James M. Flavin Centenary Program
Remarks of State Reporter Gary D. Spivey
Good morning. I'm Gary Spivey, the State Reporter.
Chief Judge Kaye and Judges of the Court of Appeals; Clerks of the Court of Appeals and Appellate Division; President Madigan and representatives of the New York State Bar Association; Director Bottrill and representatives and alumni of Syracuse University; Distinguished Colleagues, Guests and Friends All.
Welcome to this program honoring James M. Flavin, who served this Court for nearly 40 years and who left a lasting imprint on the Official Reports of this state and on the way that lawyers everywhere conduct legal research.
I want to extend a special welcome to members of Mr. Flavin's family-his grandson Randy and Randy's wife Diana, and their daughter Juliana-who share our pride in the achievements of their grandfather and great-grandfather; and to President Mark Dugas and members of the Rotary Club of Albany, which Mr. Flavin served as president and through which he cultivated many of the personal and professional relationships that facilitated his work here at the Court.
I would also like to welcome the outstanding people who today carry on Mr. Flavin's great tradition of public service at the New York State Law Reporting Bureau-Deputy State Reporter Charles A. Ashe, Assistant State Reporter William J. Hooks, Chief Legal Editor Michael S. Moran, and all of the members of the staff. That welcome extends to those former staff members who served with Mr. Flavin-in one case as far back as the 1950s-and have joined us today to honor him.
Some people achieve greatness-and are recognized for it-during their lifetimes. For others, the recognition comes more gradually, as their achievements are viewed in retrospect. James M. Flavin, I believe, falls more closely into the latter category. The tributes to him published in the pages of the New York Reports on the occasions of his retirement and subsequent death make no mention of the fact that he changed the world of legal research-that realization would come only with the passage of time and the success of the revolution that he set in motion.
Even if Mr. Flavin had never envisioned the possibility of conducting legal research by computer, he would have ranked as one of our most important reporters. He introduced the Second series of the Official Reports; published the first Style Manual; drafted the regulations that continue to this day to govern the selection of opinions for publication in the Miscellaneous Reports; and brought technology to the editorial process, beginning with the introduction of the electronic typewriter and ending with the direct transmission of opinions via telephone lines to the printing company's computerized typesetting system.
He so enjoyed the confidence of this Court that it called upon him to serve as Clerk of the Court during what it described as a "turbulent transition."
Amidst all this, he found the time and the energy to serve his alma mater- Syracuse University-as an alumni association president; the Rotary Club as chapter president and district governor; the Albany County Historical Association as president; and the New York State Bar Association as chair of the pioneering committee on electronic legal research-a role he would reprise on the national stage as chair of the American Bar Association committee on technology and the courts.
These achievements alone would have assured James Flavin an eminent position in our history. But it was his success in making computer-assisted legal research a reality that made him a great reporter, perhaps second only to William Johnson, who served James Kent at the dawn of law reporting in the early 19th century.
You can read about Mr. Flavin's leadership role in bringing computer-assisted legal research to New York and, through New York, to the nation, in an article in the February 2008 issue of the New York State Bar Association Journal. Copies are being provided to you. I want to thank the Journal's managing editor, Dan McMahon, for permitting us to reprint this article and for joining us here today.
It is no exaggeration to say that without James M. Flavin, the legal research world would look much different today. There probably would not have been a LEXIS since, as the LEXIS founders have acknowledged, New York was the key to the success of their new system-a success that was very much in doubt at the time. And without a LEXIS as competition, there probably would not have been a Westlaw, at least not at the time or in the form that it actually emerged. Some kind of computer-assisted legal research systems would have been developed eventually, I'm sure, but at a different pace and in a different manner than history as we know it records.
James Flavin made a huge difference in the way today's lawyers conduct legal research, but he did not do it alone. It took the involvement of the organized bar to make his vision a reality-yet another service "of practical benefit to the profession" conferred by our state bar association. It took the cooperation of the Secretary of State, who granted the necessary copyright licenses and whose representative present here today continues to facilitate our work. And, above all, it took the support of this Court.
As visionary and as relentless as Mr. Flavin was in the development of computer-assisted legal research, he could not have been effective without the support of the Court of Appeals, and specifically without the sponsorship of Chief Judge Stanley H. Fuld.
Chief Judge Fuld recognized the potential benefits of computer-assisted legal research and gave Mr. Flavin the encouragement that he needed to persevere through a series of false starts before success was achieved. By remarkable good fortune, the same stars that had aligned to bring us the partnership of James Kent and William Johnson at the birth of our system of official law reporting joined again in the twentieth century to bring law reporting into the new technological age through the collaboration of Stanley Fuld and James Flavin.
I conclude by noting that, as in the days of Mr. Flavin, the Office of the State Reporter has continued to be extremely fortunate to have the unfailing support of the Court for its work-and never more so than with the present Court and with our next speaker, the Chief Judge of the State of New York, the Honorable Judith S. Kaye.