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The West Digest System is Your Friend

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Rarely does a day go past without someone coming into our law libraries frustrated as can be: “I just spent #$% hours online and I can’t find what I need.” In the law librarian version of “breathe deeply,” we talk and walk the attorney through the search, more often than not taking them back to the origins of the West Digest System.*

Say what you will about the business-customer (vs. business-shareholder) side of Thomson-Reuters print and online services (and I surely won’t stop you), the legal research premise (or taxonomy, to be more precise) on which the original West Digest System is based is a thing of beauty. (See also West Digest System, from Wikipedia.)

The West Digest taxonomy (as remarkable as Roget’s Five Classes, the periodic table of the elements, and our 26 letters of the alphabet or even the Ten Commandments) is comprised of only seven topics – amazing:

Persons
Property
Contracts
Torts
Crimes
Remedies
Government

No law librarian would give up online databases or the web, let alone Google, but we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater either.

* Oddly, or maybe not, it’s extremely difficult to find on the Thomson Reuters website any history of the beginnings of the former West Publishing Company’s Digest taxonomy, which is to this day one of the core strengths of Westlaw, not an insignificant money maker I dare say for the present parent company.