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Updating a Lawyer, the Looseleaf Way

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 lacked continuity and therefore made no sense. Content pieces jumped from one point to another like a drunken monkey.

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

Baselines were never aligned, which is a great sin in the world of typesetters, a world in which a deep page was a deep sin and a short page was a severe shortcoming.

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

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

Orphans and widows were abundant in the proofs. We were 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 got 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.

Looseleaf gives us the marvellous journey (to misquote Cavafy)

The story of looseleaf began 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 a book on credit.

Unfortunately, they were stuck with a lot of unsold books because of rapid and drastic changes in 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. Maybe I should say they are very “imperfectly bound”! After all, they are just an assembly of a lot of looseleaf pages in a three-ring binder. The looseleaf book that a lawyer purchased originally may be very old, the original authors may be 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 delivered home? 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 is looseleaf still so popular?

The answer is the currency of content coupled with cost-effectiveness. In a typical law book, the changed content is usually between 6% and 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 looseleaf books.

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 looseleaf 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 looseleaf products, this looseleaf journey has been well worth its walk.

This article was written by Mr Jose Kunju.


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