Sorokin is named 2023-2024 Tomash Fellow

We are thrilled that MIT History, Anthropology, Science, Technology and Society (HASTS) doctoral candidate Alex Reiss Sorokin was awarded the Tomash Fellowship and began her fellowship term in September 2023. She brings a great wealth of education, knowledge, and experience ideal to advance her fascinating and important research at the intersection of the history of technology and law. Alex completed an LL.B. at Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law and a B.A. at Tel Aviv University’s Multidisciplinary Program in Humanities, where she focused on the history and philosophy of science and ideas. She worked as a criminal defense attorney in Tel Aviv, Israel, before attending New York University School of Law, where she pursued a master’s in international legal studies. Alex was subsequently admitted to practice as an attorney in New York State. During her Ph.D. study, she was recognized as the ABF/AccessLex Predoctoral Fellow in Legal and Higher Education.

Alex’s dissertation project, “From Research to Search: Technologies of Legal Research, 1964-1994,” is a history of one of the earliest, and most influential, digital platforms for legal information: the Ohio Bar Automated Research Service (“OBAR”), a predecessor to the Lexis system. The dissertation has two main aims: one empirical and one conceptual. Although studies of the turn to computers in legal research abound, they are rarely based on empirical studies and provide virtually no historical account of legal research practices. This empirical lacuna makes it hard to assess the often-repeated claim that the introduction of computers amounted to a paradigm shift in legal research. This empirical investigation informs the second aim, the theoretical intervention. Existing studies in legal education focus on the implications of computers for legal research without explaining how they were adopted in the first place. Drawing on archival research, Alex argues that crucial decisions in the design of OBAR/Lexis were provoked by the developers’ desire to make the system palatable and trustworthy enough for lawyers to use rather than responding to technological or professional challenges.

Again, we are delighted to have Alex as the Tomash Fellow and to support her tremendous research and scholarship. Next spring, Alex will be presenting an online Tomash Fellow Lecture, drawn from her dissertation during her term as a fellow. Please check the CBI website and social media accounts for updates. 

Jeffrey R. Yost



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