Law in a Digital World

Law in a Digital World

Law in a Digital World

Law in a Digital World


The world of law is a world of information. Rules, judgments, decisions, interpretations, and agreements all involve using and communicating information. Today, we are experiencing a significant transition, from letters fixed on paper to information stored electronically. The digital era, where information is created, stored, and communicated electronically, is quickly approaching, if not already here. The future of law will no longer be found in impressive buildings and leather-bound books, but in small pieces of silicon, in streams of light, and in millions of miles of wires and cable. It will be a world of new relationships and greater possibilities for individual and group communication, an environment where the value of information increases as it is shared. In Law in a Digital world, M. Ethan Katsh explores how these new technologies will alter one of our most central institutions. He considers the different ways in which people will not only electronically read and write, but also interact with our vast storehouses of legal knowledge and information. He envisions how sounds and pictures will play into the largely imageless print world of law, and looks at the future importance of graphic and nontextual communication. He explores how the flexible, personalized organization of data will transform the way we gather information, and whether information can or cannot be contained, raising questions of copyright and privacy. What happens to the law when information is more plentiful and accessible? What happens to those people who suddenly have access to information never before available? Does the use of information in a new form change the institution, the user, and those who come in contact with the user? And, what role does the lawyer play in all of this? For citizens, for lawyers, for all those who will be part of the digital world rushing toward us, Katsh answers these questions while considering the implications of this new era.


In Life on the Mississippi,Mark Twain described his lifelong fascination with the Mississippi River and with the influence that the river had on the people and towns in the surrounding area. Through a series of stories and anecdotes about river life, Twain portrays the river not simply as a moving body of water, as a geographical entity, but as a dynamic component of life and culture in that time and place.

One of Twain's most telling experiences occurred when, as a young man, he was serving as an apprentice to a riverboat captain. While at the helm one day, Twain perceived danger lurking under the surface and, without consulting the captain, suddenly changed course. The captain, a man named Bixby, immediately asked him to account for his action and Twain replied that he had seen an underwater hazard, a bluff reef, just ahead. Bixby, however, declares that Twain has made a mistake and that he should resume the original course. Twain answers:

"But I saw it. It was as bluff as that one yonder."

"Just about. Run over it!"

"Do you give it as an order?"

"Yes. Run over it!"

"If I don't, I wish I may die."

"All right; I am taking the responsibility."

I was just as anxious to kill the boat, now, as I had been to save it before. I impressed my order upon my memory, to be used at the inquest, and made a straight break for the reef. As it disappeared under our bows I held my breath; but we slid over it like oil.

"Now, don't you see the difference? It wasn't any thing but a wind reef. The wind does that."

"So I see. But it is exactly like a bluff reef. How am I ever going to tell them apart?"

Bixby responds that he cannot really explain how to tell them apart but that "by and by you will just naturally know one from the other." For Twain, looking back on this some years later, "[i]t turned out to be . . .

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