Author Spotlight: Richard Leiter

Author's Spotlight jstanley

This month we feature Richard Leiter, author of National Survey of State Laws.

Richard will also be presenting on this  title at the Hein Booth (#203) at AALL on Monday, July 20 at 11:00 AM! Be sure to stop by if you’re attending! View the full schedule here »

Guest post:

This seventh edition was a long time coming. It’s a story that demands telling of the book’s genesis as a title for Gale Research, back when the company was independent and known as one of the premier publishers of reference works for libraries. After the first edition was published in 1993, it went on to receive rave reviews and quickly became a standard reference work as attested by its inclusion in the January 1995 Wilson Library Quarterly’s list of “Field Tested Reference Resources” and its recognition by the New York Public Library as one of the year’s Outstanding Reference Resources in March 1994. The book’s success surprised everyone and the first edition ended up selling out of two printings, and went to a third printing, nearly unheard of for reference books, even for Gale. National Survey of State Laws continued to be successful as it went on to win the Andrews Bibliographical Award in 2003 and has been cited by the Supreme Court three times.

The company was then bought/sold/acquired at least five times over the next fifteen years, and eventually the determination was made by Gale that NSSL “no longer fit in the catalog”. I was able to get the rights to the book in the summer of 2013 and Hein agreed to take on the title.

The original plan was to update the book every other year. But as the company grew and became more fractured, responsibility for deciding which books would be updated was left up to the discretion of staff editors who had to prepare budgets and publication schedules for junior division publishers who had to report to executive division publishers. Since NSSL wasn’t called an “annual,” it was a low priority within my editor’s catalog – I think she was in the business and sociology division – and NSSL sometimes came out every other year, but occasionally there were three year gaps! In any case, updating the book was a lot of work, but not extremely difficult. In the course of two years, there were always numerous changes, but they were scattered evenly throughout the book and, for each edition, there were only one or two large changes.

Updating for the new edition was especially difficult because there were more than seven years between the sixth and seventh editions. In the intervening period, marijuana went from a category of “Illegal Drugs,” to its own chapter as a partly legal recreational “imbibement” and miracle drug! This necessitated substantial updating of the relevant chapter.

Other laws have undergone substantial changes to existing chapters. Laws concerning same sex marriage have undergone enormous changes in the last few years, and the law still isn’t settled and may not be by the time the book is scheduled to be published. This is one reason that I’m excited to work with Hein: they are open to publishing the book as an electronic title that can be updated on the fly, making the online version up-to-date in (nearly) real time!

There are other examples of laws that have undergone substantial changes when we didn’t expect them. For example, the laws concerning drunk driving seemed to be settled since the book was first published in 1993. At the time of the first edition, blood alcohol levels for being legally drunk varied widely. Over the course of more than twenty years all states have settled on  the 0.08 percent as the legal definition for being legally intoxicated and I had decided that we’d drop this chapter from the seventh edition because there was nothing, really, to compare any more. However, we quickly discovered that nearly half the states have since adopted laws that allow offenders to escape some of the most onerous consequences of breaking the law, with the installation of IID’s (ignition interlocking device) on the car. Installing an IID on a car can allow the court to suspend certain penalties for first offenses. What’s more, many states have added enhancements to the crime of driving while under the influence if there is a passenger who is a minor. Of course, the definitions of what constitutes a minor for this purpose varies from state to state. Some states enhance the penalty for passengers under 18, some 14 or 15.

One final note about this new edition that sets it apart from any other is that this is the first edition that has been ruthlessly copy-edited. All past editions were updated on page proofs and those corrections were sent to a type-setter who input the notes from the proof notes. Even the production editors that I was working with at Gale were, on the whole, excellent, they were not trained in law and over the years and six editions we noticed what I call, citation drift. Many chapters were consistent within themselves, but not necessarily from chapter to chapter. For the seventh edition, Hein built a database into which we could enter the data directly. When I say “we” I am referring to my wife, Wendy, who volunteered to key in the updates. We assumed that updating it would be roughly equivalent to the updating earlier versions. However, due to the length of time between editions, it was nearly like doing a new edition from scratch. My wife is an excellent copy editor with a nearly super-human eye for detail and the phenomenon of “citation drift” caused her to re-work nearly every citation in the book/database. Inputting the updates took nearly an entire year!

However, this is the most accurate and consistently formatted edition, ever.

About the Author:

Richard Leiter is the Director of the Law Library & Technology and Professor of Law at the Schmid Law Library, College of Law, University of Nebraska.  Although he has assumed his current position in 2000, he worked on the UNL Law Library staff years ago (1986-1988) as Public Services Librarian.  He earned his undergraduate degrees (with honors) in 1976 from the University of California, Santa Cruz; JD in 1981 from Southwestern University School of Law, where he was an editor of the law review; and his MLIS in 1986 from the University of Texas at Austin.

He has been a law librarian nearly thirty years.  Before coming to the College of Law he was Associate Dean for Information Technology & Services and Professor of Law at Howard University School of Law in Washington, DC, and Library Director and Associate Professor at Regent University School of Law in Virginia Beach, Virginia.  Prior to that he held various positions in both law firm and academics libraries.  He was Director of the Law Library at the San Francisco law firm of Littler, Mendelson, Fastiff & Tichy and also held that and other positions at other law firms in California.  He also has held various positions in academic libraries including the Tarlton Law Library at the University of Texas, and the Law Library at the University of Nebraska School of Law.  Professor Leiter is a regular member of American Bar Association accreditation teams and has consulted with start up law schools seeking ABA approval.

He has been a regular columnist for Legal Information Alert and has contributed to the Law Library Journal, AALL Spectrum and numerous other law library publications.  Prof. Leiter is also the author of the second edition of Landmark Supreme Court Cases, due out in 2009 and is contributor of two chapters in Fundamental of Legal Research, 9th edition. He also hosts a blog,, that discusses law publishing, legal research and modern technology’s impact of legal bibliography. He also hosts an internet radio talk show/podcast, Law Librarian Conversations, on BlogTalkRadio.

Prof. Leiter is also the co-sponsor and creator of the annual Spirit of Law Librarianship Award given to law librarians who have used their skills in the service of a public good. The award is named for the book, Spirit of Law Librarianship, (1995; Paul Rothman, Inc.: CO), Prof. Leiter wrote with Prof. Roy Mersky of the University of Texas Tarlton Law Library.  A second edition of the Spirit of Law Librarianship was published in 2005 by Alert Publications, Inc. In 2008 the award last year was renamed the Mersky Spirit of Law Librarianship in honor of Prof Mersky.

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