How Similar are Law Students to Programmers?

Tim O’Reilly reports on some usage statistics by programmers who have the option of purchasing PDF, paper or both versions of new books being published by his press. He reports ….

  • 60% choose PDF only,
  • 36% choose PDF and paper version
  • 4% choose paper only

Mind you, this is after three months of their new Rough Cuts offering which provides access to new titles from O’Reilly.

So 96% at least want the PDF version of the book and the article quotes a user who gives these reasons…

  • PDFs are searchable,
  • PDFs are portable,
  • PDFs can be obtained immediately by downloading (especially updates) and they are cheaper – at the very least due to the lack of shipping cost.

So, if electronic casebooks were available to law students, would these numbers and reasons hold?

Programming (especially learning to program in a new language) invovles a lot of looking up and some extended periods of reading from the book. There is a certain back-and-forth rhythm associated with the first 48-72 hours of learning a new programming language or system and this gradually changes to less book and more programming as time goes by.

This is not the same as reading a casebook. There are extended periods of reading and note-taking, followed by some discussion in class with classmates or in a study group. Notes get updated, some re-reading might occur and there is a last bit of note refinement in the week before the final exams. Not quite the same, but let’s look at the reasons for preferring PDFs and see if they apply to law students.

  • Searchable – this would certainly be useful to anyone studying a subject and wanting to find something that they had previsously read or find some phrase, term or concept that came up in class or discussion – check.
  • Portable – portability is always a benefit. PDFs weigh a lot less than 1000 page casebooks. – check.
  • Obtained immediately and cheaper due to no shipping cost – downloads certainly imply that there are no shipping costs – check

The question is whether the behavior of law students will be similar to programmers. Will law students prefer PDFs to the print versions?

I don’t know.

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