Ten Years of Writing for Slaw and Filling the Gaps in Legal Publishing

Ten Years of Writing for Slaw and Filling the Gaps in Legal Publishing
  • Sarah A. Sutherland

  • June 15, 2023

Yesterday marked the ten year anniversary of my first regular Slaw column. I don’t think I could have guessed I would still be writing it after so much time, and it’s gratifying to hear when people say that they read my pieces. Having a venue where I can write regularly has been a gift for me as I enjoy being able to work out what I think on a subject and writing provides that space.

Slaw fills a gap for a communal interdisciplinary publication that is not filled by more orderly venues. It is thanks to Simon Fodden’s vision and Steve Matthews’ stewardship that Slaw exists and continues to flourish after eighteen years. The addition of American contributors and influence that Slaw has in organizations like the American Association of Law Libraries shows that it provides a model that people in other countries admire.

Collaboration and allowing people to bring their own expertise and interests creates opportunities to share insights that wouldn’t otherwise have a venue. And the conversations among contributors bring more than single voices would. As a writer, it also gives the benefit of being able to have access to a platform with wide readership while only requiring content every two months. This advantage should definitely not be overlooked.

All of the legal information resources we have access to today are the result of someone (or group of people) seeing a gap and deciding to fill it. Here are a few examples:

A list in a piece this size can’t be exhaustive, but if you can think of examples I’ve missed please add them in the comments. The point is that these were all just ideas until someone decided to pursue them.

Looking at the current landscape and deciding that everything we need has been invented or that we need to accept the holes where we need things we don’t have is a mistake. We also can’t rely on established organizations to do everything — they already have mandates and business models which influence their direction. The fact they are established gives them resources to draw on, but it also limits what they can do.

So let’s see what we can build going forward together.

One of the opportunities I am exploring is the idea that crowdfunding using Kickstarter is a way that the community could direct the development of tools we need that aren’t being created in existing systems. I am starting with asking for funds to develop a book on statistics for law libraries, because this is a topic that is relevant for many organizations, and we don’t have industry standards. You can read more about that project here.

Image of book covers for "Leveraging Statistics in Law Libraries"

But the important thing in writing that post is not that project in particular (well I confess it’s important to me, but that’s another issue). There are many models for how resources can be funded and created. I hope that we will explore them both individually and together. We don’t have to take what is provided by others passively. The tools to create are becoming more accessible as time goes on, and I hope that we will develop new ways to use them.

If you don’t have an idea, you can look at what others are doing and see how you can help: early customers or beta testers for new initiatives can make a big difference in how successful a project is. You never know, in eighteen years you may look as prescient as Simon Chester who was the first person who wasn’t Simon Fodden to post on Slaw. You can read his post “Librarians Will Always Be Needed ” from July 22, 2005, here.

My grandfather was a professor, and he says that for every paper he read he would write a short note to the author thanking them for their work and sharing their insight. Letting authors know that you appreciate what they’ve written is an important way to help make sure that new content continues to be produced. These all contribute to creating a vibrant system for information sharing and platform development.

This post was originally published in Slaw magazine on June 15, 2023.