LexisNexis, e-book developer Jerome Rubin dies at 86

Posted Jan. 15, 2012, at 9:06 p.m.

Jerome Rubin, the man who made lawyers’ and journalists’ jobs less strenuous by co-founding the LexisNexis research database and who later helped develop the technology behind electronic books, died Jan. 9 at a hospital in New York. He was 86.

He had complications from a stroke, said his son, Richard Rubin.

Rubin was a corporate lawyer in New York during the late 1960s when he was asked to give his advice on a new computerized legal research system.

The digital database had begun as a project to catalogue Ohio state laws using Air Force technology that tracked intelligence reports. Rubin quickly saw the system’s commercial potential because of its ability to make millions of legal documents easily and quickly available to law firms.

The key was to ensure that the database was simple to use, Rubin said, because “lawyers can’t type, and only 15 percent can spell.”

Beginning in the early 1970s, law firms accessed Lexis through terminals over telephone lines. (Successor terminals, which shrank from the size of a dishwasher to that of a microwave, incorporated pioneering color screens to highlight certain keywords.) Later, the Lexis parent company, Mead Data Central, built a high-speed network for firms located between New York and Washington. By the next decade, most of the country’s biggest law firms used Lexis.

New York University law professor Arthur Miller once told the journal American Lawyer that Lexis “contributed substantially to the ways in which legal analysis and the practice of law have changed.”

A few years after Lexis, Mead Data Central introduced Nexis, a news article database still used by journalists today.

By the early 1980s, Rubin had a falling out with the top executives at Mead and left the company. He then became a vice president at the Times Mirror publishing company, where he oversaw a division that produced legal and medical publications. He later was director of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology program that explored future technologies in the news business.

Growing out of his MIT work, Rubin in 1997 co-founded E Ink, a company that produced electronic screens that mimicked the way words appear on paper — but without the brightness and glare of a computer monitor. E Ink technology is used in the Amazon Kindle, the Barnes & Noble Nook and the Sony Reader. The company was sold in 2009 to Prime View International for about $215 million.

Jerome Sanford Rubin was born March 9, 1925, in Brooklyn, N.Y. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Russia. His father was a house painter.

On a scholarship, Rubin graduated from Harvard University in 1944 with a bachelor’s degree in physics. After Navy service in World War II, he received a degree from Harvard Law School in 1949. He worked in private practice in New York before joining Mead in 1970.

His first marriage, to Ann Noerdlinger, ended in divorce. His second wife, Ida Ely Rubin, died in 2008 after 50 years of marriage.

Survivors include two children, Richard Rubin of New York and Alicia Yamin of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; and two grandsons.

Millions of bibliophiles swear by e-book readers such as the Nook and Kindle. Rubin himself appreciated the technology, but he said he preferred books and newspapers in their original paper form. They are “more congenial than cathode ray tubes, or any other kind of electronic display,” Rubin once told the New York Times.

The last book Rubin read was “De Rerum Natura,” the epic poem by the Roman philosopher Lucretius.

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