Sunday, July 21, 2013

Legal literature and the environment

Mark Weiner's post, "The Sound of One Book Clapping", artfully raises (at the end) the issue of the direct, material effects of the legal system and legal practices on the environment. My sense is that the effects of legal publishing on natural resources such as forests and water have been relatively marginal in the context of the publishing industry as a whole, but maybe that's not the case? Have societies at various times preferred particular types of papers, inks, or other inputs into the legal system with a distinct environmental footprint?

courtesy Harvard Law School Library

The post also raises the related issue of how the environment may have enabled or constrained changes in legal culture. The books exemplified by the rare abridgment highlighted in Weiner's video were the result not only of new print technology and ways of thinking about the law, but of the availability of wood and other raw materials, particular types of energy sources, and the like.

Having worked briefly in a law firm in a tree-poor country some time ago, it is clear to me that legal drafting practices today are tightly tied to the availability of cheap, imported paper. In contrast, as I work today with files of an Attorney-General's office from World War II, the scarcity of resources leaps out of every tissue-paper or recycled page. I think of Brian Simpson's excellent article on the history of the legal treatise; what additional insights into the history of legal literature and legal thought might be gained from considering the environmental dimensions of the legal system?

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