Updating a lawyer, the looseleaf way

Author: Jose Kunju

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What’s in a name?

“Looseleaf” is a funny name! I heard it first in 2005. That was the year that Newgen’s Chennai office was given a law book for typesetting for the first time by a prominent US legal publisher. Having typeset reasonably well (or so we thought), the book was given to a proofreader, who rejected the book out of hand, declaring that it was completely absurd and wrong.

And she had her reasons, all of them absolutely indisputable.

First of all, the proofs lack continuity and therefore make no sense. Content pieces jump from one point to the other like a drunk monkey.

There are a lot of white spaces, several blank verso pages, and ever so many pages that are half empty or even just a quarter filled.

Base lines are never aligned, a great sin in the world of typesetters, a world in which a deep page is a deep sin and a short page is a severe shortcoming.

Page numbers are neither Arabic nor Roman -- instead, they seem to be complex mathematical equations or, worse, a piece of Java script. Can you believe that “1352.1-xxiv/C-b” is a page number, and that the next page is simply “1353”?

Running heads are running out of control. Even though it was a law book, we couldn’t find the law the running heads follow.

Orphans and widows were abundant in the proofs. We are generally compassionate to them, but not when we typeset.

And so … the proofreader rejected the proofs.

But when we looked at the sample given to us by the client, which had been published just a year earlier, it was equally “ugly.” Oh my God, that’s how they published it earlier too!

And then slowly but surely the mysteries were revealed to us. We discovered the brave new world of looseleaf books and supplements, the most common and effective way legal content gets updated and published.

Law is something that changes as often as law makers decide to do so. It also undergoes changes associated with the judgments of courts. Rules and regulations evolve and/or change as a consequence. Overall, it is a very dynamic domain as far as the associated content and literature are concerned.

That’s where the looseleaf plays a vital role.

Looseleafs give us the marvelous journey (to misquote Cavafy)

The story of looseleafs begins with R P Ettinger when he was working with Charles William Gerstenberg in 1913 as a law clerk in Brooklyn, NY. They wrote a book on the topic of corporate finance and published the book on credit.

But, unfortunately, they were stuck with a lot of unsold books because of rapid and drastic changes of law, which meant that their writings were outdated as soon as they were printed. The perplexed but intelligent Ettinger tried to re-work the books: he drilled holes through the unsold books and converted each into a three ring-binder; he then removed the outdated pages and replaced them with updated content. And that is how Ettinger created the first looseleaf book, which became a very popular type of binder in publishing in the later part of the 20th century.

As such, these looseleaf books are neither hard bound nor soft bound nor perfect bound. May be I should say they are very “imperfectly bound”!. After all, they are just an assembly of a lot of looseleafs in a three ring binder. The looseleaf book that a lawyer purchased originally may be very old, the original authors dead and gone, but some pages in the binder may be brand new. The book would be current and updated. There may come a day in the life of a looseleaf book when the only thing that has not changed is its binder. No worries, that’s how law behaves. Books are perpetual, but leaves (meaning pages) are not.

What do I do when I get a new book home delivered? I open it and enjoy the fresh smell of paper and printing ink. Intoxicating! In contrast, the lawyer (or, if she is busy, then her assistant) has to spend anything from half an hour to three hours in the laborious tasks of opening the shrink wrap and inter-filing the supplement pages into the parent content as soon as she receives the shipment -- page by page, without making a mistake. Poor guys, occupational hazard!

Why are looseleafs still so popular then?

The answer is currency of content coupled with cost effectiveness. In a typical law book, the changed content is usually between 6 to 16% of the entire book. Why should anybody pay for the full book again and again?

And publishers can keep their products as updated as they wish, as frequently as they want, by producing looseleafs.

Many of my lawyer friends vouch for this. One of them even expressed his happiness that all his marginal scribblings on the unaffected pages are preserved intact in a looseleaf.

Now, 16 years later, when Newgen manages millions of pages for thousands of looseleafs supplements of hundreds of legal products for many renowned legal publishers around the globe, and also helps in converting several of their bound books to looseleafs, this looseleaf journey has been well worth its walk.