providing effective access to personal knowledge must be continually reexamined. Perhaps, this issue is nowhere better illustrated than the somewhat ossified rules of the American Law Institute which conclude the work of the presumably exhausted reporters on the date the final draft of a Restatement is approved, giving contemporary commentators only pocket part annotations as a means of assessing the continued viability of the Restatement’s work product as measured against new jurisprudence and scholarship.

Even the “ABA/BNA LAWYERS MANUAL ON PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT,” through hard volume and monthly subscriber updates (including review pieces on important developments), and Geoffrey Hazard and William Hodes’s “LAW OF LAWYERING: A HANDBOOK ON THE MODEL RULES OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT” (3d ed. 2004), with semi-annual supplements, and their focus on ethics while providing continuing and important resources for attorneys confronting these issues, cannot keep the pace of updating both law and commentary.

Given all of this new jurisprudence, although the 2005 Mallen and Smith edition is critical to gaining an understanding of the world of legal malpractice, the ticket to our future understanding may well lie elsewhere, through blogs and podcasts. Time will only tell.

Jeff Albert

McKissock & Hoffman, P.C.