West American Digest System - History

History

The problem of finding cases on a particular topic was a large problem for the rapidly growing American legal system of the 19th century. John B. West, the founder of West Publishing, described this problem in his article A multiplicity of reports. To solve the problem, he developed a system with two major parts. First, his company published cases in many American jurisdictions in bound volumes called reporters (the West National Reporter System now covers all state and federal courts). Second, he put together a classification system in which he divided the law into major categories which he called topics (such as "Contracts"). He then created hundreds of subcategories. To save space in printing, these were given a number called a key number. He then applied this "topic and key number" system to the cases he published. The key number is identified in the books with a key number and a key symbol graphic.

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