Law Reporting and Legal Publishing 1872

Law Reporting and Legal Publishing 1872

Law Reporting and Legal Publishing 1872
West Publishing was founded in 1872, and in 1896 moved to the West Publishing Company building that still stands at 50 W Kellogg Blvd.Courtesy Thomson Reuters – Law Reporting and Legal Publishing 1872

John Briggs West (1852–1922)

West began working as a salesperson for the D.D. Merrill Book Store in Saint Paul, Minnesota, when he was 18 years old. He was neither a lawyer nor a college graduate. The store carried law books among other things, and West learned about frontier attorneys’ discontent with the quality and availability of legal materials. West started his own company as “John B. West, Publisher and Book Seller” in 1872, reprinting legal treatises, publishing legal forms, and providing a much-appreciated index to Minnesota legislation.

In 1899, he unexpectedly departed the West Publishing Company and founded the Keefe-Davidson Law Book Company, making derogatory remarks about the West key-number digest method in the process. However, his new company lost a significant case within a decade and went out of business. He moved to southern California after retiring.

West Publishing Co. has had a leadership position in the area of indexing and reporting court judgments, from the United States Supreme Court on down, and is a pervasive and irreplaceable presence in the legal publishing sector. Its creation of the Key Number System, a way of carefully collecting and summarizing the thousands of legal judgements issued each year, is perhaps its most important and valuable accomplishment. The usage of this indexing grid by attorneys grew so widespread that it effectively changed the adversarial and adjudicatory procedures in the United States.

The Key Number System, which is more than a century old, is still the most widely used and respected legal assistance in the business, thanks to such extensive and frequently updated series as the American Digest System and the National Reporter System. West has battled to preserve its position as a leading information access firm in the age of computer-assisted and CD-ROM technologies, but it is still regarded first and foremost as the top legal book publisher. Its three principal publishing divisions—Law Books, Law School, and College and School—combine to generate nearly 55 million individual volumes and pamphlets each year, an incredible legacy given the firm’s humble beginnings.


The Government Printing Office (1861);

The United States Code (1926);

The Federal Register (1936).


Law Reporting and Legal Publishing 1872

John Briggs West

The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)