Simply put, legal textbooks are of little value to me as a legal practitioner. I know that sounds harsh but bear with me as I go through with you what I believe the problem is with current legal textbooks. As a legal practitioner, I recently wanted to increase my knowledge on the subject of data protection (and the protection of personal information) so I bought about 15 textbooks on the subject. They were a combination of both physical textbooks, and e-books or electronic books. Most of them were from England and Europe. I started reading all of them but to be honest, didn’t get very far reading any of them. I simply just found them to be of very little value despite the high price I paid for them.
Now I know that’s going to be hard to read for people who spend a lot of time and effort writing and publishing legal textbooks. So, I’m going to go into quite a bit of detail as to why I think there is little value and to give you some practical examples. Obviously, this is just my opinion and I’m very open to being convinced otherwise. Do you find legal textbooks useful? If you do, I’d love to hear from you.
Am I being overly critical and negative? Or maybe it is time for traditional legal textbooks or law books to evolve? There must be a better way to convey legal knowledge. I make some alternative suggestions at the end and thankfully most legal publishers have already moved in that direction.
They are outdated before they are even printed
Laws (like data protection laws) are developing and changing so fast that anything written about it needs to be able to be updated often.
They are often just a summary of what is in the source law itself
Often the author simply rewords the actual law in their own words. Often leaving out important bits and using slightly different words. The author is often trying to plain language the source law but they get it wrong and change the meaning of the law.
They are often badly structured so that they do not follow a logical flow
They often follow the structure or order of the articles or sections in the law. Laws are often inaccessible and cannot be read from beginning to end. If you’re trying to work out how a law impacts you and how to practically apply it, it seldom helps to read from beginning to end. Same goes for textbooks. I often can’t find what I’m looking for, especially with physical hard copy legal textbooks that I cannot search. For this reason, I prefer ebooks.
You can’t click on anything in them
Hyperlinks were and still are one of the greatest inventions of the world wide web. They enable a reader to explore things in more detail, to access referenced information quickly and to make connections between things. I’m prone to overusing hyperlinks when I write and I love clicking on them. There is nothing to click on in a textbook which just seems so old-fashioned.
They give very few practical examples
Often legal textbooks don’t give practical examples or case studies. They don’t include templates or tools that one can actually use to get the job done.
They don’t contain the really important key insights
The author is often a lawyer, lecturer or a consultant who makes a living out of charging for advising or consulting. Or a lecturer who gets paid to lecture to students. Authors don’t make a lot of money out of writing legal textbooks. The purpose of the law book is often to position the author as the expert in the field and encourage people and organisations to approach them for further advice and guidance. Because of this the author often leaves out the really valuable insights or bits that are needed to complete the job. Why include all your golden nuggets in a book that sells for a relatively low amount when you can charge high hourly rates for it?
They don’t help people solve real practical problems
Most importantly, legal textbooks seldom apply the law to the real world, which means they don’t help people to solve real problems.
They are in one media
Simply put – they are boring. There are no visual aids, no exercises, no videos, no pictures, no diagrams, no overviews, no summaries, no tools to help you digest and access a complex subject. You have to explore a topic in the multimedia fashion. You can’t have each of the different media separately looking at a specific topic. It should be topic focused and not media focused.
Eyeballs are looking elsewhere
Rightly or wrongly many people spend much of the day staring at their smartphone or at the laptop. If this is true, isn’t that where a legal textbook should be?
They don’t come at the topic through the different lenses that readers look through
Books have to be written with the reader in mind. Who is going to read the book? How do you make the content accessible for groups of different readers?
What are the alternatives?
What about bite-sized golden nuggets of legal information in two-minute videos? What about short digestible articles in html that deal with a specific topic and contain key insights (like GilesFiles)? What about online programmes? Or legal webinars? Or in person workshops? What about online awareness training or eLearning? Or legal podcasts? Or even industrial theatre?