Witkin Library on CD-ROM

Reviewed by Jeffrey Allen

For many years B. E. Witkin was California’s best-known commentator on California law. His original treatise, published in 1954 as a single volume, has grown into a 35-volume library broken into four sets of books: Summary of California Law (tenth edition); California Procedure (fourth edition); California Evidence (fourth edition); and California Criminal Law (third edition). The Witkin Legal Institute has maintained and expanded the Witkin summaries, which Thomson West now publishes as the Witkin Library. The Witkin summaries provide an encyclopedic treatment of California case and statutory law.

When I attended law school (a long time ago), special student pricing allowed me to acquire a set of the Witkin summaries. It was the first set of books in mypersonal law library. I have contuinued to subscribe to the summaries throughout my career. I often commence my research in Witkin and regularly look to Witkin for a good, accurate, and reliable summary of an area of law which I need to familiarize myself. Many attorneys (myself included) often cite Witkin directly as authority in memoranda of points and authorities or in briefs. Many California judges have also cited the Witkin treatises in published opinions.

I have kept hard copies of the Witkin summaries in my library throughout my practice, even after it became available online. The Witkin summaries also come on CD-ROM. Recently I had the opportunity to explore the CD-ROM version of the Witkin Library. While it offers nothing substantively different from the hard-copy version, I found that CD-ROM version offers several advantages. Attorneys outside of California may have little need specifically for the Witkin summaries, but I believe that the use of CD-ROM versions of good legal treatises, such as Witkin, may prove a valuable and useful practice to attorneys in all jurisdictions.

You access the CD-ROM version of Witkin through Premise or LawDesk, both available at no extra charge from the Westlaw website. The CD-ROM edition includes volume and page numbers from the printed edition so that you can easily cite from the CD-ROM version. Using the CD-ROM version also allows you to cut and paste text directly into a brief or memorandum of points and authorities without the need for retyping. The CD-ROM version also makes your work a bit easier by using hypertext navigation.

Perhaps the best feature unique to the CD-ROM version is that you can either use the treatises on the disk or move the text files from the CD-ROM directly to your computer’s hard drive. Access from the hard drive works faster than access from the CD-ROM or online, and if the material is on the hard drive of a laptop, you can take it with you wherever you take your computer and access it even in situations where you do not have Internet access (such as in an airplane or a courtroom or conference room where a wireless air card connection will not work).

I do have a few warnings to share. At the present time neither Premise nor LawDesk works with Vista. Westlaw has promised to address this problem with the release of new versions of Premise and of LawDesk, likely by the time you read this review. The software presents further problems for Mac users: Neither Premise nor LawDesk is compatible with the Mac OS, so you need to run the programs on a secondary Windows system inside your Mac—via Boot Camp, Parallels, or one of the other programs that run Windows programs on a Macintosh computer with an Intel processor.

Bottom line: I recommend the Witkin Library without hesitation to California attorneys or attorneys who need access to a good treatment of California law. I recommend the use of the CD-ROM versions of Witkin (and any other treatises of use to an attorney) because of the advantages of having the material available to you any time you want it. 

Note: West Group is a corporate sponsor of the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division; this article appears in connection with the Division’s sponsorship agreement with West Group. Neither the ABA nor ABA entities endorse non-ABA products or services, and this review should not be so construed.


Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California. A frequent speaker on technology topics, he is the special issue editor of GPSolo’s Technology & Practice Guide and editor-in-chief of the Technology eReport. He also teaches business law in the graduate and undergraduate divisions of the Business School of the University of Phoenix and is a member of the Law Society of England and Wales and a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. He may be reached at

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