The Paper Clip and The Law

The paper clip plays a variety of roles, all small, in legal history. That smallness looms large in Jay W Stein’s gripping study Something Little and Shiny on the Judicial Stage: The Paper Clip. The study, published in 1994 in the Law Library Journal, established Stein as the first and finest scholar of the effect of paper clips on the law.

Stein, a research librarian at John Marshall Law School library in Chicago, says he “attended a hearing where the judge used the paper clip to illustrate a legal point”. Finding himself suddenly, deeply fascinated by the fastener, Stein pored through legal trial records, fastidiously noting every explicit, on-the-record mention by judges, lawyers or witnesses, of paper clips. These proved more numerous than one might expect, though less than one might imagine.

“The paper clip serves impartially in all areas of the law,” he writes, “but the record shows that it appears especially often in some….

So begins this week’s Improbable Research column in The Guardian.