Go Westlaw, young man
I worked for West Publishing in the '60s when it was still on Kellogg in St. Paul ("Westlaw Rules," 4/29/09). It was immensely wealthy. How would you like to have a product that never ends (every month there are new cases), you know exactly who is going to buy it, they make a lot of money with it, and they have to buy it from you? At that time there was a real fear of a monopoly investigation: There were 13 law book publishers in America, and West secretly owned 11 of them.
Anyway, here is a tale that has made me chuckle for 40 years: We had a book that just wasn't selling, and the sales department was going crazy trying to push them out the door. Finally, a suggestion was made to change the cover and make it part of the California practice series. There are a lot of lawyers in California and virtually all of them had this series, which resembled, as I recall, a green encyclopedia. So how could we send all these California lawyers this book that they hadn't ordered and make them pay for it? Well, normally if you get something that you didn't order in the mail you can throw it away without paying, but there is an exception if the item is part of a series that you already bought. In that case, the recipient must either pay for the unsolicited item or send it back. In order to keep these attorneys from sending back this expensive book that nobody wanted, a new kind of box was designed with a strange diagonal "zipper." Once unzipped, the cardboard laid flat with many fold lines and became a real puzzle. Its purpose was simply to be impossible to put back together once the box was opened! After having their secretaries struggle with it for awhile, virtually every attorney in California gave up and decided it was easier to just send a check.
Bigger than the Mall of America
Kudos on the Westlaw article. What an excellent article done by Erin Carlyle about the quiet giant living right in the suburbs. As a law librarian, I use Westlaw every day. I had the opportunity to tour the West "campus" a few years ago and could not get over the sheer size of the facility—larger than the Mall of America (I wish that I had worn my sneakers for the tour). I was truly amazed at the amount of brainpower, legal information, and security all under one roof!
Big on the internet
Thank you for your excellent article on Westlaw. The Minnesota State Bar Association listserv has shown a uniformly positive response from practicing lawyers.
The dark side of Westlaw
I read your cover story in the April 29 issue. Guess you guys didn't know about how that company is laying off a lot of hardworking Minnesotans and moving jobs overseas to places like India and the Philippines? Adding insult to injury, many of the people who will lose their jobs are having to train their replacements! Very interesting that a publication like yours would leave out such details, especially when so many good people are losing their jobs to corporate greed. Your article talks about how much profit they make compared to other companies! I mean, what else might keep a company like that from moving jobs overseas if publications like yours won't help keep them honest? If this article is news, then shouldn't the layoffs also be news? You should do a little follow-up article, don't you think?
I noticed in the Dan Lacey article in this week's City Pages ("Flipping Sides,"5/28/09) that the "Faithmole" illustration was incorrectly attributed to my good friend Ken Avidor, when it was actually part of a Cartoonist Conspiracy (cartoonistconspiracy.com) jam comic that Ken participated in . Ken had passed this information on to the author of the article, but apparently it was forgotten or misplaced, as often happens. I believe Ken and I were the only ones who worked on the page, although I may be wrong. Anyone is welcome to draw anywhere in the jam at our twice-a-month jam comics sessions (first Thursdays at Diamond's Coffee in NE Minneapolis, third Thursdays at Cosmic Coffee in St. Paul). Jam comics, for those who don't know, are collaborative comics drawn by passing pages around a table and having different cartoonists improvise what happens next on them. I drew Faithmole, her dialogue, and some of the logo, and Ken did everything else, I think (including the gorgeous coloring, which you can see on the Conspiracy site).