Pittsfield attorney named editor in chief for distinguised law reference book

Sunday October 7, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- A well-worn copy of the seventh edition of Crocker’s Notes on Common Forms can be found in a prominent place on a bookshelf in Attorney F. Sydney Smithers’ office. It was published in 1955.

It’s obvious that Smithers is familiar with the publication -- he points out the signatures of Lincoln Cain and Robert Capeless, two well-known long ago Pittsfield attorneys, that are written on a page inside the front cover.

Now, Smithers is charged with overseeing the latest update of the distinguished reference book.

Chair of the Real Estate Department at the Pittsfield law firm Cain, Hibbard & Myers, Smithers was recently appointed editor in chief for the 10th edition of Crocker’s Notes, which is approaching its 130th year in print.

First published by Uriel H. Crocker in 1883, Crocker’s Notes on Common Forms has served as the essential reference book for Massachusetts title attorneys and conveyancers, and has been cited in state court cases for years. Copies can be found in every trial court law library in the state.

"It a very aged publication, which has been considered the bible for Massachusetts real estate lawyers." said Smithers, who is also a past president of the Real Estate Bar Association for Massachusetts, and a fellow of the American College of Real Estate Lawyers.

According to Smithers, Crocker’s Notes was published privately by a trust until the 1950s. Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, a Boston-based nonprofit that provides programs and reference materials for lawyers, took over the book’s publication in the 1980s when it acquired the copyright.

Smithers, who is 70, wrote two chapters on case law for Public Ways and Plans and Surveys for the book’s ninth edition published in 2006 (supplements were added in 2008 and 2010). He was asked to take over as editor in chief of the new edition after the previous editor, Attorney Henry Thayer of Boston, stepped down.

"MCLE called me and asked me if I would do it," Smithers said. "While it’s going to involve some substantial effort, it’s an honor, and I was pleased to accept the invitation."

"I have more time than I did five years ago," he said.

He may need those extra hours.

As editor-in-chief, Smithers is charged with helping to identify new contributors, reviewing the updates to chapters after they are written by the various authors, making sure the cases contributed are accurately cited, then reviewing each chapter for completeness and clarity to make sure it’s a finished product.

The ninth edition contains 33 chapters on various aspects of real estate law with contributions from 39 attorneys. The latest print edition (Crocker’s Notes is also available as an ebook and in other electronic forms) is two volumes with a combined total of 1,322 pages.

"It’s a lot of work," said Thayer, who edited the eighth and ninth editions of Crock er’s Notes, and brought in Smithers as a contributor. "The work is in rounding up other people to write the respective chapters, ... It’s like rounding up the cattle to get people to do it."

Smithers said he is currently in the process of rounding up contributors for the new edition, which is expected to arrive in December.

"I have 27 authors in the fold," he said. "I need three more."

Smithers will reprise his role in the ninth edition by updating the two chapters that he previously wrote. The other Berkshire contributor to the 10th edition of Crocker’s Notes is Attorney Virginia Stanton Smith of the law firm Parese, Sabin, and Gold in Williamstown who will write, "Title After Death."

"She is an expert probate practitioner," Smithers said. "I know she would have the background and the experience to do this."

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
(413) 496-6224


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