The History of CALR, Part 2: An IRS early effort to automate

Today’s is April 15th.  Tax Day.  Over at the Law Librarian Blog you can read “Tax Day Trivia” and “Celebrating April 15 with Two New Tax Op Websites.”

Here on Legal Research Plus we’ll celebrate the day with the second installment of our occasional and random look back at some of the early days of computer-assisted legal research.

Today’s intallment comes courtest of Michael J. Lynch, Director of Law Library and Professor at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School.

Another really primitive (abortive) “automated system” was one developed by the I.R.S. in the sixties called Research and Information Retrieval Activity (RIRA).  I co-authored an article which not only described this system, but argued that its contents ought to be available to private attorneys either in discovery under the Federal Rules, or in response to
Freedom of Information Act requests. 

I.R.S had compiled a “Uniform Issue List”:  the outline of concepts relevant to tax litigation.  Case abstracts were created and indexed by attorneys and microfilmed including addresses to microfilm location of all briefs and other case documents. A monthly print-out updated the list of all cases in the system by issue numbers.  A reader-printer could locate and print abstracts.  The abstracts led the users to the microfilm of briefs and documents.  The system now seems inpossibly cumbersome — a somewhat automated index to mere microfilm.  But at the time it seemed like an incredible mine of organized legal research.  As I read the description it hardly fits our concept of an “automated system.”  It seems to me that the primitive possibilities of the sixties technologies inevitably led to its abandonment.  But at the time we, the authors, proudly suspected that our claim of public access discouraged
further development. Private attorneys were really worried about the research advantage it would give the government lawyers (probably unduly worried).

The RIRA wasn’t really a computer system, it was a project that we now recognize as a computer project done with intermediate technology.  Reader-printers seemed really cool in the sixties, I suppose.  The topic outline was the sort of thing West might have done. 

For the full story, see:   Berrien C. Eaton and Michael J. Lynch, “Tax Practice as Affected by the Freedom of Information Act and the Information Retrieval System.”  Proceedings of the 17th Annual Tulane Tax Institute, p405, 1967.