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New Collection in the Archives: “The Practical Lawyer” Editorial Office Files

January 28, 2011

In 1953, ALI-ABA, the continuing legal education program jointly run by the American Law Institute and the American Bar Association, set out to develop a periodical that would impart knowledge to temper the day-to-day challenges of practicing law.  Unlike legal treatises and law reviews, which explored the theoretical underpinnings of the law, this journal aimed to provide articles, advice, and other newsworthy items that would help a lawyer make his way in the world.This idea became a reality in January 1955 when ALI-ABA published the first issue of “The Practical Lawyer.”  In the periodical’s opening address to its readership, George Wharton Pepper (the organization’s Council Chair and a past president of the American Law Institute, as well as a former Penn Law professor) characterized his ideal legal expert, one that “The Practical Lawyer” hoped to educate and cultivate as follows:

Somebody, with a flair for sarcasm, has defined a jurist as a man familiar with the laws of all countries except his own.  If there is an element of truth in this definition it is because the student of foreign law is apt to conceive of it as a field for intellectual exercise rather than as a body of principles and rules for guidance and control of every-day human life.  On the other hand, the lawyer in active practice knows that the law is something to do as well as something to know.  He is a fortunate man if he can maintain a just balance between these two aspects of his profession.

It is this sort of balance – the intersection of theory and practice – that “The Practical Lawyer” has endeavored to cultivate since the first issue.  Published regularly for over 50 years, the periodical has run the gamut of topics germane to lawyers, including expert treatments of emerging issues in the law, advice for running a more economical and efficient practice, help with keeping current on technological trends, and suggestions for extracurricular activities while on holiday.  In short, the articles in “The Practical Lawyer” reflect, to an extent, the complex nature of its target audience.

As custodian for the American Law Institute Archives, the Biddle Law Library maintains a historical collection of the editorial office files of “The Practical Lawyer.”  These records include correspondence with contributors, drafts of articles that the periodical’s editors’ accepted for publication, rejected articles, public relations materials, and page proofs.  (The finding aid for this collection is located here.)

The slideshow above features some of these items and helps illustrate the range of topics covered month-to-month in this publication.  Some of the topics might seem a little outdated to 21st century eyes–especially quaint is an article explaining the emerging frontier of  “word processors.”  However, a closer, more sincere perspective on this collection reveals a genuine effort to help lawyers represent their clients to the best extent possible.  And, as is the case with the article on liabilities for “data base operators,” some of these authors were at the cutting edge of next-generation litigation.

Enjoy our selection of “The Practical Lawyer” images.  If you’d like to learn more about this collection, contact Jordon Steele or stop by the Archives.