Of Interest

The 1970's: Michigan Bar Journal has indeed come a long way


by Nancy F. Brown   |   Michigan Bar Journal


On the heels of the tumultuous ’60s, the 1970s was, in its own way, a decade of mo­mentous cultural and institutional change. In April 1970, The Beatles, arguably the great­est rock ‘n’ roll band of all time, disbanded. The first jumbo jet, the Boeing 747, made its maiden commercial flight from New York to London. Walt Disney World opened on Oct. 1, 1971, just southwest of Orlando, Florida. Admission prices on opening day? $3.50 for adults, $2.50 for children ages 12-18, and a buck for kids under 12.

Also in 1971, the 26th Amendment was rat­ified, lowering the legal voting age in the United States to 18 from 21. That same year, the New York Times published excerpts of what became known as the Pentagon Pa­pers, exposing the extent to which President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration deceived Congress and the American public regard­ing its scope of actions in the Vietnam War. Direct American military involvement in Viet­nam ended in 1973. More than 400,000 Michigan men and women served during the conflict.

Mary Stallings Coleman achieved a mile­stone in 1973 when she became the Mich­igan Supreme Court’s female justice. That was also the year the U.S. Supreme Court issued one of the most notable opinions in its history when it declared abortion as a constitutional right in its landmark decision in Roe v. Wade.

1974 was a big year for Michigan. Follow­ing the resignation of Richard Nixon, Grand Rapids native and former attorney Gerald R. Ford became the 38th president of the United States, the first Michigander to serve in that role. Meanwhile, the approximately 12,000 lawyers practicing in the state were memorizing their P numbers, which were first assigned in January 1974 in alphabetical order — Arnold K. Aach received P10001 and Abraham Zwerdling got P22764. Check out Daryle Salisbury’s fascinating ar­ticle, “What’s It All About, Arnold Aach?” from the November 2006 Michigan Bar Journal for a deeper dive into P numbers.

The latter half of the decade brought ad­vances in technology, entertainment, and the laws that govern them. In 1975, childhood friends Bill Gates and Paul Allen launched a company called Microsoft. The popular late-night sketch show “Saturday Night Live” aired for the first time in October 1975 with guest host George Carlin. The next year, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak created the Apple Computer Company out of the ga­rage of Jobs’ childhood home in Los Altos, California. In 1977, the first film in director George Lucas’ “Star Wars” series debuted. Then in 1978, the Copyright Act of 1976 took effect. It expanded the definition of works of authorship, enumerated exclusive rights, and for the first time codified the fair use doctrine.

The 1970s ended with significant changes to the Bar Journal itself. In 1979, The name of the publication was shortened from the Michigan State Bar Journal to the Michigan Bar Journal, and it was enlarged from its smaller, digest-style size to the more tradi­tional magazine size you still receive today.

I wasn’t around when the first issue of the Michigan Bar Journal rolled off the press 100 years ago in November 1921, but rather, was hired as assistant editor of the State Bar of Michigan’s flagship publication a half-century later in November 1976. At that time the Journal was mailed monthly to 14,825 active members. Today it reaches more than 46,000 through both mail and email.

While my favorite invention early in my career was the Post-It Note, the IBM Selectric typewriter also rose to the top of the list, as did the built-in correction tape invented circa 1973, which saved me from the mess Liquid Paper made when typing mistakes inevitably happened. My office was outfitted with a Selectric — complete with correction tape — and that is where the bulk of copy produced for the Journal was created for the next 20 years before being replaced by desktop computers.

What wasn’t created on the SBM Selectric arrived via the U.S. Postal Service — typewritten submissions by members who were hoping to get published or who had been asked to write an article or column. These were all carefully edited and after copy was final­ized and sent back to authors via USPS for their approval, it was sent to composition at the printers.

Publications in the ’70s took much longer to produce than they do today. Articles traveled back and forth between authors, editors, typesetters, and printers, so we often worked on two monthly is­sues at a time. When an article was ready for composition, it was retyped at the printer into a tape punch keyboard machine that produced a film strip on photographic paper. The photo paper was developed in a chemical processing machine to produce galley proofs, a long roll of typeset copy that was cut up, laid down on 11-by-17 paper in three unformatted columns, photocopied, and sent back to the State Bar for proofreading against the original copy. Headlines were produced on their own headline machine, and photographs were pre-scanned and provided on the galley proof with their captions.

Two SBM staff members proofread the galley proofs, often spend­ing several hours a day with one person reading aloud from the original edited copy and the second person comparing it to what was typeset on the galley. Names and less-familiar words were always spelled out to ensure they were correct. Mistakes and ty­pos were noted on the galley pages, reviewed by the editors, and sent back for typesetting corrections. A second set of galley proofs was returned to the SBM and checked for corrections against the errors noted on the first set. Back at the printer, errors caught on the second set were corrected and a new set of galley proofs was produced, this time in long strips cut to fit on a page. The strips were waxed on the back so they would stick to preprinted layout boards. SBM editors reached for their X-Acto knives to produce a rough copy of all the pages — including headlines, stories, and photos — by cutting and pasting the waxed galley to the layout boards. This, of course, gave us another chance to rethink and re-edit each article.

When we signed off on the layout for the publication, the printers began the tedious process of recreating the layout boards to ensure elements on the pages were spaced correctly and perfectly straight before it was sent to print. Before hitting the press, a final proof — a silver print — was reviewed and ok’d. If changes needed to be made at this point, it was very expensive and time-consuming.

Prior to the introduction of the computer, the next big technological development speeding up the process was the telephone facsimile machine, which enabled us to explore printing options outside of Lansing. Copy, proofs, etc. were all transmitted via fax rather than dropped off and picked up by the printer. The entire process out­lined above can now be accomplished on a computer — without a fax machine and without the USPS.

While processes used in the ’70s seem primitive compared to to­day, approximately one year before I first arrived at the Bar, a mainframe computer was purchased to track the membership data. It took up a whole room in the building and required a keypunch operator to enter and extract the data. Before the mainframe was in place, membership data had been stored alphabetically on index cards. When it was time for the annual membership directory to be printed, the index cards were pulled from the file cabinet, placed in a shoe box, and sent to the printer to be keystroked one by one. After composition, the cards were returned, and each entry proof­read before being safely filed away again. Now that was primitive!

The MBJ has gone through many transformations since its inception. Hopefully, this glimpse into how it was produced 50 years ago helps to exemplify the care and attention to detail that have long been a part of its tradition.


Introduction and timeline by Narisa Bandali, a member of the Michigan Bar Journal Committee and marketing and advertising counsel at Bissell Homecare in Grand Rapids.